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United States v. Wrobel

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 3, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL JOHN WROBEL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          B. Lynn Winmill, Chief Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Michael John Wrobel's Motion to Suppress. While driving northbound on I-15 at approximately 7:11 pm on April 8, 2017, Mr. Wrobel was pulled over by Idaho State Police Trooper Kenneth Peeples for failing to signal for five seconds before changing lanes. During the traffic stop, Trooper Peeples asked Mr. Wrobel to exit his vehicle, conducted a patdown, and then conducted a canine search of the exterior and interior of Mr. Wrobel's car. Based on the behavior of his K-9 Partner, Trooper Peeples determined he had probable cause to search the vehicle. During the search, Trooper Peeples discovered a substance that field-tested positive for methamphetamine and arrested Mr. Wrobel. Mr. Wrobel moves to suppress the evidence obtained from Trooper Peeples's search of the vehicle on the grounds that Trooper Peeples violated his Fourth Amendment rights by unlawfully prolonging the traffic stop and conducting a search of his vehicle.

         The Court heard testimony at an evidentiary hearing on December 5, 2017, and received closing briefs from the parties on December 11, 2017. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant the motion.

         BACKGROUND

         While patrolling I-15 on April 8, 2017, Trooper Peeples observed Mr. Wrobel change lanes without signaling for five seconds, as required by Idaho law. Def.'s Br. Ex. A at 3, Dkt. 18-2. Trooper Peeples pulled Mr. Wrobel over, and approached the passenger side window of the vehicle. Id. When he arrived at the vehicle, Trooper Peeples noticed that Mr. Wrobel had rolled down both front windows. Id. Trooper Peeples explained why he had stopped Mr. Wrobel, and asked him for his license, registration, and insurance. Id. As Mr. Wrobel retrieved the relevant documents, Trooper Peeples invited him to roll up the driver's side window, and asked him where he was “headed up to now.” Def.'s Br. Ex. B at 19:13:13, Dkt. 18-3. Mr. Wrobel rolled the window halfway up, and informed Trooper Peeples he was going to see a friend in Montana. Def.'s Br. Ex. A at 3, Dkt. 18-2. When Trooper Peeples asked how long he would be in Montana, Mr. Wrobel replied he was going for about three days. Id.

         As they spoke, Trooper Peeples noticed the strong smell of air freshener coming from the vehicle, and that Mr. Wrobel's upper lip quivered when he spoke. Id. He again invited Mr. Wrobel to roll up the driver's side window, which was still halfway down, and Mr. Wrobel complied. Id. Trooper Peeples also noticed a lighter and used ashtray in the center console, and identified the program playing on the car radio as a Mormon religious music program. Id.

         Mr. Wrobel handed Trooper Peeples the documents he requested, including his rental agreement. Id. The agreement showed that the vehicle was rented in Los Angeles on April 4, 2017 and had a return date of April 25, 2017. Id. Trooper Peeples then asked Mr. Wrobel to close his eyes. Id. After a moment, Trooper Peeples returned to his patrol car. Id. At this point, Trooper Peeples had developed a suspicion that Mr. Wrobel was involved in criminal activity based on his actions, the answers he gave to Trooper Peeples's questions, and Trooper Peeples's observations of him in comparison with other interactions he had in the past. Id. Specifically, Trooper Peeples relied on the following facts: 1) The strong smell of air freshener in the vehicle; 2) the fact that Mr. Wrobel was driving a rental vehicle; 3) the fact that Mr. Wrobel rolled down both windows, and didn't immediately roll up the driver's side window all the way when invited; 4) the fact that Mr. Wrobel planned to be in Montana for about three days but had rented the car for three weeks; 5) the fact that Mr. Wrobel's lip quivered when he spoke; and 6) the fact that he was playing Mormon religious music, which Trooper Peeples believed could indicate that Mr. Wrobel was overcompensating by attempting to affiliate with the local religious community. Id.

         When Trooper Peeples returned to his patrol car, he reviewed the documents briefly and asked dispatch to conduct a wants and warrants check and a prior controlled substance criminal history check on Mr. Wrobel. Id. He then exited his patrol car and returned to Mr. Wrobel's vehicle. Id. Trooper Peeples testified that when he decided to approach the vehicle for the second time, he was already suspicious that Mr. Wrobel was involved in criminal activity. He stated that he intended to conduct the dog sniff unless Mr. Wrobel's acted in some way to dispel that suspicion. Specifically, Trooper Peeples testified that he intended to conduct the dog sniff unless Mr. Wrobel's nervousness abated.

         When Trooper Peeples approached the car for the second time, he asked Mr. Wrobel if there was anything illegal inside the car. Id. Mr. Wrobel responded “no, no, no.” Id. Trooper Peeples then asked whether his K-9 partner, Apollo, would alert to the odor of drugs coming from the car. Id. Mr. Wrobel shook his head. Id. Trooper Peeples asked Mr. Wrobel to exit the vehicle. Id. Mr. Wrobel asked why he needed to exit the vehicle. Id. Trooper Peeples explained that he was going to have Apollo walk around the car. Id.

         Holding the keyless ignition fob in his hand, Mr. Wrobel pressed the ignition button on the dash of the car. Id. Trooper Peeples testified that he heard the engine turn over, and asked why Mr. Wrobel turned the car on. Mr. Wrobel stated he was turning it off. Id. Trooper Peeples noted that the key fob did not have a rental car tag on it. Id. Mr. Wrobel exited the vehicle and consented to a pat down search, which Trooper Peeples performed. Id. at 4. As Trooper Peeples completed the pat down search, dispatch informed him there were no outstanding warrants for Mr. Wrobel. Def's Br. Ex. B at 19:17:41, Dkt. 18-3. Trooper Peeples then retrieved his K-9 partner from the car, and walked him on the leash around the vehicle. Def.'s Br. Ex. A at 4, Dkt. 18-2.

         Trooper Peeples and his K-9 partner are certified in drug detection. Id. When he approached the vehicle, Apollo jumped on his hind legs and sniffed inside the open passenger window. Def's Br. Ex. B at 19:18:11-19:18:34, Dkt. 18-3. He also jumped on his hind legs near the trunk of the car, and sniffed the driver's side door handle. Id. at 19:18:34-19:18:50. Apollo then walked back to the passenger window, and jumped through the window into the car. Id. at 19:18:55. Trooper Peeples assisted Apollo into the vehicle, and called for backup. Id. According to Trooper Peeples, he then observed Apollo engage in a trained response, which indicated the presence of illegal drugs on the driver's side floorboard. Def.'s Br. Ex. A. at 4, Dkt. 18-2. Trooper Peeples returned Apollo to his patrol car, and conducted a search of the vehicle, during which he discovered the methamphetamine at issue. Id.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “The Fourth Amendment prohibits ‘unreasonable searches and seizures' by the Government, and its protections extend to brief investigatory stops of persons or vehicles that fall short of traditional arrest.” United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002) (internal quotations omitted). Thus, the “[t]emporary detention of individuals during the stop of an automobile by the police, even if only for a brief period and for a limited purpose, constitutes a seizure of persons” subject to the Fourth Amendment. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809-10 (1996).

         “A seizure for a traffic violation justifies a police investigation of that violation.” Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1614 (2015). But an officer's authority for such a seizure ends “when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are-or reasonably should have been-completed.” Id. “The Government's endeavor to detect crime in general or drug trafficking in particular cannot justify prolonging an ordinary traffic stop.” United States v. Gorman, 859 F.3d 706, 715 (9th Cir. 2017) (internal quotations omitted) (citing Rodriguez, 135 S.Ct. at 1616). Thus, an officer may prolong a traffic stop to conduct an investigatory action only where he has “independent reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity. United States v. Evans, 786 F.3d 779, 788 (9th Cir. 2015).

         Evidence obtained as a result of an unreasonable search or seizure is “ordinarily tainted by the prior illegality and thus inadmissible, subject to a few recognized exceptions.” Gorman, 859 F.3d at 716 (internal quotations omitted). Where an “illegal stop was the impetus for the chain of events” that led to the discovery of the evidence in question, that evidence is inadmissible. Id. The burden of demonstrating that evidence obtained as a result of an extrajudicial search or seizure is admissible rests with the Government. See id (“the burden of showing admissibility rests on the prosecution.”).

         ANALYSIS

         Mr. Wrobel argues that the evidence of methamphetamine found in his vehicle must be suppressed because Trooper Peeples did not have reasonable articulable suspicion to prolong the traffic stop to conduct a dog sniff. The government has conceded that Trooper Peeples prolonged the traffic stop when he conducted the dog sniff after dispatch returned the wants and warrants check on Mr. Wrobel. Pl.'s Br. at 7, Dkt. 23. The Defense contends, however, that Trooper Peeples abandoned the ...


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