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United States v. Vales

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

October 4, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DIANGELO VALES (01), Defendant.

          ORDER

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         Presently pending before the Court is Defendant Diangelo Vales' Motion to Suppress. [Filing No. 23.] Mr. Vales has been indicted with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). [Filing No. 1.] He seeks to suppress evidence recovered after what he contends was an illegal search in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, as well as evidence of a statement made following that search. Because the evidence does not support any constitutional violations, the Court denies his Motion.

         I.

         Findings of Fact[1]

         On September 21, 2017, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on Mr. Vales' Motion to Suppress. [See Filing No. 39.] The following are the Court's factual findings from the evidence presented at that hearing and submitted with the parties' briefs. In making the findings that follow, the Court has considered the testimony and the demeanor of the witnesses who testified at the evidentiary hearing: Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (“IMPD”) Officer Richard Faulkner, IMPD Officer Trent Fortson, and IMPD Officer Dane Elkins.

         On May 14, 2016 at approximately 8:14 p.m., Officer Faulkner was driving his marked police vehicle behind Mr. Vales, who was driving northbound on Kenwood Avenue in Indianapolis, Indiana. [Filing No. 22-1 at 2.] While turning eastbound on 34th Street, Mr. Faulkner observed Mr. Vales disregard a stop sign. [Filing No. 22-1 at 2.] Officer Faulkner immediately initiated a traffic stop of Mr. Vales' vehicle. [Filing No. 22-1 at 2.] 34th Street contained three lanes of traffic moving eastbound, and Mr. Vales brought his vehicle to a stop in the southernmost open lane, next to a vehicle that was parallel parked adjacent to the curb.

         Officer Faulkner approached the vehicle and asked Mr. Vales, who was the only occupant of the vehicle, for his driver's license. [Filing No. 22-1 at 2.] After receiving it, at approximately 8:16 p.m., Officer Faulkner requested Mr. Vales' driving record information using the laptop computer in his police vehicle. [Filing No. 22-1 at 2; Filing No. 22-2 at 2.] Officer Faulkner, via his laptop, received information that Mr. Vales had a suspended driver's license. Because Mr. Vales was the only occupant of the vehicle, had a suspended license, and the car was stopped in a lane of traffic (as opposed to legally parked), Officer Faulkner determined that the vehicle should be towed from the scene. At approximately 8:17 p.m., Officer Faulkner radioed for backup. [See Filing No. 22-2 at 2].

         At approximately 8:18 p.m., backup Officer Trent Fortson arrived at the scene of the traffic stop, and Officer Faulkner advised Officer Fortson of the need to tow the vehicle. The officers approached the vehicle and asked Mr. Vales to exit. Both officers testified that Mr. Vales became argumentative and initially would not exit the vehicle. When he did exit the vehicle, and remained argumentative, the officers placed him in handcuffs “for the safety” of both the officers and Mr. Vales. [Filing No. 22-1 at 2.] Officer Faulkner then commenced an inventory search of the vehicle, as required by IMPD policy, prior to the impoundment. [Filing No. 22-1 at 2.] During that search, Officer Faulkner discovered a loaded handgun in the console of the vehicle. [Filing No. 22-1 at 2.] At approximately 8:23 p.m., Officer Faulkner radioed for the assistance of a gun liaison officer. Officer Faulkner obtained a summary of Mr. Vales' criminal history and was informed that Mr. Vales did not have a valid handgun permit and had been previously convicted of a felony offense. Mr. Vales was placed under arrest for carrying a handgun without a license with a prior conviction and possession of a handgun by a serious violent felon, and the handgun was seized. [Filing No. 22-1 at 3.] Mr. Vales was read his Miranda rights and stated that he understood them. [Filing No. 22-1 at 3.] Mr. Vales knowingly waived those rights and voluntarily stated that the handgun belonged to him, and that he carried it for protection.

         On October 5, 2016, a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Vales of the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). [Filing No. 1.] Mr. Vales now moves to suppress the evidence of the firearm recovered after what he contends to be an illegal search, as well as evidence of statements he made regarding the firearm. Having conducted a hearing on September 21, 2017 regarding the Motion, it is now ready for the Court's resolution.

         II.

         Discussion

         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. . . .” U.S. Const. amend. IV. Generally, a warrantless search or seizure in the absence of probable cause is unreasonable. United States v. Slone, 636 F.3d 845, 848-49 (7th Cir. 2011). When police conduct an unreasonable search or seizure, the exclusionary rule usually vindicates the Fourth Amendment's protections by keeping out the unlawfully obtained evidence. Id.

         A. Evidence of Firearm

          “Inventory searches are a recognized exception to the warrant and probable-cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment. Searches conducted by the police prior to towing a car are lawful if conducted pursuant to standard police procedures aimed at protecting the owner's property-and protecting the police from the owner's charging them with having stolen, lost, or damaged his property.” United States v. Cherry,436 F.3d 769, 772-73 (7th Cir. 2006) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Mr. Vales argues that, while the Government contends that the search of Mr. Vales' vehicle was a valid inventory search, the “inventory search” label was merely a pretextual, after-the-fact justification for an otherwise illegal search. [Filing No. 22 at 6.] In his briefing, Mr. Vales raises a question as to the chronology of events, arguing that an evidentiary hearing was necessary in order to clarify the timeline of actions taken by Officer Faulkner during the traffic stop. [Filing No. 22 at 8-9.] Mr. Vales appears to argue that (1) the IMPD was not required to tow ...


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