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United States v. Vales

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

February 1, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DIANGELO VALES, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Hon. Jane Magntts-Stinson, Chief Judge United States District Court

         Defendant Diangelo Vales filed a Motion to Suppress evidence that he contends was obtained during an unlawful search. [Filing No. 23.] After a hearing, the Court issued its Order denying that Motion on October 4, 2017. [Filing No. 42.] After conducting additional discovery, Mr. Vales has gathered evidence that he believes warrants reconsideration and a second hearing regarding his Motion to Suppress. Presently pending before the Court is Mr. Vales' Motion to Reconsider, [Filing No. 57], which is now fully briefed and ripe for the Court's review. For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES Mr. Vales' Motion to Reconsider and his request for a hearing on the matter.

         I.

         Background

         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.] On June 5, 2017, Mr. Vales filed a Motion to Suppress evidence that he argued was obtained as the result of an unlawful search, as well as a statement that he contended was derivative of that search. [Filing No. 23.] On September 21, 2017, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on Mr. Vales' Motion to Suppress, during which the Court heard testimony from Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (“IMPD”) Officers Richard Faulkner, Trent Fortson, and Dane Elkins. [SeeFiling No. 45.]

         A. Factual Findings

         Following the suppression hearing, the Court found the following facts, as established by the testimonial and written evidence.

         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.

         B. Legal Conclusions

         In his Motion to Suppress, Mr. Vales argued that Officer Faulkner conducted a warrantless search of Mr. Vales' vehicle that was not permitted by any exception to the warrant requirement, such as a search incident to arrest or the search of a vehicle upon probable cause of a crime. He contended that Officer Faulkner characterized the search after the fact as an inventory search in order to prevent the exclusion of the evidence obtained. Mr. Vales pointed to two factors as being indicative of an improper search: (1) the timeline of events during the traffic stop; and (2) that impoundment was not necessary, because Mr. Vales could have called someone to assist in moving the vehicle.

         As to the timeline, after considering and crediting Officer Faulkner's testimony, the Court concluded that there was nothing constitutionally infirm or pretextual about the timeline of events leading to the search of Mr. Vales' vehicle. [Filing No. 42 at 5.] The Court also concluded that the objective evidence supported the conclusion that Officer Faulkner intended to tow the vehicle prior to conducting the search. [Filing No. 42 at 6.] As to the propriety of impounding Mr. Vales' vehicle, the Court concluded that the decision to tow Mr. Vales' vehicle was reasonable and consistent with existing IMPD policies. [Filing No. 42 at 6.] The Court accordingly denied Mr. Vales' Motion to Suppress. [Filing No. 42.]

         C. ...


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