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United States v. Radford

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

December 6, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Christopher Radford's (“Radford”) Motion to Suppress (Filing No. 105). Radford is charged with violating 21 U.S.C. §§841(a)(1) and 841 (b)(1)(B)-possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. He seeks to suppress all evidence obtained from his person and vehicle as the result of a warrantless search during a traffic stop. Radford asserts that the traffic stop and the search and seizure of his vehicle and person was made without probable cause and in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, justifying suppression of the evidence found during the search. On December 3, 2019, an evidentiary hearing was held on Radford's Motion. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(d), the Court now states its findings of fact and conclusions of law and determines that the Motion to Suppress should be denied.


         Corporal John Maples (“Corp. Maples”), a fifteen (15) year veteran of the Brownsburg (Indiana) Police Department (“Brownsburg PD”) has worked narcotics investigations for approximately twelve (12) years. In November 2018, Corp. Maples was a supervisor of Brownsburg PD's street crimes unit-a unit that enforces traffic laws in pursuit of criminal activity while in transit. A part of his assignment was to conduct traffic stops to investigate drug trafficking on major routes that pass through Brownsburg, Indiana. During his career with Brownsburg PD, Corp. Maples estimates that he has conducted “hundreds, if not thousands” of traffic stops. On Monday, November 19, 2018, Corp. Maples was assisting the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) and Task Force Officers in the vicinity of Rockville Road and Bridgeport Road near the border between Indianapolis and Avon, Indiana. Corp. Maples had been informed by DEA surveillance units that a white Audi had just departed a suspected drug house where DEA and other investigators were conducting surveillance.

         At approximately 2:15 p.m., Corp. Maples was monitoring traffic in his marked police cruiser from an LA Fitness parking lot on the north side of Rockville Road. DEA surveillance units advised over the radio that the white Audi that was the focus of their narcotics investigation, had pulled into an Auto Zone store, then through a gas station lot and into a strip mall just east of his location on Rockville Road and the Audi was traveling west on Rockville Road. Corp. Maples had traveled to the traffic light at the end of the access road of the LA Fitness parking lot when observed the Audi pass his location traveling at approximately 40 to 45 miles per hour and following the car in front of it by less than one car length. Upon observing what he believed to be a traffic infraction of following too closely, Corp. Maples decided to make a traffic stop to issue a written warning, and determine if the driver was properly licensed or has existing warrants. Corp. Maples pulled into the flow of traffic and activated his dashboard camera. The remaining interactions can be seen in the video from the dashboard camera from Corp. Maples' police car.

         The Audi was stopped at a red light at Rockville Road and Raceway Road. Corp. Maples approached the vehicle in his marked squad car and located himself behind the Audi. As the Audi began to turn into a PNC bank parking lot, Corp. Maples activated his overhead lights. The Audi pulled into a parking space and Corp. Maples positioned his vehicle behind the Audi where the vehicle could not leave. Corp. Maples approached the passenger side window of the Audi and made contact with the driver. The driver of the vehicle, who was later determined to be Radford, had not observed the activated lights and was unaware that he was being stopped by a police officer. Radford began to open the door of the Audi and was surprised when Corp. Maples pulled the door open. Radford had a cellular telephone in his hand and Corp. Maples instructed him to put the phone on the dashboard and exit the vehicle. Radford hesitated and did not initially comply. Radford then attempted to hold onto a second cellular telephone. A second command was given and Radford complied. As Radford exited the Audi, he responded to Corp. Maples' questions and denied having any firearms. Radford is moving around and appears nervous and places his left hand close to his belt line and gestures as if attempting to pull up his pants. Corp. Maples, concerned for officer safety, instructs Radford to “stop moving around” and “stop reaching” because “you make me nervous.” As Corp. Maples begins to conduct a pat down Radford's left arm tensed up and he attempted to keep his arm close to his body. Corp. Maples advised Radford multiple times to relax and loosen up his arms. Corp. Maples then placed a grip on the back of Radford's left arm to prevent him from being able to retrieve any items from his belt line or pocket. When Corp. Maples pulled Radford toward him, he observed a clear vacuum-sealed package containing what Corp. Maples believed to be heroin. Radford was then placed in handcuffs for his safety and officer safety. (Filing No. 106-4 at 1-2.)

         After Radford was secured, a search of his person and vehicle revealed a firearm in the driver side door pocket, the suspected heroin tested positive for Fentanyl and Radford had an outstanding warrant out of Boone County for operating a vehicle being a life time habitual traffic violator. (Filing No. 106-4 at 2.)


         In his Motion to Suppress, Radford asserts that the evidence obtained against him as a result of the traffic stop and the subsequent warrantless search of his vehicle violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. (Filing No. 105.) Specifically, he argues that (1) Corp. Maples lacked probable cause to conduct the traffic stop; and (2) the warrantless search of his person and vehicle was not supported by probable cause. In contrast, the Government asserts that Corp. Maples had probable cause for the stop and that the video of the traffic stop demonstrates sufficient probable cause for the pat down and subsequent search of Radford's person and vehicle. Because the material facts at issue are disputed, the Court must make a credibility determination on the evidence presented.

         A. Need for a Hearing.

         Both parties requested a hearing on the Motion to Suppress. “District courts are required to conduct evidentiary hearings only when a substantial claim is presented and there are disputed issues of material fact that will affect the outcome of the motion.” United States v. Curlin, 638 F.3d 562, 564 (7th Cir. 2011). Radford raised disputed issues of material fact, therefore an evidentiary hearing was held on December 3, 2019.

         B. Validity of the Stop.

         Radford moves to suppress the evidence seized from the traffic stop. He denies committing any traffic violations and asserts that at all times he operated his vehicle in a safe manner, the traffic stop was pretext and the resulting search of his person and vehicle was unreasonable and improper.

         The Fourth Amendment guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Fourth Amendment prohibits a warrantless search unless the search falls under one of the recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement. United States v. Denney, 771 F.2d 318, 320 (7th Cir. 1985). If a search is conducted without a warrant, the Government bears the burden to prove that an exception to the warrant requirement existed at the time of the search, or it will be deemed unreasonable and unconstitutional. United States v. Rivera, 248 F.3d 677, 680 (7th Cir. 2001). When an officer effectuates a traffic stop and detains a person, no matter the length of time, it constitutes a “seizure” of “persons” under the Fourth Amendment, and thus must be reasonable. Whren v. United States, 517 ...

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