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United States v. Powell

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 12, 2017



         Before the Court is Defendant Alshaqah Tariq Powell's motion to suppress. (Doc. No. 38.) For the following reasons, the Court will deny Defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 3, 2015, Trooper David Long of the Pennsylvania State Police was observing southbound traffic on Interstate 81 from the interstate median. (Tr. at 12: 1-2; 27: 5-12; 29: 2-4.) Trooper Long positioned his unmarked SUV perpendicular to the interstate to watch traffic pass from right to left through Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. (Tr. at 5: 16-21; 31: 2-10.) During this time, Defendant Powell drove past Trooper Long in a black Ford Taurus. (Tr. at 27: 13-22; 28: 2-4.) The Ford Taurus had tinted windows, displayed a temporary New Jersey tag, and was not speeding. (Tr. at 7: 16-17; 28: 2-12.)

         However, as Defendant passed by his patrol car, Trooper Long observed Defendant wearing white headphones over his left ear. (Tr. at 9: 11-19; 31: 11-25.) Trooper Long could not tell whether Defendant wore headphones over his right ear. (Tr. at 9: 13-14; 32: 1-3.) Nonetheless, Trooper Long crossed into the interstate and activated his lights. (Tr. at 33: 10-21.) Defendant pulled over to the side of the interstate. (Tr. at 12: 1-2; 34: 3-4.) Trooper Long approached the passenger window and witnessed Defendant talking on the phone with headphones over both ears. (Tr. at 8: 20-21; 10: 4-8; 34: 14-17.) Trooper Long told Defendant that driving with headphones over both ears violated Pennsylvania's vehicle code. (Tr. at 8: 20-25.) Defendant responded that he used the headphones' Bluetooth to talk on the phone. (See Tr. at 8: 22-23; 10: 4-11.) Trooper Long explained that he would not give him a citation for driving with headphones. (See Tr. at 38: 12-17.)

         Trooper Long then proceeded to ask Defendant for his license and registration, whether he drove from New Jersey, and who owned the Ford Taurus. (Tr. at 11: 11-22; Government's Exhibit 2.) Defendant stated that he was driving from the New Jersey state line to visit his girlfriend who worked in York County, Pennsylvania. (Tr. at 11: 18-21; 12: 13-14; 18: 11-15.) Defendant first suggested that his girlfriend worked at a Wendy's in York County. Defendant later stated that the girlfriend worked at a Walmart and that they planned to meet at a Wendy's in York County for lunch. (Tr. at 18: 11-15.) As to the Ford Taurus' owner, Defendant initially suggested that his girlfriend owned the car, though he then clarified that the girlfriend's father owned the Ford Taurus. (Tr. at 18: 6-10, 16-18.)

         Defendant provided Trooper Long with North Carolina identification, offered a New Jersey temporary registration card, and acknowledged that he was not licensed to drive. (Tr. at 12: 24-25; 13: 1-6; 20: 14-24.) Trooper Long returned to his SUV, messaged Trooper Travis Martin of the Pennsylvania State Police for backup, and started his inquiry into the vehicle's registration as well as Defendant's criminal history. (Tr. at 13: 7-12, 17-25; 14: 1-6, 11-18; 45: 5-7.) At this time, Trooper Long also detected a possible odor of marijuana from the vehicle. (Tr. at 14: 19-24; 35: 8-25.) However, Trooper Long did not initially confront Defendant with his suspicion and sought Trooper Martin's opinion as to the presence of marijuana because Trooper Long had a cold at the time. (Tr. at 15: 6-17; 35: 22-25.) Trooper Martin appeared on the scene approximately five minutes later. (Tr. at 52: 20-23.) Trooper Martin spoke with Defendant, inquired into the purpose of his trip, and did not detect an order of marijuana in the Ford Taurus. (Tr. at 15: 19-25; 46: 25; 47: 1-2; 51: 17-19.)

         Approximately twenty-four minutes into the stop, Trooper Long returned to Defendant and asked him to step out of the Ford Taurus. (Tr. at 16: 24-25; 17: 1-2; 40: 14-18; 43: 5-10.) A pat-down of Defendant's person revealed only a pack of “Indian cigarettes.” (Tr. at 38: 18-25; 39: 1-17.) Again, Trooper Long asked Defendant questions about the purpose of his trip. (Tr. at 40: 19-22.) Trooper Long then asked Defendant for permission to search the Ford Taurus. (Tr. at 40: 23-25.) Trooper Long informed Defendant that his consent must be a “either a yes or a no, ” discussed the purpose of the search, and later explained how to fill out portions of the waiver form. (Government's Exhibit No. 2.) Defendant completed the consent form on the side of the road and outside of the view of Trooper Long's dashcam video. (Tr. at 17: 2-10; 48: 7-8; Government's Exhibit Nos 1, 2.)

         Trooper Martin's search of the Ford Taurus's trunk revealed paper-wrapped packages of heroin and bricks of heroin. (Tr. at 21: 8-10, 18-19; 41: 21-25; 48: 16-24.) Trooper Martin discovered the heroin by unzipping a backpack located in the vehicle's trunk. (Tr. at 53: 9-15.) Trooper Martin pointed his Taser at Defendant upon seeing the narcotics and instructed Trooper Long to take Defendant into custody. (Tr. at 49: 5-7.) Trooper Martin then proceeded to take Defendant Powell into custody and read him his Miranda rights. (Tr. at 21: 22-23.)

         On June 22, 2016, a grand jury returned a one-count indictment charging Defendant with possession with intent to distribute heroin. (Doc. No. 1.) Defendant entered a plea of not guilty on June 28, 2016 (Doc. No. 10), and Defendant filed the pending motion to suppress physical evidence on January 22, 2017 (Doc. No. 38). The pending motion has been fully briefed (Doc. Nos. 39, 45, 47), and a suppression hearing was conducted on May 17, 2017 (Doc. Nos. 49, 52). At the suppression hearing, Troopers Long and Martin testified to the events surrounding Defendant's arrest on November 3, 2015. (Doc. No. 52.) Defendant's motion is ripe for disposition.


         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the public against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. Amend. IV. “Generally, for a seizure to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, it must be effectuated with a warrant based on probable cause.” United States v. Robertson, 305 F.3d 164, 167 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 356-57 (1967)). “Under the exception to the warrant requirement established in Terry, however, an officer may, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, conduct a brief, investigatory stop when the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.” United States v. Torres, 534 F.3d 207, 210 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotations omitted). “Any evidence obtained pursuant to an investigatory stop (also known as a ‘Terry stop' or a ‘stop and frisk') that does not meet this exception must be suppressed as ‘fruit of the poisonous tree.'” Id. (quoting United States v. Brown, 448 F.3d 239, 244 (3d Cir. 2006)).


         In his motion to suppress, Defendant moves the Court to suppress the physical evidence obtained from the search of the Ford Taurus on November 3, 2015. (See Doc. No. 38.) Defendant submits four arguments in support of his motion to suppress: (1) Trooper Long lacked probable cause to effectuate the traffic stop; (2) the length and nature of the traffic stop was unreasonable; (3) Trooper Long lacked reasonable suspicion to warrant an investigative detention; and (4) Defendant's consent to the vehicle search was not voluntary. (Doc. No. 38.) The Court addresses each argument in turn.

         A. Reasonable suspicion to ...

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