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United States v. Blandford

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 15, 2020



          Nancy E. Brasel United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the defendants' objections to the September 16, 2019 Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of United States Magistrate Judge Leo I. Brisbois.[1] [ECF No. 99.] Judge Brisbois recommends (1) granting in part and denying in part denying Defendant Blandford's Motion to Suppress Statements with Incorporated Legal Authority [ECF No. 66]; (2) denying Defendant Blandford's Motion for Suppression of Evidence Obtained by Search and Seizure [ECF No. 67]; (3) denying Defendant Leigland's Motion to Suppress Evidence Obtained as a Result of Search and Seizure [ECF No. 76]; and (4) denying Defendant Leigland's Motion to Suppress Statements, Admissions, and Answers [ECF No. 77]. The Court has conducted a de novo review. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b); D. Minn. L.R. 72.2. Based on that review, the Court overrules the defendants' objections and accepts the R&R.


         The undisputed facts[2] are clearly set forth in the R&R and are incorporated by reference. The defendants argue that physical evidence and their statements should be suppressed for various reasons. The Court will address each of their arguments in turn.

         I. Blandford's Objections

         Defendant Blandford's suppression argument is threefold: (1) his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when Trooper Nicholas Otterson (“Trooper Otterson” or “Otterson”) stopped his vehicle; (2) Trooper Otterson conducted an improper and illegal search of Blandford; and (3) Blandford's pre-Miranda statements should be suppressed.

         A. The Traffic Stop

         Trooper Otterson testified that he pulled over Blandford's car because: (1) he observed the car speeding; and (2) as the car passed by him, he could hear loud exhaust. [ECF No. 132 (“Hr'g Trans.”) at 39.] Magistrate Judge Brisbois found that there was a factual and legal basis for the traffic stop, i.e., that it was objectively reasonable for Trooper Otterson to stop the vehicle based on his visual estimation of its speed. (R&R at 12-13.) Blandford argues that the stop was not reasonable.

         Officers need “reasonable suspicion” to justify a traffic stop. Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. 54, 60 (2014). Reasonable suspicion exists when an officer has a “particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of breaking the law.” Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted). “The ‘reasonable suspicion' necessary to justify such a stop ‘is dependent upon both the content of information possessed by police and its degree of reliability.'” Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. 393, 397 (2014) (quoting Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 330 (1990)). “Although a mere hunch does not create reasonable suspicion, the level of suspicion the standard requires is considerably less than proof of wrongdoing by a preponderance of the evidence, and obviously less than is necessary for probable cause.” Id. (citations and quotation marks omitted). In determining whether an officer had a particularized and objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing, a reviewing court “must look at the totality of the circumstances, allowing officers to draw on their experience and training.” United States v. Hughes, 517 F.3d 1013, 1016 (8th Cir. 2008).

         Trooper Otterson testified about his eight years of experience visually estimating vehicle speed, as well as his five years of experience working in the physical location of this traffic stop. (See, e.g., Hr'g Trans. at 38-39.) He testified that he saw Blandford's car “suddenly brake[] hard . . . because the front of the vehicle's nose dipped down.” (Id. at 39; see Gov't Ex. 1 at 1:00-1:14 (squad video in which Otterson notes, “visually fast in a 30 zone, brakes on when he passed me”).) Like the Magistrate Judge, this Court finds Otterson's belief that Blandford was speeding to be objectively reasonable.

         Blandford argues that the Magistrate Judge erred by finding that nothing in the record raises doubt about Trooper Otterson's determination that Blandford was speeding. He questions Otterson's credibility, contending that Otterson exaggerated and overstated evidence. This evidence includes: (1) Otterson's purported testimony that Blandford “‘immediately' pulled into a gas station after passing the squad car, ” when the station was four blocks away, [ECF No. 116 (“Blandford's Br.”) at 3]; (2) Otterson's testimony that Blandford moved his body in such a way as to prevent a pat search of his pockets, when the squad video allegedly shows him moving closer to Otterson “to facilitate the pat search, ” (id.); and (3) Otterson's “lie” to another officer during the stop that he had recovered two pounds of a suspected controlled substance from Blandford's car, when it was approximately one pound, (id.). Blandford maintains that Otterson's alleged inclination to exaggerate should raise concerns about his observation of Blandford's speeding. The Court disagrees.

         First, Trooper Otterson testified that after Blandford's vehicle had passed him, he pulled out onto the road, “then [] narrated to [his] squad video that the vehicle had been speeding, ” and that “now the vehicle was then immediately turning off into a gas station after [he] pulled out.” (Hr'g Trans. at 40.) The squad video supports Otterson's testimony and demonstrates that the time between Otterson pulling onto the road and Blandford turning into the station was less than fifteen seconds. (Gov't Ex. 1 at 1:00-1:14.) Second, the squad video does not support Blandford's assertion that he moved closer to Otterson to facilitate the pat-down search. (Id. at 4:24-4:47.) Finally, the Court finds that Otterson's mistake about the weight of the recovered controlled substance does not undermine his credibility as to his reasonable belief that Blandford was speeding. Otterson testified that he “thought it was maybe closer to two pounds [of a controlled substance] when [he] first looked at it, ” but it only weighed approximately one pound. (Hr'g Trans. at 79.) Otterson did not testify to his experience visually determining the weight of suspected controlled substances. In contrast, the record reflects his years of experience visually estimating vehicle speed. The Court is not persuaded that Otterson's ability to visually estimate the weight of a controlled substance affects his ability to visually estimate vehicle speed.

         Blandford also takes issue with the Magistrate Judge's note that he would find the stop reasonable because Otterson had a reasonable basis to initiate the stop of the vehicle for violating Minnesota Statute § 169.69. (R&R at 13 n.5.) Under Minnesota law, every vehicle must be equipped “with a muffler in good working order which blends the exhaust noise into the overall vehicle noise.” Minn. Stat. § 169.69. A violation of § 169.69 is a petty misdemeanor. See State v. Beardemphl, 674 N.W.2d 430, 432 (Minn.Ct.App. 2004) (citing Minn. Stat. § 169.89, subd. 1). The Eighth Circuit has upheld findings of reasonable suspicion for violations of misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors that would not authorize a custodial arrest. See, e.g., United States v. Goodwin-Bey, 718 F. Appʹx 447, 448 (8th Cir. 2018) (citing United States v. Givens, 763 F.3d 987, 990 (8th Cir. 2014) (stating “[i]t is not uncommon for officers to stop vehicles due to the lack of an apparent temporary registration tag, and such stops are generally upheld as supported by reasonable suspicion”), and United States v. Banks, 553 F.3d 1101, 1104 (8th Cir. 2009) (stating “the officers actually witnessed [the defendant] riding a bicycle without a light [a petty misdemeanor offense], which is more than sufficient to establish reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity” (alterations in original))).

         Otterson testified that as Blandford's car drove past, he could hear the loud exhaust on the car and believed it to be too loud, in violation of Minnesota law. (Hr'g Trans. at 39-40, 43.) The squad video shows Otterson asking Blandford to shut off the car so that Otterson can hear the defendants. Otterson also informed the defendants that he stopped the car for speeding and because its exhaust was “really loud, ” which Blandford acknowledged. (Gov't Ex. 1 at 1:46-2:01.) And so, the Court is not persuaded by Blandford's argument that the exhaust could not have been overly loud because the conversation is easily heard on the squad video. Rather, the video shows that the conversation is easily heard because the car is off. The Court finds that the evidence ...

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