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United States v. McDuffie

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

January 13, 2015



SUSAN P. WATTERS, District Judge.

On January 5, 2013, Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Glenn Quinnell ("Trooper Quinnell") stopped a car driven by Defendant Jevon McDuffie ("McDuffie"). A subsequent search revealed methamphetamine hidden within the car. McDuffie moved to suppress the incriminating evidence on October 20, 2014. In the motion, McDuffie argues that Trooper Quinnell did not possess the requisite reasonable suspicion to stop his car. On November 5, this Court held a hearing on the motion. At the hearing, the Court heard testimony from Trooper Quinnell and McDuffie, and several exhibits were admitted into evidence. The Court also allowed the parties to submit supplemental briefing to address the additional issue of whether Trooper Quinnell unjustifiably extended the traffic stop. The Court now considers all the arguments and denies the motion.

I. Background

Around 7:00 AM on January 5, 2014, Trooper Quinnell began his shift by entering Interstate 94 heading east at about mile marker 211 in his marked patrol car. Mile marker 211 is near Glendive, Montana. As Trooper Quinnell attempted to merge from the onramp onto I-94, he observed a vehicle driving in the right lane behind him. The vehicle moved to the passing lane to allow Trooper Quinnell to merge onto I-94. Trooper Quinnell did not see the vehicle use its tum signal when it switched lanes. The vehicle went past Trooper Quinnell and switched back to the right lane. Again, Trooper Quinnell did not see the vehicle use its tum signal. Trooper Quinnell followed the vehicle and noticed that it had trouble maintaining its lane. The vehicle crossed the centerline and generally swerved within the lane.

McDuffie claims that he properly signalled when changing lanes on both occasions. He also challenges Trooper Quinnell's assertion that the vehicle crossed the centerline. McDuffie correctly notes that the video from Trooper Quinnell's vehicle does not corroborate his testimony. However, the video does not start until after McDuffie moved back to the right lane and after Trooper Quinnell stated that he observed McDuffie cross the centerline. The Court finds Trooper Quinnell's testimony credible. Trooper Quinnell was a Highway Patrolman that was trained to notice such traffic violations. While McDuffie testified that he "absolutely" signalled, the hearing was 22 months after the traffic stop. It would be difficult for a driver to remember whether he properly signalled on a specific instance; whereas Trooper Quinnell could rely on his report made contemporaneously with the stop.

Approximately a mile and half after Trooper Quinnell entered I-94, the vehicle properly signalled and exited I-94 at Exit 213. Exit 213 is where I-94 intersects with Highway 16. Travelling north on Highway 16 is the route to travel from Glendive to Sidney, Montana and Williston, North Dakota. At the time, there was a large problem with fatigued oil field workers driving in the Glendive area, particularly along Highway 16 headed to Sidney or Williston.

Trooper Quinnell followed the vehicle onto the off-ramp. After the vehicle turned north onto Highway 16, Trooper Quinnell activated his lights. The vehicle promptly pulled over. Trooper Quinnell observed that the vehicle had California license plates, and he called in the plate numbers to dispatch so that they could begin running a check on the car. At that time, Trooper Quinnell only intended to issue the driver a warning.

Trooper Quinnell approached the vehicle's passenger door and noticed fast food wrappers and no luggage in the back seat. Trooper Quinnell stated that in his training and experience, having no visible luggage and fast food wrappers in the back seat is consistent with drug couriers. When he reached the front passenger window, Trooper Quinnell identified himself and told the vehicle's driver, McDuffie, that he appeared to be having trouble maintaining his lane. Trooper Quinnell also noticed for the first time that McDuffie was an African American. Trooper Quinnell asked McDuffie ifhe was falling asleep or was on his phone. McDuffie responded that he was trying to get the GPS on his phone to work. Trooper Quinnell asked where McDuffie was going. McDuffie stated that he was going to Williston to look for work.

Trooper Quinnell then asked for McDuffie's driver's license and the vehicle's paperwork. While McDuffie got the documents, Trooper Quinnell asked him if he had any luggage and where he was coming from. McDuffie responded that his luggage was in the trunk and that he was from Las Vegas. Trooper Quinnell told McDuffie that he appeared tired and asked if he had driven straight through from Las Vegas. McDuffie stated that he stopped a few times to sleep in his car. The fact that McDuffie drove from Las Vegas to Glendive while only stopping a few times to sleep in his car further heightened Trooper Quinnell's suspicions that more criminal activity may have been afoot.

McDuffie handed Trooper Quinnell the relevant documents, which included a rental agreement. Trooper Quinnell asked McDuffie who rented the car. McDuffie said that his girlfriend rented it for him. This further led Trooper Quinnell to suspect McDuffie's involvement in criminal activity. In his training and experience, Trooper Quinnell believed that drug traffickers frequently travelled in rental cars. In Trooper Quinnell's nine years of experience, he had seized ten to fifteen rental vehicles that contained narcotics.

About two minutes after Trooper Quinnell initiated the stop, he returned to his patrol vehicle to run a records check on McDuffie. Trooper Quinnell ran a criminal history report on McDuffie and found that he possessed a valid driver's license and that there were no outstanding warrants for his arrest. In addition, the rental car was not reported stolen.

Trooper Quinnell noticed that McDuffie was not named in the rental agreement. Instead, the customer's name was Lisa Spinks. In his experience, Trooper Quinnell believed that rental car companies did not want people not listed in the rental agreement driving a rental car without the named customer in the car. Trooper Quinnell stated that he had "seized many vehicles for rental agencies that also did not have narcotics in them, because they don't want them being driven around the country by people who are not authorized to be in possession of them." At the hearing, McDuffie's counsel got Trooper Quinnell to admit that nothing in the rental agreement said that McDuffie could not drive the car. However, Trooper Quinnell was incorrect about the rental agreement. At the bottom of the rental agreement before Lisa Spinks's initials, the rental agreement states, "No additional drivers allowed without prior written consent." (Doc. 21-1). Despite Trooper Quinnell's inability to locate that section while testifying on cross-examination, he was correct in his belief that rental companies only want authorized drivers to drive their vehicles.[1]

About seven and a half minutes after the stop and five and half minutes after he returned to his patrol car, Trooper Quinnell returned to McDuffie's passenger window. Trooper Quinnell told McDuffie that since his name was not on the rental agreement, Trooper Quinnell had to call the rental company, Avis, and see what they wanted to do with the car. Trooper Quinnell asked McDuffie ifhe was on probation, and McDuffie responded that he was not. McDuffie appeared frustrated and said that this was the second time he was pulled over on this trip. After talking to McDuffie for a minute, Trooper Quinnell returned to his patrol car.

Upon his return to the patrol car, dispatch provided Trooper Quinnell a brief statement ofMcDuffie's criminal history. The criminal history relayed by dispatch included a couple of charges involving marijuana and cocaine. Trooper Quinnell told dispatch that he suspected that McDuffie had a "load" in his ...

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