United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division
L. Christensen, Chief Judge.
the Court is Defendant Spencer Steven Budde's
("Budde") Motion to Suppress. (Doc. 25.) On April
20, 2018, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion
and heard testimony from Montana Highway Patrol Trooper
Alexander Velasquez ("Trooper Velasquez") and
arguments from counsel.
contends that the evidenced seized from the search of his
vehicle must be suppressed because Trooper Velasquez lacked
reasonable suspicion to believe that Budde was engaged in, or
about to engage in, the commission of a crime. Because Budde
argues that the seizure was illegal, all subsequent evidence
must be suppressed under the "fruit of the poisonous
reasons discussed below, the Court denies the motion.
January 21, 2017, at approximately 7:45 a.m., Trooper
Velasquez initiated a traffic stop on Highway 191 outside of
Bozeman, after observing Budde's vehicle, an orange
pickup truck pulling a U-Haul trailer, swerve in and out of
its lane. Trooper Velasquez activated his lights to initiate
the stop and Budde pulled into a gas station. The question
before the Court is simple: when Trooper Velasquez observed
Budde's vehicle swerve into both surrounding lanes, did
Trooper Velasquez have reasonable suspicion to believe that
the vehicle's driver might be impaired?
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides
"[t]he right of the people to be secure in their
persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable
searches and seizures, shall not be violated." U.S.
Const. Amend. IV. "[A] person is seized only when, by
means of physical force or a show of authority, his freedom
of movement is restrained." United States v.
Mendenhall, AA6 U.S. 544, 553-554 (1980) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Even a brief traffic stop is a
seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and
therefore is subjected to the "constitutional
imperative" that it be reasonable under the
circumstances. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806,
810 (1996); see also United States v. Arvizu, 534
U.S. 266, 273 (2002).
traffic stop complies with the Fourth Amendment when
"law enforcement officers ... have at least a reasonable
suspicion of criminal activity before stopping a
suspect." United States v. Morales, 252 F.3d
1070, 1073 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Terry v. Ohio,
392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968)); see also Delaware v. Prouse,
440 U.S. 648, 653 (1979) (extending Terry to traffic
stops). "Reasonable suspicion exists when an officer is
aware of specific, articulable facts which, when considered
with objective and reasonable inferences, form a basis for
particularized suspicion." United States v.
Montero-Camargo, 208 F.3d 1122, 1129 (9th Cir. 2000) (en
banc) (internal quotation marks omitted). "The concept
of reasonable suspicion, like probable cause, is not readily,
or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules,
" United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7
(1989), but is intentionally abstract, as courts are
instructed to give "due weight" to the factual
inferences drawn by law enforcement officers. United
States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002); see also
United States v. Hartz, 458 F.3d 1011, 1017 (9th Cir.
2006) (finding that "[Reasonable suspicion exists if
'specific, articulable facts ... together with objective
and reasonable inferences suggest that the persons detained
by the police are engaged in criminal activity."). This
standard is not a high threshold, but requires more than
"a mere hunch." United States v.
Valdes-Vega, 738 F.3d 1074, 1078 (9th Cir. 2013) (en
Trooper Velasquez had reasonable suspicion to believe that
the driver of the vehicle may be impaired based on his
objective determination the driver was swerving across and
into both surrounding lanes. Additionally, this behavior
could violate either of Montana Code Annotated §§
61-8-302 or 61-8-321, which prohibit careless driving and
failing to drive on the right side of the highway,
respectively. There is no requirement that a driving
infraction be lengthy or prolonged to inform an officer's
reasonable suspicion. See Rodriguez v. United
States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1612 (2015) (finding an officer
had reasonable suspicion upon observing a driver cross slowly
onto the shoulder of the road for a few seconds.") Thus,
based on Trooper Velasquez's observations and reasonable
inferences, the Court concludes that there was reasonable
suspicion for the traffic stop.
hearing, Budde argued that Trooper Velasquez's grounds
for initiating the traffic stop did not comply with the
Fourth Amendment because Trooper Velasquez's conclusions
were based on a subjective, rather than an objective,
assessment of the facts. Trooper Velasquez testified that in
his experience, it is unusual for drivers who are being
stopped by the police to turn and pull into a parking lot
before stopping. According to Trooper Velasquez, this only
occurs when a driver knows that he or she will be leaving his
or her car behind. According to Budde, this conclusion is
subjective because there is nothing unreasonable about a
driver in the left hand lane turning left-instead or merging
right-to pull over.
this question is inapposite to the issue of whether Trooper
Velasquez had reasonable suspicion to seize Budde. Because
the moment of seizure occurred when Trooper Velasquez
activated his traffic lights, any suspicious activity after
the fact is irrelevant to whether there was reasonable
suspicion for the seizure itself.
issue, and for the reasons stated above, the Court concludes
that Trooper Velasquez had reasonable suspicion to seize
Budde. Since Budde withdrew all other grounds for his motion
to suppress, the Court concludes that the evidence
subsequently obtained from ...