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United States v. Hackett

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

June 5, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
SADIE ALLEN HACKETT, Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION OF U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          TIMOTHY J. CAVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Defendant Sadie Allen Hackett (“Hackett”) is charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. (Doc. 1.) She has moved to suppress evidence under the Fourth Amendment. (Doc. 41.)

         On April 16, 2019, U.S. District Judge Susan P. Watters referred Hackett's motion to the undersigned, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Rule 59(a), Fed. R. Crim. P., to conduct a hearing and issue appropriate findings and recommendations. (Doc. 44.)

         Hackett was a passenger in a vehicle which was stopped and searched by law enforcement. She asserts that evidence and testimony concerning firearms, methamphetamine, and cash obtained from the search and subsequent investigation into the vehicle should be suppressed. She contends the evidence was obtained from an unlawful traffic stop. She argues the traffic stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion because the officer's justifications for the stop were unreasonable and based on a mistake of law.

         The Court held an evidentiary hearing on May, 21, 2019, and the parties presented evidence on the motion. Having considered the parties' arguments and submissions, the Court RECOMMENDS that Hackett's Motion to Suppress be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court heard testimony from Billings Police Department Officer Jeremiah Adams (“Officer Adams”). The following facts are taken from the hearing testimony and the parties' briefs.

         On July 25, 2018, Officer Adams conducted a traffic stop of a blue Subaru Impreza because he believed the driver's visibility was impaired by a crack in the vehicle's front windshield. (Tr. 6 & Docs. 42 at 3; 48 at 2.) He testified he first observed the cracked windshield when the vehicle made a right turn while he was traveling a few cars behind the vehicle. (Tr. 10, 16.) Officer Adams then moved directly behind the vehicle and initiated the traffic stop. (Tr. 16; Exhibit D.)

         Officer Adams testified he was also concerned that items hanging from the vehicle's rear-view mirror were impeding the driver's visibility. (Tr. 6.) Officer Adams explained, however, that he would have stopped the vehicle regardless of whether there were items hanging from the mirror, because the crack alone sufficiently concerned him that the driver's visibility was impaired. (Tr. 6-7, 13.) He also testified that he regularly conducts traffic stops of vehicles with windshield cracks appearing to obstruct the driver's view of the road. (Tr. 7.)

         Officer Adams described the crack as running horizontally across the entirety of the windshield, above the steering wheel, and directly in the driver's view. (Tr. 6, 17.) He testified the windshield was neither shattered nor cracked in a spider-web pattern. (Tr. 13.) Nevertheless, he believed the crack materially impaired or obstructed the driver's view. (Tr. 15.) Officer Adams testified he further observed the crack upon stopping the vehicle; he indicated the windshield's condition is accurately represented in the photographs marked as Exhibits A, B, and C.[1] (Tr. 13.)

         After Officer Adams initiated the traffic stop, he approached the vehicle and made contact with the driver, Johnny Bieshuevel, and the passenger, Sadie Hackett. (Doc. 42 at 3.) The traffic stop eventually led to the seizure and search of the vehicle and the discovery of methamphetamine, firearms, and cash. (Doc. 42 at 4.) Additionally, on October 18, 2018, ATF agents conducted an interview with Bieshuevel regarding the traffic stop. (Doc. 42 at 5.) During the interview, Bieshuevel made statements to the agents concerning the contents of the vehicle at the time of the stop. Id. Hackett seeks suppression of the evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop, including the methamphetamine, firearms, cash, and statements made to law enforcement by Bieshuevel concerning these items.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Under Mont. Code Ann. § 61-9-405(2)(b), a person may not drive a motor vehicle in Montana with “a windshield that is shattered or in such a defective condition that it materially impairs or obstructs the driver's clear view.”

         Hackett argues Officer Adams did not have reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop because the windshield was not in a condition that could reasonably be said to materially obstruct the driver's view.[2] Therefore, she argues the evidence and testimony obtained as a result of the search should be suppressed. The Government contends the stop was lawful because Officer Adams had reasonable suspicion to believe the vehicle was in violation of Mont. Code Ann. ยง ...


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