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United States v. Hackett

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

July 2, 2019

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

          ORDER ADOPTING FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          SUSAN P. WATTERS U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         The Defendant, Sadie Hackett, filed a motion to suppress evidence officers obtained through a traffic stop and search of a vehicle she was a passenger in. The Court referred Hackett's motion to United States Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Cavan. Judge Cavan issued findings and a recommendation that the Court deny Hackett's motion. For the following reasons, the Court adopts the findings and recommendation in full and denies Hackett's motion to suppress.

         I. Background

         Judge Cavan held a hearing on Hackett's motion to suppress and heard testimony from Billings Police Department Officer Jeremiah Adams. Judge Cavan found the following facts from the hearing testimony and the parties' briefs. (Doc. 54 at 2.)

         On July 25, 2018, Officer Adams observed a blue Subaru Impreza driving with a cracked windshield while he was travelling a few cars behind the vehicle and it made a right turn. Officer Adams moved directly behind the vehicle and initiated a traffic stop. (Doc. 54 at 2.) He was also concerned an item hanging from the vehicle's rear-view mirror was impairing the driver's clear view, but he testified he would have stopped the vehicle regardless because the windshield crack alone sufficiently concerned him that the driver's clear view was impaired. He further testified he regularly conducts traffic stops and issues citations for vehicles with windshield cracks appearing to obstruct the driver's view of the road. (Doc. 54 at 2-3.)

         After initiating the traffic stop, Officer Adams made contact with the driver, Johnny Bieshuevel, and the passenger, Sadie Hackett. Neither Hackett nor the United States elicited testimony from Officer Adams about the exchange he had with Bieshuevel and Hackett after he initiated the traffic stop. Nevertheless, he testified the traffic stop eventually led to the seizure and search of the vehicle for narcotics. (Doc. 54 at 3.)

         Officers later uncovered methamphetamine, firearms, and cash in the vehicle. On October 18, 2018, ATF agents conducted an interview with Bieshuevel regarding the traffic stop, and Bieshuevel made statements to them concerning the vehicle's contents. (Doc. 54 at 3-4.)

         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."

         In her brief supporting her motion to suppress, Hackett argued Officer Adams's rationale for pulling the vehicle over-the cracked windshield and an item hanging from the rearview mirror[1]-did not constitute reasonable suspicion warranting a traffic stop. Hackett moved the Court to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop and all derivative evidence and testimony from the subsequent ATF investigation. (Doc. 42 at 9-11.) The United States agreed an item hanging from a rearview mirror does not violate Montana law but argued the stop was nonetheless justified because Officer Adams had reasonable suspicion to believe the vehicle was violating § 61-9-405. (Doc. 43 at 4.)

         Judge Cavan found Officer Adams's observation that the vehicle's windshield was cracked directly within the driver's field of view and across the entire width of the windshield provided him sufficient facts to form a particularized suspicion that the windshield violated the statute. (Doc. 54 at 8-9.) Hackett objected to Judge Cavan's finding that particularized suspicion existed to justify the traffic stop. For the first time, Hackett also argued even if this Court found the traffic stop justified, the eventual seizure and search exceeded the scope of the initial justification for the stop. (Doc. 57 at 7-9.)

         A. Officer Adams had a particularized suspicion justifying the traffic stop.

         The Fourth Amendment protects persons against unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const, amend. IV. A brief detention short of traditional arrest (like a traffic stop) constitutes a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. An officer may effectuate a traffic stop only if the officer has "a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity may be afoot......" United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989) (internal quotations omitted) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968)). An officer must base a traffic stop on more than a mere hunch-the Fourth Amendment requires an objective justification for the stop. "[R]easonable 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) (emphasis removed). "An investigatory stop of a vehicle is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment if the officer reasonably suspects that a traffic violation has occurred." United States v. Miranda-Guerena, 445 F.3d 1233, 1236 (9th Cir. 2006). The "mission" of a traffic stop includes "determining whether to issue a traffic ticket...." Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1615 (2015).

         Judge Cavan aptly points to Seventh and Tenth Circuit Courts of Appeals cases involving similar facts to those at hand. In both cases, officers pulled over the defendant after observing the defendant driving a vehicle with a cracked windshield. Both courts explained the pertinent question was not whether the defendant's damaged windshield violated the statute; the pertinent question was whether the objective facts provided the officer with a reasonable suspicion the damaged windshield violated the statute. United States v. Callarman,273 F.3d 1284, 1287 (10th Cir. 2001); United States v. Cashman,216 F.3d 582, 587 (7th Cir. 2000). Given the present ...


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