United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
ORDER DENYING MOTION TO SUPPRESS
P. WATTERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Defendant Michael Alan McNulty's motion to
suppress evidence obtained from a traffic stop and search of
his vehicle. (Doc. 23.) McNulty argues the traffic stop
contravened the Fourth Amendment because the traffic stop,
based on speeding and mud flap violations, was not
"reasonably related in scope to the justification for
the initiation" of the stop. (Doc. 24 at 7.) The United
States argues the traffic stop was justified because officers
observed McNulty's vehicle violating various traffic laws
and McNulty himself eventually consented to the search of his
pickup. (Doc. 31 at 7-8.) For the following reasons,
McNulty's motion to suppress is DENIED.
February 18, 2019, the Billings Police Department Street
Crimes Unit received information about the sale of narcotics
near the address of 665 Revolution in Billings and began
monitoring activity there. (Doc. 24 at 2.) Before
encountering McNulty, officers initiated a traffic stop of a
blue Subaru leaving the home which had failed to use a turn
signal. A K-9 unit indicated illegal drugs were in the
Subaru, and officers seized the vehicle pending application
for a search warrant. (Doc. 24-2 atl.)
this first traffic stop, officers resumed monitoring 665
Revolution. (Id.) They soon observed a dark-colored
F-150 registered to McNulty leave the home with two
occupants. They followed the pickup until it parked at
another residence on N. 19th St. that both occupants entered
for about 15 minutes. (Doc. 24 at 2.) The officers then
followed the pickup to 1819 9th Ave. N., which was another
house the officers knew to be involved with illegal drug
activity. There the passenger exited the vehicle and entered
the residence for about 5 minutes. (Id.)
the pickup left the third residence, the officers continued
following it. They observed it lacked mud flaps in violation
of Mont. Code Ann. § 61-9-407. (Id.) They also
observed it travelling 32 miles per hour in a 25
mile-per-hour zone. (Doc. 24-3 at 2.) The officers initiated
a traffic stop near 1st St. W. and Montana Ave., and they
identified the driver as Jane Doe and the passenger as
McNulty. (Doc. 24 at 2.)
initiating the traffic stop, the officers approached the
vehicle, spoke with Doe, informed her of the reasons for the
stop, and asked her for identifying documents. Doe stated she
did not have a driver's license because it was suspended.
(Doc. 24-3 at 2.) McNulty, who was identified as the owner of
the truck, verbally identified himself. The officers ran both
occupants' information through dispatch and found Doe had
outstanding warrants. (Id.) They asked her to step
out of the vehicle and requested her consent to search it.
She stated only McNulty could approve a search. Therefore,
the officers asked McNulty to exit the pickup. (Id.
Beechie performed a pat-down search of McNulty. He felt a
hard plastic case in one of McNulty's pockets that he
believed resembled a "drug kit" based on his
training and experience. (Doc. 24-2 at 2.) The officers asked
McNulty for consent to search the pickup, which he granted.
(Id.) Officer Beck read McNulty his Miranda rights,
and McNulty advised he understood them. (Doc. 24-3 at 3.)
Officer Beck asked McNulty about the object Officer Beechie
felt. McNulty responded it contained "dope."
(Id.) McNulty handed the object to the officers, and
they found it contained a digital scale, multiple plastic
baggies, and methamphetamine. The Officers then searched
McNulty's pickup and found narcotics and other
traffic violation alone may warrant an investigatory stop is
well-settled law. U.S. v. Choudhry, 461 F.3d 1097,
1100 (9th Cir. 2006); see Heien v. North
Carolina, 574 U.S. 54 (2014); Whren v. United
States, 517 U.S. 806, 810 (1996); Delaware v.
Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 660 (1979). Consistent with the
Fourth Amendment, an officer may "conduct a brief,
investigatory stop when the officer has a reasonable,
articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot."
Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123 (2000)
(citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968)).
"[T]he decision to stop an automobile is reasonable
where the police have probable cause to believe that a
traffic violation has occurred." Whren, 517
U.S. at 810.
McNulty and the United States agree McNulty's pickup
lacked mud flaps and Doe was driving the pickup in excess of
the posted speed limit. Either traffic violation alone could
have justified a traffic stop. The Court concludes the
traffic stop did not violate McNulty's Fourth Amendment
construed, McNulty also appears to argue the stop was
pre-textual because the officers were actually concerned
about the drug activity they had been observing. (Doc. 24 at
7.) However, this issue is also well-settled law. See
United States v. Wallace, 213 F.3d 1216, 1219 (9th Cir.
2000) ("The fact that the alleged traffic violation is a
pretext for the stop is irrelevant, so long as the objective
circumstances justify the stop.") (citing
Whren, 517 U.S. at 810). Even if officers were
unconcerned about the speeding and mud flap violations, the
traffic violations alone justified the stop.
McNulty argues the search of his pickup was illegal even
though he consented to it because where a traffic stop
violates the Fourth Amendment, "evidence obtained
subsequent to an illegal investigation is tainted by the
illegality and thus inadmissible, notwithstanding the
suspect's consent, unless subsequent events have purged
the taint." U.S. v. Chavez-Valenzuela, 268 F.3d
719, 727 (9th Cir. 2001), amended,279 F.3d 1062
(9th Cir. 2002). The traffic stop at issue did not violate
the Fourth Amendment. McNulty's consent to search his