United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division
ORDER SUSTAINING MOTION TO SUPPRESS
SHARION AYCOCK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Defendant filed his Motion to Suppress  on September 18,
2018. The Defendant seeks to suppress all physical evidence
and statements obtained during the September 9, 2017, traffic
stop conducted by Deputy Forbert, including a firearm and
controlled substances. After considering the Motion , the
evidence presented at the hearing on the Motion on October
10, 2018, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court
grants the Defendant's Motion to Suppress  all
evidence gathered as a consequence of the traffic stop.
September 9, 2017, around 10:30 pm, the Defendant was driving
South on Highway 51, near Stateline Road and passed Deputy
Forbert. According to Deputy Forbert's statement, he
noticed that the female passenger in the Defendant's
vehicle was not wearing a seatbelt but attempted to put her
seatbelt on after the vehicle passed Deputy Forbert. Deputy
Forbert subsequently followed the vehicle. In his narrative,
Deputy Forbert maintains that he attempted to read the
vehicle's license tag number but was unable to do so
because the vehicle's tag lights were out. Deputy Forbert
followed the Defendant's vehicle for approximately two
minutes, or one-half mile, before initiating the traffic stop
because the tag lights were out. After initiating the traffic
stop, Deputy Forbert approached the Defendant's vehicle
and claims he smelled marijuana coming from the vehicle.
Deputy Forbert ran the vehicle's tag number and the
Defendant's criminal history came back positive. Deputy
Forbert subsequently arrested the Defendant and the vehicle
was searched, revealing a firearm and controlled substances.
Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable
search and seizures. Traffic stops are considered seizures
within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. U.S. v.
Grant, 349 F.3d 192, 195 (5th Cir. 2003). The legality
of a traffic stop is examined under the two-pronged analysis
set forth in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct.
1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). This standard is a two-pronged
reasonable suspicion inquiry: 1) whether the officer's
action was justified at its inception and 2) whether the
search or seizure was reasonably related in scope to the
circumstances that justified the stop. Id.
“Reasonable suspicion exists when the officer can point
to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with
rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the
search and seizure.” United States v.
Lopez-Moreno, 420 F.3d 420, 430 (5th Cir. 2005); see
also Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266, 274, 120 S.Ct. 1375,
146 L.Ed.2d 254 (2000) (“When a police officer
testifies that a suspect aroused the officer's suspicion
. . . the courts can weigh the officer's
credibility.”). “Reasonableness, in turn, is
measured in objective terms by examining the totality of the
circumstances.” Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U.S.
33, 39, 117 S.Ct. 417, 136 L.Ed.2d 347 (1996).
Defendant specifically contests the first prong of the
Terry-stop inquiry, arguing that Deputy Forbert did
not have reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop at
its inception. According to Deputy Forbert's narrative,
he initiated the traffic stop because the vehicle's tag
lights were not working, in violation of Mississippi Code
Section 63-7-13. The Defendant contends that the photos taken
from the night of the traffic stop clearly show that the tag
lights were working and that Deputy Forbert had no reasonable
suspicion to initiate the traffic stop.
hearing on this Motion , Deputy Forbert repeatedly
contradicted the statements contained in his narrative and
provided implausible testimony regarding the reasonable
suspicion he had at the time of initiating the traffic stop.
For example, Deputy Forbert's narrative stated that he
initiated the traffic stop because the vehicle's tag
lights were not working, but when questioned by the Court,
Deputy Forbert admitted that the Defendant's tag lights
were working on the night in question. Instead, Deputy
Forbert explained that he initiated the traffic stop because
the Defendant's license tag was not illuminated brightly
enough. Deputy Forbert claimed that he was unable
to read the darkened tag from fifty feet away, as required
under the statute. When questioned further by the Court,
Deputy Forbert maintained that the tag was too dimly lit to
read even forty feet away. However, Deputy Forbert eventually
admitted at the hearing that he was able to see that the tag
lights were in fact working and that the tag was illuminated
once he stopped the vehicle.
Deputy Forbert's uncorroborated assertion that the tag
was not illuminated is not supported by any facts submitted
by the Government and Deputy Forbert's narrative makes no
mention of the tag being poorly illuminated. Given the photos
and evidence presented, the Court finds Deputy Forbert's
contradictory testimony on this matter unreliable. See
Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 158, 92 S.Ct. 1921, 32
L.Ed. 612 (1972) (“When we legitimated the conduct of
the officer in Terry we did so because of the substantial
reliability of the information on which the officer based his
decision to act.”).
Government also argues that even if the Defendant's tag
lights were working properly, Deputy Forbert had reasonable
suspicion to initiate a traffic stop because the seatbelt
violation alone was sufficient to justify the stop. At the
suppression hearing, Deputy Forbert stated that he intended
to perform a traffic stop for a seatbelt violation, contrary
to the narrative he prepared the day of the traffic stop.
Deputy Forbert maintained that he had reasonable suspicion to
initiate the traffic stop because he was able to see the
passenger attempting to put her seatbelt on through the
tinted windows. However, when questioned by the Court, Deputy
Forbert admitted that the windows were darkly tinted and
stated that he did not actually view the passenger without
her seatbelt on. Based on the evidence and testimony
presented at the hearing on this matter, the Court finds the
evidence of a seatbelt violation unconvincing.
Court stresses that it has considered the totality of the
described circumstances in this case, with due deference to
the experience of Deputy Forbert. Nonetheless, the Court does
not find Deputy Forbert's testimony regarding his
reasonable suspicion warranting the traffic stop credible.
Accordingly, the traffic stop on September 9, 2017, fails to
survive the first prong of the Terry analysis and
amounts to a violation of the Defendant's Fourth
Amendment rights. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. at 15.
of the reasons set forth above, the Defendant's Motion to