United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi
matter is before the Court on Defendant Cody Patrick
Gray's motion to suppress evidence and dismiss the
indictment [Doc. Nos. 15, 28].
20, 2019, Gray was indicted as a prior convicted felon for
possession of firearms and for possession of unregistered
weapon silencers . The evidence that is listed in the
indictment was seized from Gray during a traffic safety
checkpoint conducted by the Tishomingo County Sheriffs
Department on February 1, 2019, on the Natchez Trace Parkway
in Tishomingo County, Mississippi. Gray challenges the
constitutionality of the checkpoint and the search and moves
to suppress the evidence that was obtained from it.
Court held a hearing on November 19, 2019, and received
briefs from both Gray and the United States. For the reasons
set forth below, the Court holds that Gray's motions
should be denied and that the subject evidence should not be
Standard of Review
on a motion to suppress, the defendant has the burden of
proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the
evidence in question was obtained in violation of his
constitutional rights. United States v.
Guerrero-Barajas, 240 F.3d 428, 432 (5th Cir. 2001).
However, "[w]hen the government searches or seizes a
defendant without a warrant, the government bears the burden
of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the
search or seizure was constitutional." Id.
Accordingly, because the search in question in the case
subjudice was a warrantless search, the government
bears the burden of proving that the search was
determinations and the resolution of conflicting testimony at
a suppression hearing are the responsibility of the district
court as trier of fact." United States v.
Turner, 628 F.2d 461, 465 (5th Cir. 1980). "In an
evidentiary hearing, the Court sits as a finder of fact and
must resolve all disputed issues." United States v.
Lopez, 817 F.Supp.2d 918, 919 fn.2 (S.D.Miss. 2011)
(citing United States v. Willis, 525 F.2d 657, 659
(5th Cir. 1976)). In conducting a suppression hearing, the
court is not bound by the Federal Rules of Evidence.
Fed.R.Evid. 104(a); see United States v. Posado, 57
F.3d 428, 435 (5th Cir. 1995) ("We have consistently
held that the rules of evidence are relaxed in pretrial
February 1, 2019, the Tishomingo County Sheriffs Department
established a safety checkpoint on the Natchez Trace Parkway
in Tishomingo County. The checkpoint was authorized and
established by the Captain of Patrol for the Department,
Deputy Brian Glover, involved him and three other Tishomingo
County Sheriffs Deputies, and was in place from approximately
3:50 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. At the checkpoint, the four
officers stopped all oncoming vehicles, checked driver's
licenses and insurance with respect to each stopped vehicle,
and made sure that vehicle occupants were wearing a seatbelt.
During the duration of the checkpoint, at least three arrests
were made, including of Gray, and at least two other vehicles
approached the checkpoint at approximately 5:45 p.m. Deputy
Jeremy Clark approached Gray's vehicle and asked Gray for
his driver's license and vehicle registration, while
Deputy Glover, the on-scene supervisor, approached the
vehicle on the passenger side. Gray was unable to produce his
driver's license but provided Deputy Clark with his
driver's license number. During the stop, Deputy Glover
observed a rifle with an attached silencer in plain view on
the backseat of Gray's vehicle. Gray admitted to the
officers that he is a prior convicted felon, which they
verified. Gray was then arrested as a prior convicted felon
in possession of a firearm, and his vehicle was searched. As
a result of the search, two other firearms and another
silencer were discovered. Gray was subsequently indicted for
possession of the firearms and unregistered silencers .
checkpoints are seizures implicating the Fourth Amendment.
Michigan Dep't of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S.
444, 450, 455 (1990); see also United States v.
Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 566-67 (1976) ("It
is agreed that checkpoint stops are * seizures' within
the meaning of the Fourth Amendment."). While roadblock
or checkpoint traffic stops are seizures within the meaning
of the Fourth Amendment, checkpoints which stop all oncoming
vehicles with the purpose of checking for traffic violations
are permissible. United States v. Atkinson, 248 F.3d
1139 (5th Cir. 2001); see Indianapolis v. Edmond,
531 U.S. 32 (2000).
there is an argument that a checkpoint stop amounted to an
impermissible search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment,
the analysis first set forth by the Supreme Court in
Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 663 (1979), is
implicated. In Prouse, the Court invalidated a
discretionary, suspicionless stop for a spot check of a
single motorist's license and registration; however, the
Court indicated that "[questioning of all oncoming
traffic at roadblock-type stops" to verify driver's
licenses and registrations would be a lawful means of
furthering the state's vital interest in highway safety.
Id; see also City of Indianapolis v.
Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, 39 (2000) (noting same). In
addition, in Mississippi, roadblocks or checkpoints where all
incoming traffic is stopped for a driver's license check
have been found permissible under the Fourth Amendment.
Miller v. State, 373 So.2d 1004, 1005 (Miss.1979);
Collins v. Ainsworth, 382 F.3d 529, 538 (5th Cir.
2004). The Supreme Court, in Brown v. Texas, 443
U.S. 47 (1979), further articulated the balancing test used
to determine the reasonableness of warrantless checkpoint
stops: "Consideration of the constitutionality of such
seizures involves a weighing of the gravity of the public
concerns served by the seizures, the degree to which the
seizure advances the public interest, and the severity of the
interference with individual liberty." Id. at
50-51. In other words, the checkpoint will be subject to a
balancing test to determine whether it is constitutionally
permissible - weighing the public interest, if any, advanced
by the checkpoint against the Defendant's protected
privacy and liberty interests. Collins, 382 F.3d at
case subjudice, Deputy Glover, who as the Captain of
Patrol was the Departmental supervisor who authorized,
established, and participated in the checkpoint, testified
that the subject checkpoint stopped all vehicles that passed
and was established in order to check for driver's
licenses, insurance, and to ensure vehicle safety. Because
Gray did not present any evidence to contradict this
testimony, the Court finds that the checkpoint was properly
authorized and was established for a permissible purpose -
the checkpoint was properly authorized and established by a
supervisory officer, Deputy Glover; was operated in a manner
consistent with the public interest in enforcing licensing,
insurance, and motor vehicle laws; and properly limited the
on-site officers' discretion because every vehicle that
approached the checkpoint was stopped.
addition, the Court finds that brief nature of the stop at
the checkpoint for the limited purpose of verifying
drivers' licenses, proof of insurance, and for safety
observation was a reasonable intrusion into the passing
motorists' protected privacy and liberty interests.
Atkinson,248 F.3d 1139 (5th Cir. 2001). The stop of
the Defendant lasted only a few moments before Deputy Glover
observed a rifle with an attached silencer in plain view on
the back seat of the vehicle; the Defendant's subsequent
admission that he was a convicted felon then provided the
officers with the necessary probable cause to search
Gray's vehicle. United States v. Edwards, 577
F.2d 883, 895 (5th Cir. 1978) (en banc) (holding that
"[i]t is well-settled that probable cause to search an
automobile exists when trustworthy facts and circumstances
within the officer's personal knowledge would cause a
reasonably prudent man to believe that the vehicle contains
contraband."). Gray stated to Deputy Glover that he was
a convicted felon after Glover noticed the rifle with
silencer in plain view on the back seat of Glover's
vehicle. Thus, Glover knew that Gray was illegally possessing
a firearm in the vehicle, thereby providing Glover with