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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, D. Maine

February 1, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ADAM WILLIAMS

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE RECOMMENDED DECISION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         At the request of drug enforcement agents who were investigating the Defendant for possible drug dealing, a patrol officer performed a traffic stop of a motor vehicle in order to discover the Defendant's name. The Defendant contends that the patrol officer did not have a valid basis to stop the vehicle in which he was a passenger and that the results of the stop, specifically including his identity, should be suppressed. Following a “de novo determination” pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court affirms the Magistrate Judge's recommended decision and concludes that the officer had a reasonable basis to stop the vehicle for two independent but sufficient reasons: (1) because he observed the Defendant not wearing a seatbelt, which is a traffic infraction in the state of Maine, and (2) because the collective knowledge rule imputed reasonable suspicion to the officer.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 16, 2015, a federal grand jury indicted Adam Williams, alleging that he knowingly and intentionally distributed a mixture or substance containing cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and aided and abetted such conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2. Sealed Indictment at 1 (ECF No. 9). On August 10, 2016, Mr. Williams filed a motion to suppress identification evidence obtained as a result of an allegedly unconstitutional traffic stop. Mr. Williams' Mot. to Suppress and to Dismiss the Indictment (ECF No. 34) (Def.'s Mot.). The Government responded on August 18, 2016. Gov't's Resp. to Mr. Williams' Mot. to Suppress and to Dismiss the Indictment (ECF No. 36). Mr. Williams replied on September 1, 2016. Mr. Williams' Reply Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Suppress and to Dismiss the Indictment (ECF No. 37).

         The Magistrate Judge held a suppression hearing on October 6, 2016. Min. Entry (ECF No. 42); Tr. of Proceedings (ECF No. 50) (Tr. of Proceedings). On November 15, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a recommended decision in which he made eighteen factual findings. Recommended Decision on Mot. to Suppress at 1- 3 (ECF No. 45) (Recommended Decision). Based on those factual findings, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the traffic stop complied with the Fourth Amendment, and the Magistrate Judge recommended that the Court deny Mr. Williams' motion to suppress. Id. at 6.

         Mr. Williams filed an objection on December 13, 2016, and requested oral argument. Mr. Williams' Obj. to the Recommended Decision of the Mag. on Mot. to Suppress and to Dismiss (ECF No. 48) (Def.'s Obj.). The Government responded on December 16, 2016. Gov't's Resp. to Mr. Williams' Obj. to the Recommended Decision of the Mag. on Mot. to Suppress and Dismiss (ECF No. 49) (Gov't's Resp.). The Court heard oral argument on January 27, 2017. Min. Entry (ECF No. 52).

         II. FACTUAL FINDINGS

         On April 10, 2015, Steve Saucier, an agent with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency (MDEA), met with a confidential informant (CI). Recommended Decision at 1. The CI informed Agent Saucier that a person known as “Pacman” was selling drugs in the Bangor area. Id. In Agent Saucier's presence, the CI made a phone call to arrange to buy cocaine. Id. at 2. A male voice answered the phone. Id. The person on the phone advised the CI that the CI would receive a text with the location of the transaction. Id. Subsequently, the CI received a text to meet at the Ohio Street apartments in Bangor. Id. Later, by phone, the location was changed to the parking lot of a Burger King restaurant on Union Street in Bangor. Id.

         Agent Saucier provided the CI with a “body wire” and $200 in cash in advance of the purchase. Id. Another MDEA agent, Joseph Burke, followed the CI to the location to monitor the CI and the vehicles involved in the transaction. Id. Agent Saucier was stationed in a vehicle near Burger King to monitor the body wire. Id. While Agent Saucier monitored the body wire, the CI reported the license plate number of a gold or tan Lincoln Navigator (the Lincoln) parked in the Burger King parking lot. Id. He announced that the Lincoln had a Connecticut registration with plate number 9AMFW2. Id. While the CI was in the parking lot, a person identified by the CI as “Pacman” came up to the CI's vehicle and told him to get in the Lincoln. Id. Once inside the Lincoln, the CI said he had $200. Id. The CI completed the transaction at approximately 1:30 P.M. Id.

         After the CI exited the vehicle, he met Agent Saucier at a pre-determined location. Id. The CI reported that he obtained four baggies from Pacman; each contained a white, rock-type substance. Id. The CI reported that a woman with blonde hair was also in the vehicle. Id. The CI gave the baggies to Agent Saucier. Id. at 2-3. The substance in one of the baggies field tested positive for cocaine base. Id. at 3. Agent Saucier's debrief of the CI concluded at approximately 1:45 P.M. Id.

         While Agent Saucier met with the CI, Agent Burke monitored the Lincoln, which traveled to a nearby Wendy's restaurant. Id. After the Lincoln left the Wendy's parking lot, MDEA agents contacted Bangor police to request a traffic stop of the vehicle. Id. MDEA agents provided Bangor police with the make, model, and registration plate of the vehicle. Id. MDEA agents wanted Bangor police to stop the vehicle in order to identify its occupants. Id. The agents did not provide Bangor police with information regarding the drug transaction. Id.

         At the time, Officer Nick Huggins of the Bangor police department was working patrol in the area. Id. After receiving the information, he located the Lincoln, observed the passenger was not wearing a seatbelt, and stopped the vehicle.[1] Id. Officer Huggins stopped the Lincoln at approximately 2:11 P.M. Id. Officer Huggins approached the Lincoln, and observed a female driver and a male passenger. Id. He informed them that he stopped the vehicle because of a traffic violation. Id. Officer Huggins told them that in Maine, the law required that they wear a seatbelt. Id. The male responded he was not aware of the requirement as he was from Massachusetts. Id. Officer Huggins obtained identification information from the occupants of the vehicle. Id. The male was identified as Adam Williams. Id. Officer Huggins did not issue a summons or citation for the violation. Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         In his motion to suppress, Mr. Williams argues that Officer Huggins did not possess a valid basis to stop the Lincoln. Def.'s Mot. at 4. The Magistrate Judge disagreed, concluding that Officer Huggins had a reasonable basis to believe that the occupants of the Lincoln were not wearing seatbelts. Recommended Decision at 6. Moreover, the Magistrate Judge determined that Officer Huggins had a reasonable basis to believe-based on the ...


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