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United States v. Eden

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 29, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
THOMAS EDEN, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion to suppress. (ECF No. 9.) Through his motion, Defendant contends law enforcement lacked a reasonable articulable suspicion to “seize” him while he was camping in Acadia National Park on August 3, 2016. Following a hearing, and after consideration of the parties' arguments, the Court denies the motion.

         Factual Background

         During the evening of August 3, 2016, Darren Belskis, a ranger in Acadia National Park, while on foot patrol in the Blackwoods Campground of the park, heard some noise during quiet hours (10 p.m. - 6 a.m.), and walked toward the direction of the noise. As he approached the location of the noise, he smelled marijuana. He determined the smell was coming from Defendant's campsite.

         While at the entrance to the campsite, Ranger Belskis observed two individuals, one male and one female. He witnessed the female hand a vapor pen to the male. A vapor pen is a device used to smoke a variety of substances. The male appeared to conceal the item in one of his hands. Ranger Belskis directed Defendant to put down the vapor pen. Defendant put the pen in the pocket of the short pants he was wearing at the time.

         When Defendant did not take the pen out of his pocket and make it available to Ranger Belskis, Ranger Belskis placed Defendant in handcuffs. According to Ranger Belskis, he placed Defendant in handcuffs to gain control of the situation as he was concerned for his safety and about the possible destruction of evidence. Ranger Belskis cited the time of night (approximately 11 p.m.), Defendant's apparent use of an intoxicating drug, and Defendant's failure to follow his instruction to put down the vapor pen as the factors that generated the safety concern.

         After placing Defendant in handcuffs, Ranger Belskis frisked Defendant and removed the vapor pen from Defendant's pocket. Ranger Belskis then requested that an associate come to the campsite with a field test so that he could confirm that the vapor pen contained a controlled substance. The content of the vapor pen tested positive for THC. Because of the delay occasioned by the request for a field test from another ranger, the encounter lasted approximately thirty to thirty-five minutes.

         Discussion

         The Government bears the burden of establishing that a stop complied with the Fourth Amendment. United States v. Lopez, 380 F.3d 538, 543 (1st Cir. 2004). “The Fourth Amendment prohibits ‘unreasonable searches and seizures' by the Government, and its protections extend to brief investigatory stops of persons or vehicles that fall short of traditional arrest.” United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 9 (1968)). To determine whether a stop was reasonable, the Court must assess “(1) whether the officer's action was justified at its inception, and (2) whether it was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.” United States v. Moore, 235 F.3d 700, 703 (1st Cir. 2000) (citations and internal quotations omitted).

         Where the detention of a suspect is more burdensome than a brief investigatory stop, it is generally analyzed as an arrest.[1] A warrantless arrest is permitted when “the facts and circumstances known to the arresting officers were sufficient to warrant a prudent person in believing that the defendant had committed or was committing an offense.” United States v. Torres-Maldonado, 14 F.3d 95, 105 (1st Cir. 1994). “[I]n order to establish that probable cause existed for such an arrest, the government need not present the quantum of proof necessary to convict.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). “The standard of probable cause is the probability, not a prima facie showing, of criminal activity.” United States v. Ciampa, 793 F.2d 19, 22 (1st Cir. 1986). The standard is met when the totality of the circumstances indicate there is “a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983).

         In the absence of probable cause to arrest, an officer may still conduct an investigatory stop where he has knowledge of “specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences, ” generate a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity “may be afoot.” Terry, 392 U.S. at 21, 30. “A finding of reasonable suspicion requires a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the person stopped of criminal activity.” United States v. Brown, 621 F.3d 48, 55 (1st Cir. 2010) (quoting United States v. Espinoza, 490 F.3d 41, 47 (1st Cir. 2007)).

         The Government does not dispute that Ranger Belskis' encounter with Defendant constituted a stop or seizure. Given that Ranger Belskis temporarily placed Defendant in handcuffs and otherwise prevented him from leaving the campsite, Ranger Belskis unquestionably seized Defendant. The issue is whether Ranger Belskis had either reasonable suspicion for the seizure and/or probable cause to arrest Defendant.

         Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. 21 U.S.C. § 812(c), Schedule I(c)(10). As such, the possession of marijuana in Acadia National Park constitutes a federal offense. 36 C.F.R. § 2.35(b)(2). “It is well settled that the smell of marijuana alone, if articulable and particularized, may establish not merely reasonable suspicion, but probable cause.” United States v. Ramos, 443 F.3d 304, 308 (3rd Cir. 2006) (citing United States v. Humphries, 372 F.3d 653 (4th Cir. 2004); United States v. Winters, 221 F.3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2000)).

         Here, as he arrived at Defendant's campsite, Ranger Belskis smelled burning marijuana and observed Defendant in possession of a device that is used to smoke a number of substances. Insofar as the possession of marijuana in Acadia National Park is illegal, Ranger Belskis plainly had a reasonable basis for an investigatory stop or seizure. The fact that Ranger Belskis had a reasonable basis for a Terry stop, however, does not end the inquiry. Defendant also challenges Ranger Belskis' frisk of him, which frisk produced the vapor pen. During a valid Terry stop, an officer may conduct a pat-down search or frisk if the officer “has some articulable, reasonable suspicion that the person[] stopped may be dangerous.” United States v. Tiru-Plaza, 766 F.3d 111, 116 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting United States v. McGregor, 650 F.3d 813, 820 (1st Cir. ...


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