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United States v. Turner

United States District Court, D. Maine

July 3, 2019




         Joshua Turner and Christopher Myshrall are each charged with possessing a controlled substance with the intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C.A. § 841(a)(1) (West 2019). Turner and Myshrall move to suppress all physical evidence and statements obtained as a result of a traffic stop of the vehicle they were traveling in (ECF Nos. 76 and 77, respectively). They contend that the stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion and was also unlawfully prolonged to conduct a dog sniff and warrantless search. For the reasons that follow, I deny the motions.


         On the night of November 1, 2018, Trooper Matthew Williams of the Maine State Police was stationed in his marked cruiser in a closed northbound pay lane at the York toll plaza on the Maine turnpike, facing south. A little before 8:30 p.m., Trooper Williams observed a blue Honda Civic approach the toll plaza traveling north and saw two males in the blue Honda's front seats. Turner was driving; Myshrall was in the passenger seat. As the Honda approached and passed through the adjacent pay lane, Trooper Williams observed Turner sink low in his seat, clench the steering wheel tightly, and droop his lower lip while never looking in Trooper Williams' direction. Trooper Williams interpreted these behaviors as being suspicious indicators of nervousness. After the Honda drove away from the toll plaza, Trooper Williams ran its license plate number and found that the car was registered to a woman whom Trooper Williams had not observed in the vehicle. This discovery, coupled with his observations of the Honda's driver, caused Trooper Williams to follow after the Honda, which was by then out of sight.

         Trooper Williams then called Trooper Jesse Duda to see if he was in the area to provide backup on a traffic stop. The York toll plaza is located around mile 7 on the Maine Turnpike; at around mile 14, and while still catching up with the Honda, Trooper Williams passed Trooper Duda's cruiser parked on the side of the road, and Trooper Duda pulled in behind Trooper Williams to join in the pursuit of the Honda.

         The troopers caught up to the Honda around mile 15 and proceeded to follow and observe the vehicle for just under 10 miles. Both troopers testified that they observed the Honda commit two traffic violations, which prompted Trooper Williams to initiate a traffic stop at around mile 24. First, the troopers observed the Honda travel almost the entire 10 miles in the center lane without moving to the right lane, in violation of 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2052(6) (Westlaw through Ch. 112, and 114 to 169 of 2019 1st Reg. Sess. of 129th Leg.), which restricts ordinary operation to the right-hand lane unless overtaking and passing another vehicle. Second, just prior to the traffic stop, the Honda signaled and pulled into the right lane too closely behind another vehicle, in violation of 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2066(1). Trooper Williams estimated that the Honda was about three car lengths behind the vehicle in front of it when it moved to the right lane. Video footage from both Troopers Williams' and Duda's dashboard cams begins roughly 10 to 20 seconds prior to the Honda changing lanes.

         At 8:33 p.m., roughly 45 seconds after the Honda moved into the right lane, Trooper Williams activated his blue lights to initiate a traffic stop. Once the Honda had come to a stop, both Trooper Williams and Trooper Duda approached the passenger side of the vehicle, and Trooper Williams asked Turner-the driver-for a driver's license, insurance, and registration. Turner provided a Maine identification card with the name “Eric Howes, ” along with insurance and registration information. Trooper Williams asked where Turner and Myshrall were coming from, and Turner responded that they were returning from the MGM casino in Massachusetts. Trooper Williams testified that Turner and Myshrall seemed nervous as they spoke to him. During this initial conversation, Turner asked Trooper Williams why he had been pulled over, and Trooper Williams answered that he had been following too closely.

         Approximately 2 minutes into the traffic stop, Trooper Williams asked Turner to exit the vehicle and come to his police cruiser while he checked Turner's information. Trooper Williams then asked Turner if he could pat him down for weapons. Turner consented, and Trooper Williams conducted a patdown and found no weapons. Trooper Williams then asked Turner to stand at the front passenger window of his cruiser while he sat in the driver's seat and searched for Turner's information in the Maine law enforcement databases on the laptop in the cruiser. While Trooper Williams was doing so, he-along with Trooper Duda-asked Turner questions about the Defendants' trip to the casino, which Turner answered.

         Roughly 4 minutes into the traffic stop, Trooper Duda began a dog sniff of the Honda with his trained K-9 partner, “Mack, ” who had been in Trooper Duda's cruiser. As Trooper Duda began the dog sniff, Trooper Williams told Turner that he and Myshrall seemed nervous, and that he was not sure he believed their story. Turner denied that he was nervous.[1]

         Trooper Duda finished the dog sniff roughly 7 minutes and 15 seconds into the stop after Mack made a positive indication at the front of the Honda. He informed Trooper Williams that Mack had positively indicated on the Honda, and Trooper Williams relayed this information to Turner and told him that he was being detained. Trooper Williams had Turner place his hands on the front hood of the cruiser and searched him again. He found no contraband on Turner's person. While Trooper Williams searched Turner, Trooper Duda told Myshrall to exit the vehicle and place his hands on the car's roof while Trooper Duda searched him, also finding no contraband. About 11 and a half minutes into the stop, the troopers began a search of the Honda. At this point, Myshrall was leaning on the front hood of Trooper Williams' cruiser and Turner was standing roughly 15 to 20 feet in front of the Honda. Neither Defendant was handcuffed.

         During the search of the Honda, Trooper Williams found a white plastic bag under the front hood in the engine compartment containing what appeared to be small packets (“tickets”) of fentanyl or heroin. After finding the contraband, Trooper Williams handcuffed Myshrall and placed him under arrest. Trooper Duda handcuffed and arrested Turner at about the same time, around 14 minutes into the stop. Turner and Myshrall were subsequently transported to the State Police barracks in Portland, at which point they were read Miranda warnings and then questioned separately. Both Defendants agreed to answer questions.[2]


         Turner and Myshrall argue, first, that the traffic stop of their vehicle was pretextual and an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment because there was no reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle, and that all evidence discovered during and as a result of the search conducted after the vehicle was stopped must be suppressed. Second, the Defendants argue that the traffic stop was unreasonably extended without cause or a reason to interrogate them and to allow for the dog sniff, and that any evidence discovered thereafter must be suppressed. Third, the Defendants argue that the troopers lacked probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle. Finally, the Defendants contend that they were placed in custody when each was asked to exit their vehicle, and that any subsequent statements they made before receiving Miranda warnings must be suppressed. See generally Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

         A. The ...

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