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United States v. Farlee

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Central Division

December 13, 2019

JASON FARLEE, Defendant.



         Carrying contraband in one's car is risky business given that police may stop a vehicle for any number of reasons. Defendant Jason Farlee learned this the hard way when Police Sergeant Ramon Marrufo pulled him over on October 8, 2018, and discovered guns and drug paraphernalia in Farlee's truck. Farlee argues that the evidence taken from him and his vehicle must be suppressed because Sergeant Marrufo lacked probable cause or a reasonable suspicion to stop him and the search of a safe found in his truck was unconstitutional. This Court denies Farlee's motion because both the traffic stop and the search of the safe complied with the Fourth Amendment.

         I. Facts

         Around noon on the day of the stop, Sergeant Marrufo, a police officer with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Law Enforcement Services (CRSTLES), was on patrol in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. T. 8-9. He spotted a dark-purple pickup truck which he knew belonged to Farlee driving northbound on Main Street. T. 9-10, 15, 18. He requested a warrant check on Farlee and learned that Farlee had an active tribal arrest warrant. T. 9, 15-16, 19.

         Sergeant Marrufo caught up with the truck and saw that its rear license plate was obscured by mud. T. 9-10, 16; Ex. 1. He stopped the truck and asked Farlee, the driver, to have a seat in his patrol car. T. 10, Ex. 1; Ex. B. As they walked to the car, Farlee acknowledged that there were guns in the truck and consented to Sergeant Marrufo's request to search it. T. 11, 20-21, 30-31 Ex. B.

         With Farlee in the patrol car, Sergeant Marrufo returned to the track and spoke with the front seat passenger, Brittany In The Woods. T. 10, Ex. 1; Ex. B. He noticed a rifle laying near In The Woods, so he had her exit the truck. T. 40; Ex. B; Ex. 1.

         Meanwhile, CRSTLES Sergeant Jeremy Reede and Officer Cody Norman arrived at the scene. Ex. 1; T. 36, 48-49, 72. Sergeant Reede wrote Farlee a citation for having an obscured license plate while Sergeant Marrufo ran his drug dog, Iwan, around the exterior of Farlee's truck. Ex. 1; Ex. B; T. 11, 21-22, 49. Iwan alerted to the odor of a narcotic coming from the driver's side door by changing his breathing and elevating his ears. T. 11, 21; Ex. 1.

         Based on the alert, the officers searched Farlee's truck and found three rifles, a pistol, and alockedsafe. T. 12, 28-29, 51, 73-75; Ex. 1. Officer Norman opened the safe with one of Farlee's keys. T. 74, 79. Inside he found two glass pipes, clear plastic baggies, and a small digital scale. T. 12, 29, 31, 74; Ex. B. The scale's table had a white residue on it that field tested positive for methamphetamine. T. 51, 53; Ex. B.

         Farlee was arrested for the active warrant and the unlawful possession of a controlled substance, drug paraphernalia, and weapons. T. 35-36; Ex. B. Later that day, Sergeant Reede obtained a tribal search warrant for Farlee's blood based on the evidence seized from his truck. T. 52, 55-56; Ex. C.

         A federal grand jury eventually indicted Farlee for possessing firearms while being an unlawful user of a controlled substance. Doc. 26. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Moreno held a hearing on Farlee's motion to suppress, during which he heard testimony from Sergeants Marrufo and Reede, Officer Norman, and Beth Ducheneaux, a criminal court clerk for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. He also received several exhibits into evidence, including a recording of the traffic stop from Sergeant Marrufo's dashcam. Judge Moreno recommended denying Farlee's motion to suppress, concluding that reasonable suspicion and probable cause supported the traffic stop, that the search of the truck and safe was lawful, and that the blood drawn from Farlee need not be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. Doc. 41. Farlee has now objected to the report and recommendation. Doc. 50.

         This Court reviews a report and recommendation pursuant to the statutory standards found in 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), which provides in relevant part that "[a] judge of the [district] court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." However, "[i]n the absence of an objection, the district court is not required 'to give any more consideration to the magistrate's report than the court considers appropriate.'" United States v. Murillo-Figueroa, 862 F.Supp.2d 863, 866 (N.D. Iowa 2012) (quoting Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985)). Having conducted a de novo review of those portions of the report and recommendation to which Farlee objects, this Court adopts the report and recommendation.

         II. Traffic Stop

         A traffic stop is a "seizure" under the Fourth Amendment and must be supported by probable cause or reasonable suspicion. United States v. Gordon, 741 F.3d 872, 876 (8th Cir. 2013). Probable cause for a traffic stop exists "[a]s long as an officer objectively has a reasonable basis for believing that the driver has breached a traffic law." Id. (cleaned up) (quoting United States v. Coney, 456 F.3d 850, 856 (8th Cir. 2006)). This is true even when the traffic violation is minor, and the stop is simply "a pretext for other investigation." United States v. Payne, 534 F.3d 948, 951 (8th Cir. 2008); see also Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 813 (1996) (explaining that Supreme Court precedent "foreclose[d] any argument that the constitutional reasonableness of traffic stops depends on the actual motivations of the individual officers involved"). The less-rigorous standard of reasonable suspicion "exists when an 'officer is aware of particularized, objective facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant suspicion that a crime is being committed.'" Gordon, 741 F.3d at 876 (internal marks omitted) (quoting United States v. Hollins, 685 F.3d 703, 706 (8th Cir. 2012)). The Fourth Amendment requires that police officers be reasonable, not perfect. Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. 54, 60-61 (2014). Thus, grounds for a traffic stop may rest on an officer's mistake of fact or law, provided that the mistake is objectively reasonable. Id. at 60-67; Hollins, 685 F.3d at 706.

         Sergeant Marrufo testified that he stopped Farlee because of the obstructed license plate and the arrest warrant. T. 37. Judge Moreno concluded that the obstructed license plate provided probable cause to believe that Farlee had violated a traffic law and that the arrest warrant gave Sergeant Marrufo reasonable suspicion for the stop. This Court agrees with Judge ...

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