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United States v. Arnold

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

October 15, 2019

DAVID ARNOLD, Defendant.



         Defendant David Arnold was arrested for and charged with possession of a firearm by a felon after the Detroit police found a stolen handgun in the glovebox of the car he was driving. The police stopped the car because the temporary license tag was not legible. The government attempts to justify the warrantless search of the glovebox under the inventory search exception, but the timing of the events does not support that argument, and the police officers' testimony on that score is not credible. Nonetheless, because the car would have been impounded and inventoried regardless of the illegal search, the inevitable discovery rule precludes application of the exclusionary rule to the fruits of the search. Therefore, the Court will deny Arnold's motion to suppress the firearm. Also, because Arnold's incriminating statements were obtained lawfully, the Court will deny the motion to suppress those as well.

         I. Facts

         According to the testimony at the evidentiary hearing held on August 7, 2019, Detroit Police Officers Kairy Roberts and Timothy Oravetz were on routine patrol at about 9:15 p.m. on February 6, 2019, traveling on Vernor Highway when they spotted the white Dodge Charger Arnold was driving. The car had no permanent license plate, and the temporary tag on the back of the vehicle was obscured by road grime. In Michigan, driving a car with an obscured license tag is a civil infraction. Mich. Comp. Laws § 257.225(2), (7). Roberts initiated a traffic stop.

         The dash camera and body camera evidence admitted at the hearing show that as Roberts approached the Charger, Arnold was in the driver's seat. Arnold's girlfriend, Simone Bascomb, was in the passenger seat. After Roberts introduced himself, the following exchange took place:

Roberts: Uh . . . we just can't see no temp tag or nothing on your car. . . .
Arnold: Temp tag?
Roberts: It's like scraped off or something, man.
Arnold: The tag?

         Roberts then walked to the back of the car and examined the plate. He returned to the driver's side and told Arnold, “Yeah, I got it. It's just real dark, bro.”

         While Arnold and Bascomb rummaged through papers in search of the vehicle's registration, Roberts scanned the interior of the vehicle from the outside with the aid of a flashlight. Arnold stated that he had a driver's license and denied having any weapons in the car; he also said he did not hold a concealed pistol license. Arnold then handed Roberts an identification card, which, upon inspection, prompted Roberts to ask Arnold to unlock the car, take his seatbelt off, and place his hands on the steering wheel. Arnold complied, and Roberts assisted him out of the vehicle.

         Roberts then placed cuffs on Arnold's wrists, informed him, “I'm going to detain you real quick, alright, bro?” and questioned whether Arnold understood that he cannot drive without a license:

Arnold: I'm not - I got a license.
Roberts: You gave me ID though.
Arnold: Yeah.
Roberts: That's the wrong one.
Arnold: . . . I have a license, though. You can run it.

         While walking Arnold to the patrol car, Roberts asked Arnold whether he is on probation “or anything” and whether he has ever been to jail. Arnold responded to both questions in the negative. Roberts told Arnold that he was not going to make him wait in the cold. Arnold explained to Roberts that he and his girlfriend were on their way to her place of work, as she apparently had been called in to close the shop for the night. Roberts then placed Arnold in the back seat of the patrol car, assuring him, “Let me try to get you all on your way real quick.”

         Shortly after Roberts took his seat to run Arnold's information through his computer, his partner, Timothy Oravetz, who had been attending to Ms. Bascomb, slid into the patrol car's passenger seat with her identification card and other paperwork. Roberts then volunteered to stand outside with Bascomb while Oravetz ran their information through the system. Bascomb was smoking a cigarette near the hood of the patrol car a few feet behind the stopped vehicle; she informed Roberts that she was going to be late for work. Unprompted, she initiated the following exchange:

Bascomb: This is my car. Everything is registered in my name. Everything is good.
Roberts: (muffled)
Bascomb: No. Everything is - swear to God, we literally were about to close my job, leaving my house, my kids. We good people. Literally.
Roberts: I know.
(short pause)
Roberts: Tags looked a little obscured, that's all, if you can see it.
Bascomb: I know.

         Roberts then walked toward the vehicle, pausing at the front passenger side. He once again scanned the interior using his flashlight. Roberts then opened the front passenger door and popped open the glovebox. He retrieved a firearm from the glovebox and proceeded to remove the cartridges. He walked back to where Bascomb was standing and told her, “I'm going to detain you real quick, alright, ” at which point the camera temporarily blacked out.

         When the recording resumed, Bascomb was seated in the backseat of the patrol car and a backup patrol car had arrived on scene; Arnold no longer was seated in the primary patrol car. Roberts obtained a screwdriver from the second patrol car to take the temporary tag off of Arnold's vehicle. He then walked toward the rear of Arnold's vehicle and squatted down near the trunk. At that point, the temporary tag is visible in the recording. The tag was covered in a grimy film. Although the tag was easily readable in the courtroom, Roberts testified that he could not make out the writing when the tag was affixed to the car.

         As revealed by the dash camera recording, while detained in the primary patrol car, Arnold admitted to the other officer that he is on parole for an armed robbery conviction from 2010.

         Shortly thereafter, Bascomb was placed in the backseat next to him in handcuffs.

Arnold: What's going on?
Bascomb: They say they found the gun in the car.
Arnold: Oh no . . . that ain't our gun.

         The remainder of their exchange is somewhat unintelligible. It seems that Arnold's cousin Darnell had control of the car at some point, and Arnold believed that the gun was his.

         Again unprompted, Bascomb began talking to Officer Oravetz, who was seated in the front seat (not visible):

Bascomb: Sir, I did not have nothing to do with this . . . Swear to God.
Arnold: I swear to God that is not her gun . . . sir . . .
Bascomb: Like, I literally have to close my job now - I don't know nothing about nothing. Swear to God.
(short pause)
Bascomb: I don't even carry my own gun. I got a gun, but I don't even carry my own.
Arnold: (muffled) . . . That's not your gun.
Bascomb: I know that's not.
Arnold: (muffled)
(longer pause)
Oravetz: So where did this come from then?
Arnold: That's (muffled) . . . Darnell's . . .
(muffled conversation)
Bascomb: I was --- just woke up to my boss calling me telling I gotta go close.
Arnold: My girl . . . (muffled) . . . close the shop.
Bascomb: I don't know - I don't have a clue about - I swear to God I just woke up my damn self.
Oravetz: I mean, who else - who else drives that car?
Arnold: The million dollar - Darnell. That's my cousin . . .
Bascomb: And he let his cousin drive my car ...

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