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United States v. Lawrence

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

November 21, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
MELVIN LAWRENCE, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS AND SCHEDULING DATES

          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On June 12, 2019, Defendant, Melvin Lawrence, was indicted by a grand jury on one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. ECF No. 1. The firearm was located on Defendant's person during a traffic stop on May 30, 2019. Defendant was arraigned on June 17, 2019 and on August 21, 2019 he filed a motion to suppress the firearm. ECF Nos. 11, 14. Upon Defendant's reply to his motion, the government sought leave to file a sur-reply and the motion was granted. ECF Nos. 22, 25, 26. The evidentiary hearing on the motion to suppress began on October 8, 2019, was continued to October 17, 2019, and concluded on October 29, 2019. The following reflect the Court's findings of fact based upon its assessment of the evidence received during the hearing.

         I.

         On May 30, 2019, Defendant was the front seat passenger in a Volkswagen Jetta that was being driven by Laquinton Thompson in Saginaw, Michigan. ECF No. 14 at PageID.37. There were two males in the vehicle - the driver and Defendant. Id. Two Michigan State Police Troopers, Steven Dehmel and Joseph Boisture, were assigned to the city of Saginaw through the Secure City Partnership where they were “proactively stopping cars.” The Secure City Partnership was initiated by Michigan's Governor and began in Flint, Detroit, and Saginaw. The program places Michigan State Police Troopers in cities with high crime areas and its goal is to stop violent crime before it happens.[1] The officers explained that their objective was to find drugs, guns, and stolen vehicles, but they would only stop vehicles if there was a legitimate question about the legality of specific behavior.[2] Troopers Dehmel and Boisture ran the license plate of the Volkswagen Jetta the Defendant was in through LEIN, a law enforcement database, and discovered three problems with the vehicle - the owner of the vehicle had an outstanding warrant for her arrest, the owner did not have a valid license, and there was no insurance on the vehicle. The troopers activated their lights and the driver pulled the vehicle over into a gas station parking lot.

         Both Troopers Dehmel and Boisture exited the police vehicle; Trooper Dehmel approached the driver's side of the vehicle and Trooper Boisture approached the front passenger door to speak with Defendant.[3] After approaching the vehicle, Trooper Dehmel informed the driver he was stopped because the owner of the vehicle had a warrant for her arrest and did not have a valid license. At the hearing, Trooper Dehmel explained that he did not tell the driver that the vehicle had no insurance because he does not always share every reason for stopping a vehicle with the driver.

         The driver informed Trooper Dehmel that the vehicle belonged to his girlfriend. He furnished his driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance for the vehicle to the officer in response to his request. See Government Exhibit 1 at 0:42-1:30. The certificate of no-fault insurance for the vehicle provides the term of coverage from April 26, 2019 to October 26, 2019. Defense Exhibit B. The government later inquired and established in the sur-reply that the auto insurance was cancelled on May 9, 2019. Government Exhibit 3.

         In the video, Trooper Dehmel can be heard asking the driver for consent to search his vehicle. Government Exhibit 1 at 2:18-2:20. There is no dispute about the request, “You don't care if I check it out real quick, is that cool?” There is a dispute regarding the driver's response. Trooper Dehmel stated that he heard the driver consent to a search of the vehicle. He testified that he doesn't “recall exactly what [the driver] uttered, ” but he thinks the response was “‘ight, which is slang for all right.” However, at the second hearing, Mr. Thompson testified that he initially responded “uh uh” - intending a negative response to Trooper Dehmel's request. Mr. Thompson testified that he never said “all right” because “I don't use all right.” Defendant testified that Mr. Thompson “doesn't talk right” and does not use correct words because his friend is from the south and what he described as “country.” Defendant testified that Mr. Thompson said “naw” which means “no” in response to Trooper Dehmel's request to search the vehicle. After the driver was asked to exit the vehicle for the vehicle search, Trooper Dehmel did a weapons pat down of the driver after asking for the driver's consent. Mr. Thompson can be observed in the video nodding his head and lifting his hands off the top of the vehicle, palms upward.

         At the same time that Trooper Dehmel spoke with the driver, Trooper Boisture spoke with Defendant. Trooper Boisture asked Defendant for identification and Defendant verbally identified himself as Melvin Lawrence. Boisture wrote down Defendant's name and date of birth on a notepad in order to run his information through LEIN. Defendant advised Boisture that he was recently released from parole. Defendant was polite and talkative throughout the conversation, as was Trooper Boisture. However, Trooper Boisture testified Defendant's demeanor changed when he asked Defendant to exit the vehicle.

         Boisture testified that he “heard bits and pieces” of Trooper Dehmel's conversation with the driver asking for consent to search the vehicle and said he heard the driver agree to the search. After Defendant exited the vehicle, Boisture stated he asked Defendant for consent to search his person and Defendant consented. Defendant disputes that assertion, but the video corroborates Trooper Boisture's testimony, not Defendant's.

         Immediately after Defendant exited the car, Boisture asked Defendant if he had “anything illegal?” to which Defendant responded “yes”, then “no, ” and then “a gun.” Defendant told Boisture specifically where the gun was hidden on his right hip in his waistband, a fact which Boisture was appreciative of because he could not see the weapon just by looking at Defendant. Trooper Boisture “retrieved an unloaded .45 caliber Ruger pistol” from Defendant's hip. ECF No. 18 at PageID.52-53. Defendant was arrested and later charged as being a felon in possession of a firearm. ECF No. 18 at PageID.53. The entire stop, from the time the vehicle pulled into the gas station until the gun was found lasted 3.5 minutes, not including the subsequent search of the vehicle. Motion to Suppress Hearing, October 17, 2019; Government Exhibit 1.

         When asked why he and his partner asked for consent to search the vehicle based on LEIN saying there was no valid insurance on the vehicle, Boisture testified that driving a vehicle without insurance is a 93 day misdemeanor. No weapons or illegal drugs were found in the vehicle or on the driver's person.

         II.

         Defendant offers three arguments in support of his motion to suppress - the initial stop of the vehicle was unsupported by probable cause or reasonable suspicion, the stop was unconstitutionally ...


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