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United States v. Buchanan

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

January 20, 2015



KEVIN H. SHARP, District Judge.

Defendant Tanner Buchanan's involvement in an automobile accident ultimately led to his being indicted for receiving and possessing unlawful incendiary devices, specifically Molotov Cocktails, in violation of 26 U.S.C. ยง 5841, 5861(d) and 5871. Now pending before the Court is his Motion to Suppress Evidence and Statements (Docket No. 20).

On October 8 and November 14, 2014, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on Defendant's Motion, at the conclusion of which the parties were provided the opportunity to submit post-hearing briefs. They did so on December 19, 2014.

For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion will be denied.


Shortly after 9:00 p.m. on December 28, 2013, Officer Connie Cassidy of the Hendersonville Police Department was dispatched to the scene of an automobile accident on Vietnam Veterans Boulevard in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Upon arriving on the scene, Officer Cassidy observed two vehicles on the shoulder of the road. The collision was minor, the cars were not disabled, and Officer Cassidy's initial impression was that the drivers would be allowed to leave once she completed her investigation and made a report.

After parking her squad car, Officer Cassidy approached the drivers, who were standing in the rain outside of their vehicles. The driver of the first car told her that the driver of the second vehicle (Defendant) had run into her car.

At some point shortly after she arrived on the scene, Officer Cassidy activated the video recorder in her squad car, which also activated a microphone both on her person and in her car. The driver of the first car was told that she was free to leave. However, because Officer Cassidy had observed that Defendant's eyes were "glassy" and "watery, " she informed Defendant that he would be subjected to a field sobriety test. It was during this period that Officer Zachary Hampton arrived on scene as a back-up officer.

At approximately 9:20 p.m., Defendant, who was now sitting in his vehicle, was asked by Officer Cassidy to exit his vehicle. When making that request, Officer Cassidy noticed a knife lying on the seat next to Defendant and told him to leave it in the car.

Once out of the vehicle, Defendant was informed that he would be tested for sobriety, and was told the manner in which the test would be conducted. Defendant was told that, for the first test, he was to start with his feet together and his hands down by his sides and then, when instructed to begin, he was to raise his arms to the side and touch his nose with the tips of his index fingers. After receiving those instructions, Defendant asked if he was supposed to start with his hands down and was told yes. He then attempted to perform the test but was unsuccessful.

Defendant was next told that he would be tested utilizing the "one-leg" stand. Under this test, Defendant was to lift either leg, hold the position, and then count 1001, 1002, 1003, etcetera. Defendant told Officer Cassidy he had a problem with one of his legs and was informed he could either stand on his bad leg or lift his bad leg, whichever he preferred. Defendant began the test, but as he approached "1015, " he tipped to the side, failing this test as well.

The third and final test consisted of walking heel-to-toe on an imaginary line. Defendant asked Officer Cassidy if he could perform the test in the gravel next to the pavement. After being given permission to perform the test on the shoulder of the road, Defendant attempted to walk the line but was unsteady and "wobbly." By the second step he tipped to the side and had to catch himself from falling. Defendant failed this test as well.

Having failed the field sobriety test, Defendant was asked to walk over to Officer Cassidy's vehicle. He was then instructed to turn around and was placed in handcuffs. Defendant was told that he was under arrest for driving under the influence.[2] Defendant was also told that he performed very poorly on the tests but would be allowed to submit to a blood test. Defendant replied, "I'm sorry, I'm just not coordinated."

Upon his arrest, Defendant was searched and then placed in Officer Cassidy's vehicle. Around 9:30 p.m., he was asked if there was someone who could get his vehicle. Defendant gave Officer Cassidy his father's telephone number. Officer Cassidy asked dispatch to call the father and Defendant's father indicated that he would come and get the car.

Officer Cassidy then exited her vehicle and searched through Defendant's wallet, which had been left on the hood of her car. In it, she found a "probation card" which listed the name and number of a probation officer.

Officer Cassidy got back into her vehicle and asked Defendant if there was anything illegal or of value in his car, to which he responded "no." She also asked if he had been "in trouble" before. Defendant said that he had been in trouble for "weed, " claiming the amount involved was two grams. Shortly thereafter, Officer Hampton told Officer Cassidy that he was going to search Defendant's vehicle. Officer Cassidy told him to search it "good" because Defendant had previously been in trouble for "weed."

Officer Cassidy continued to speak with Defendant in her car. She asked the Defendant his age, to which he responded, "20, " and asked him if he understood that marijuana would be discovered in a blood test. She also described Tennessee's implied consent law and told him that if he did not submit to a blood test, his license would be suspended for a year. Defendant asked her to explain the law again. After Officer Cassidy did so, Defendant refused a blood test.

While Officer Cassidy was conversing with Defendant, Officer Hampton began a search of Defendant's vehicle. Both officers testified at the suppression hearing that the search was conducted pursuant to the Hendersonville Police Department's inventory policy which required that the interior of a vehicle be searched prior to it being turned over to third party or a towing company. Both officers also testified that they had been briefed on the policy and had read and reviewed the policy prior to the stop at issue.[3]

Officer Cassidy testified that a "search of the car is a thorough look inside the vehicle to basically see whatever you can find as far as weapons, drugs, paraphernalia, anything along that line, " while "[a]n inventory of the vehicle is to identify everything in the car for our protection because we're going to release that vehicle to a third party or to a towing company." (Docket No. 27 at 30). Under questioning by the Court, however, Officer Cassidy conceded that she was "pretty much" doing the some thing just for a different reason. (Id.).

As Officer Hampton was searching the back seat area of Defendant's vehicle, he observed two backpacks. The first backpack was brown and contained a Sony Vaio laptop. When Officer Hampton moved the backpack he immediately detected what appeared to be the smell of marijuana coming from the bag. Upon further exploration, he discovered a knife with a scabbard. He also discovered a small plastic baggie containing a green leafy substance resembling marijuana in the front pocket of the backpack. He shared his discovery with Officer Cassidy who took it back to her car and displayed it before the in-car camera. Officer Cassidy asked Defendant if he had any more marijuana and explained to him that it was illegal to take drugs into the jail. Defendant responded that he had no more drugs on him or in his car.

After discovering what appeared to be marijuana, Officer Hampton retrieved a white mask that he had noticed earlier while looking through the windows of the vehicle. The mask was lying face down on the floorboard behind the front passenger seat. Officer Hampton picked up the mask, turned it over and placed it on the backseat.

Officer Hampton testified that he recognized the mask to be a "Guy Fawkes" mask which had been featured in a movie titled "V for Vendetta" and had recently been in the news. He also understood that the mask was used by members of the "hacktivist" group Anonymous.

The second backpack was blue and was located behind the driver's seat of the car. Officer Hampton opened the bag and saw a glass bottle standing upright, with duct tape and a red rag sticking out of the top.[4] Officer Hampton believed it to be a Molotov Cocktail.

Officer Hampton also discovered lighter fluid, matches and lighters during the search. Based on those discoveries and the possible connection to Anonymous, he believed that "this could be more than someone making explosives in their garage, " and he "was ...

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