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United States v. Melton

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

December 12, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
TRAVIS DEWAYNE MELTON

          Lee Magistrate Judge.

          ORDER

          HARRY S. MATTICE, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On October 16, 2017, United States Magistrate Judge Susan K. Lee filed her Report and Recommendation, [Doc. 146], pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In her Report and Recommendation (hereinafter “R&R”), Magistrate Judge Lee recommended that Defendant's Motion to Suppress, [Doc. 117], be denied. Defendant filed timely objections to the R&R. [Doc. 164]. The United States filed a response. [Doc. 177]. The Court has now reviewed the entire record relevant to the instant objections, and for the reasons described below, the Court will ACCEPT and ADOPT Magistrate Judge Lee's R&R and will DENY Defendant's Motion to Suppress.

         I. FACTS

         Other than Defendant's objection to Former Deputy Jesse Wilkey's (“Wilkey”) credibility, the Parties do not otherwise object to the Magistrate Judge's factual determinations, and the Court concludes that they are accurate. The pertinent facts as summarized by Magistrate Judge Lee are as follows:

On February 23, 2017, Wilkey was in his marked patrol car engaged in his regular patrol duties, including the duty to look for and ticket traffic violations. At some unknown time prior to the stop at issue, Wilkey was contacted on his cell phone by his “superiors” at the Rhea County Sheriff's Office and told to be on the lookout for a silver Mercedes Benz (“Mercedes”). The superiors requested that Wilkey look for a traffic violation involving the Mercedes and conduct a traffic stop of it “if it had a traffic violation.”
Around 4:23 p.m., Wilkey saw the described Mercedes traveling in a northbound lane as he drove southbound on Highway 27, which has two lanes in each direction and a median. Wilkey quickly turned around to catch up to the Mercedes. He was “probably a half a mile” behind when he began traveling north. As he traveled, he observed the Mercedes change lanes. At various times in his testimony, he described the traffic as “busy” and the day as sunny, clear, and dry.
Wilkey initially indicated he was a safe driving distance behind the Mercedes without any cars between him and the Mercedes as he neared the turning lane to the Walmart. He subsequently indicated that there may have been cars between him and the Mercedes near the turning lane and that he could not specifically recall whether there were any such cars. As he got closer behind the Mercedes, while there still may have been a car between him and the Mercedes, Wilkey thought the Mercedes abruptly “turned right from the turn lane” (without stopping at the red light) toward the Walmart parking lot. Wilkey believed the turn to be abrupt to avoid him, but he did not indicate it was any sort of traffic law violation.
As he pulled a safe following distance of a car length to a car length and a half behind the Mercedes, “right before” they got to the Walmart, Wilkey looked for tag information to “call in on the radio” and observed what he thought was a “drive out, ” or temporary tag, violation. With no cars between him and the Mercedes at that time, Wilkey concluded the tag was “improperly displayed” because he could not read the expiration date numbers on the tag due to the tilt of the rear window and the glare of the sun on the defrosters and glass. Specifically, Wilkey could see that the Mercedes had a temporary tag taped to the inside of the rear window, but he could not “read the tag to even tell if it's expired or not, so I stopped it then.”
Wilkey agreed that he stopped the Mercedes for two reasons: (1) his superiors asked him to stop it if he observed a traffic violation and (2) he observed what he concluded was the improper display of a drive out tag. Wilkey testified that if he could have read the tag information from a safe driving distance, then the choice to display the tag taped to the rear window (instead of on the rear area of the car designated for placement of a permanent license plate) would not be considered a violation of Tennessee law. He agreed that distance and viewing angle affect the ability to read a drive out tag placed in a rear window.
Wilkey activated his siren and blue lights in the Walmart parking lot. The Mercedes then came to a “crossways” stop in a parking space, and Wilkey pulled his patrol car behind the Mercedes. Wilkey called in the stop, but could not call in the tag information as he still could not read the temporary tag even when stopped behind the Mercedes in the parking lot. It was not until he approached the Mercedes on foot that Wilkey could see the numbers on the temporary tag. At that point, Wilkey could see that the tag was current, was not “blocked” by a tag frame, sticker, or other foreign material, and was in good condition.
Wilkey testified that upon his initial contact with the driver, he immediately detected that she was intoxicated. He also testified that it was after he detected her intoxication that he asked for each occupant's driver's license. After he obtained the license of both the driver and Defendant, who was the sole passenger in the Mercedes, he returned to behind his patrol car “to call in the information.”
Most events that occurred after the stop are not directly at issue in the motion to suppress and will not be addressed herein. As pertinent to the motion to suppress, a Tennessee Multiple Offense Citation, which Wilkey began completing at 4:47 p.m. the day of the stop, was issued to the driver for “[i]mproper display” of the tag in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated § 55-4-110 and driving without proof of insurance at the time of the stop in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated § 55-12-139. The citation, which was made Defendant's Exhibit 1, contains a narrative for the violation of § 55-4-110, which states only: “Drive out tag was unable to be read.”
Eventually, cash and methamphetamine, the evidence Defendant seeks to suppress, were located in the Mercedes. Defendant was arrested and transported to the jail around 5:26 p.m. and, thereafter, Wilkey prepared the text of his arrest report before his shift ended at 7:00 p.m. that night. The Affidavit of Complaint and Arrest Warrant, Defendant's Exhibit 2, were presented to the state court and signed by Wilkey the next morning. None of the documents prepared by Wilkey mention a specific reason he was unable to read the tag, such as glare.
Wilkey identified Government's Exhibit 1 as a photograph of the tag in the rear window of the Mercedes taken on a ...

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