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United States v. Hutchins

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

October 23, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
LARON HUTCHINS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM, AND REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Noelle C. Collins United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).

         Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress Statements (Doc. No. 42) and he also made an oral request for an Order suppressing all evidence that was seized.[1] The government filed its response (Doc No. 44). Based on the evidence and testimony adduced, as well as a review of the transcript of the hearing held in this matter; and having had an opportunity to evaluate the credibility of the witness presented and to observe his behavior, the undersigned makes the following finds of fact and conclusions of law.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         On February 7, 2017, St. Louis County Police Detective Kevin Trott, who was working as a uniformed patrolman for his police department on this date, stopped a vehicle traveling past him on Torii Drive. The street is a U-shaped two-way drive at an apartment complex.

         It was a clear afternoon at around noon when Det. Trott saw a gray Dodge Charger directly to the left of his patrol vehicle travel past him on the driver's side within several feet, heading in the direction of northbound Hanley Road. He observed that the vehicle's license plates were expired with a 2016 sticker. The state-issued vehicle sticker is approximately 2 inches in size.

         Det. Trott made a U-turn to follow the Dodge out of the apartment complex, and he conducted a records check on his in-car computer of the license plate. He determined that the expired license plates on the Dodge Charger were registered to a Toyota. Det. Trott turned on the lights of his marked patrol car and conducted a traffic stop north of I-70 near Evans Road.

         Det. Trott approached the vehicle from behind and saw three male occupants seated inside. There was a front-seat passenger and a rear-seat passenger in addition to the driver. The windows of the car were open. Det. Trott saw the rear passenger, seated behind the driver, lean down toward the floorboard and move his arms. He saw the passenger's right shoulder dip for two to three seconds. The front-seat passenger, who was later identified as defendant Laron Hutchins, made a similar lean toward the floorboard. Det. Trott was concerned for his safety because he did not know whether the passengers were concealing something on the floorboard or underneath the seats.

         Det. Trott saw a handgun underneath the back of the driver's seat. He asked the rear-seat passenger whether there were weapons in the car. Det. Trott also smelled marijuana coming from the vehicle and he asked the driver about the smell. The driver told him that the occupants just finished smoking. Det. Trott obtained pedigree information from the driver and while they talked, he saw the rear passenger continue to shove his feet underneath the driver's seat. Det. Trott told him to stop and the rear passenger complied. Det. Trott then walked around the front of the vehicle to talk to the front passenger. Around this time, Officer Hollocher[2] with the St. Louis County police arrived to assist him.

         Det. Trott asked the front-seat passenger for his pedigree information, including a name. The passenger stated that his name was Michael Moreland. Det. Trott noticed that the passenger spoke nervously, and stuttered over his words. The front passenger could not remember his social security number or his age. Det. Trott also saw a large, extended magazine clip attached to a silver handgun that was partially visible underneath the front seat. He was aware that such clips hold a large capacity of ammunition. Det. Trott asked again whether there were firearms in the Dodge. The front passenger said no and looked down at the floorboard and shifted the butt of the magazine with his right heel toward the rear of the vehicle underneath the passenger seat. In Det. Trott's experience, lawful possessors of firearms typically do not make furtive movements when asked about firearms in a vehicle, and they disclose that those firearms are present. Det. Trott had ten years of experience as a police officer when these events occurred.

         Det. Trott reported what he observed to Officer Hollocher, who had parked his vehicle behind Det. Trott's patrol car on the side of Hanley Road, and Officer Hollocher stood near the rear of the Dodge. Det. Trott went to his vehicle to run record checks on the names of the occupants. The driver had several traffic warrants. The rear passenger was on probation and had a felony conviction. There were “negative” computer search results for Michael Moreland, the name given by the front-seat passenger.

         Det. Trott returned the Dodge and asked the driver to step out of the vehicle. The driver was arrested and handcuffed. The driver was secured near Officer Hollocher. Next, Det. Trott had the front-seat passenger exit the Dodge and he consented to a pat-down search of his person. No items of evidence were found. The backseat passenger also consented to a search of his person and no items of evidence were found.

         Neither passenger was handcuffed as they stood with their backs against the Dodge and were watched by Officer Hollocher after the pat-down searches.

         Det. Trott began to search the Dodge upon obtaining consent from the driver and because he smelled marijuana when he approached the vehicle. The driver did not appear to be impaired by drugs during the traffic stop. Det. Trott found a ...


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