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United States v. Forjan

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division

March 4, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
FELIX FRANZ FORJAN, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence. (Doc. 27.) Following an evidentiary hearing by United States Magistrate Judge David P. Rush, an additional hearing by this Court, and several rounds of briefing, the motion is ready for decision. (Docs. 28, 39, 41, 42, 44, 45, 47, 48, 53, 55, 59, 60.) After careful consideration, and for the reasons below and in Parts I, II.C, II.D, and II.E of Judge Rush's Report and Recommendation (Doc. 43 at 2-5, 9-17), the motion is DENIED.

         Discussion

          The Court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Court also “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” Id. The Court has discretion to review issues not raised in an objection to this Court. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 154 (1985).

         Here, Defendant objected to two of Judge Rush's conclusions: (1) that the motion to suppress should be denied because he was driving his daughter's flatbed truck and failed to show he had standing to raise a Fourth Amendment challenge, and (2) that there was probable cause for the stop because the detaining officer made a reasonable mistake in concluding that the truck's registration was expired. The Court will also address (3) the Government's “inevitable discovery” argument, which the Government raised but Judge Rush did not address. As to the remaining issues, the Court has considered the evidence, arguments, and record de novo, and adopts Judge Rush's findings and conclusions.

         I. Standing

         To contest the vehicle search, Defendant must make an “affirmative showing of consensual possession.” United States v. Muhammad, 58 F.3d 353, 355 (8th Cir. 1995). There must be “at least some evidence of consent or permission from the lawful owner[] . . . to give rise to an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy.” Id. A defendant who lacks standing to challenge a search generally still has standing to challenge “the lawfulness of his own detention.” United States v. Green, 442 F.3d 677, 680 (8th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted); United States v. Durant, 730 F.2d 1180, 1182 (8th Cir. 1984) (passenger had standing to challenge a stop).

         Here, Defendant's daughter testified before this Court that she gave Defendant permission to use her truck. (Doc. 53, Transcript of the Hearing before this Court at 37-38, 43-44; Doc. 55-1 at 1, Exhibit A.) The Government now concedes this is sufficient to give Defendant standing to challenge the search, and it does not challenge his standing to contest the stop. (Doc. 59 at 5.) Accordingly, Defendant has standing.

         II. Reasonable Mistake of Law

          “Under the Fourth Amendment, a traffic stop is reasonable if it is supported by either probable cause or an articulable and reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation has occurred.” United States v. Washington, 455 F.3d 824, 826 (8th Cir. 2006). An “objectively reasonable” mistake of law concerning a traffic violation can provide the basis for reasonable suspicion. Id. at 827; Heien v. North Carolina, 135 S.Ct. 530, 539 (2014). A mistake is objectively reasonable “[w]here there is a basis in state law for an officer's action and some ambiguity or state custom that caused the officer to make the mistake.” Washington, 455 F.3d at 828.

         Here, Judge Rush concluded that the detaining officer, Deputy Jeffrey Hook of the Christian County, Missouri Sheriff's Department, made a reasonable mistake of law in determining that the truck's registration was expired. Defendant contends the mistake was unreasonable. The Government contends there was no mistake, but even if there was, it was reasonable. The Court reaches the same result as Judge Rush, but for different reasons, given that the parties did not analyze the truck as a commercial vehicle until the case reached this Court.

         Deputy Hook was mistaken that the truck's registration was expired. Section 301.030.3 states as follows:

All commercial motor vehicles and trailers, except those licensed under section 301.035 and those operated under agreements as provided for in sections 301.271 to 301.279, [1] shall be registered either on a calendar year basis or on a prorated basis as provided in this section. The fees for commercial motor vehicles, . . . other than those to be operated under agreements as provided for in sections 301.271 to 301.279 shall be payable not later than the last day of February of each year, except when such vehicle is licensed between April first and July first the fee shall be three-fourths the annual fee, when licensed between July first and October first the fee shall be one-half the annual fee and when licensed on or after October first the fee shall be one-fourth the annual fee. . . .

         Here, Defendant's daughter testified that she obtained a commercial vehicle registration for the truck on September 26, 2016. (Doc. 53, Tr. at 41.) The license office gave her a receipt indicating that the registration would expire “12/2016” and told her it would be valid until January 1, 2017. (Id. at 41-46; Doc. 55-1 at 2, Exhibit C.) Contrary to the Government's assertion, the fact that she obtained the registration in September does not mean the registration could have expired at the end of November or the beginning of December. Section 301.030.3 does not contemplate a freestanding three-month registration, only ...


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