The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ralph R. Erickson, District Judge United States District Court
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS
Before the Court is Defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized as a result of a traffic stop (Doc. #123 ). The United States filed a brief in opposition (Doc. #172). The Court held a hearing on January 23, 2009. The Court, having considered all of the briefs and documents filed by the parties as well as the evidence and arguments presented at the hearing, now issues this memorandum opinion and order.
The Court, having weighed the conflicting evidence, finds that the United States failed to prove there was probable cause for the traffic stop. Accordingly, Defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized as a result of the stop is hereby GRANTED.
The United States had been investigating Jason Moe, Sean Ogle, and others for distributing narcotics in the Fargo, North Dakota area for a couple of years. According to testimony received at the suppression hearing, law enforcement officers began investigating a drug trafficking conspiracy involving Moe beginning in October 2006. Approximately two years later, on September 23, 2008, Moe and others were indicted in the District of North Dakota for conspiracy to distribute and distribution of controlled substances. A Complaint against Ogle and a warrant for his arrest were issued on October 2, 2008.
Special Agent Orie Oksendahl testified as to the circumstances leading to the traffic stop of Ogle and subsequent search of him and his vehicle that resulted in the discovery of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Special Agent Oksendahl is employed with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and also assigned to the Drug Enforcement Administration task force in Fargo, North Dakota. At the time of the traffic stop, Special Agent Oksendahl testified she was working as a DEA agent.
On October 1, 2008, Special Agents Oksendahl, Doug Henning, Jake May, and Mike Kaneko of the BCA along with Minneapolis Police Officer David Garmen arrived at Moe's residence in Minneapolis, Minnesota to arrest Moe on drug conspiracy charges in North Dakota. Special Agents Oksendahl and Henning drove together to the residence in an unmarked law enforcement vehicle. The other officers drove in their own vehicles.
As Special Agents Henning and Oksendahl approached Moe's residence, Special Agent Oksendahl observed a male walking out of the house. She recognized the male from a driver's license photograph as Sean Ogle. Ogle's name had come up many times during the trafficking investigation. Special Agent Oksendahl testified that Ogle was known to be one of Moe's co-conspirators. By this time in the investigation, law enforcement officers had talked to several individuals that indicated Ogle was their source of methamphetamine.
Special Agents Henning and Oksendahl continued driving slowly toward Moe's residence. Special Agent Oksendahl watched Ogle walk to a Honda Civic, which was parked in the street in front of the residence. She cannot recall if it was a two-door or a four-door vehicle. Nevertheless, Special Agent Oksendahl believed Ogle was the owner of the Civic. She continued to observe Ogle as they were driving. Special Agent Oksendahl witnessed Ogle get into the driver's side of the vehicle for a brief period of time and then walk back toward Moe's house. The agents then circled the block.
When the agents approached Moe's residence for the second time, Special Agent Oksendahl saw Ogle slowly driving his vehicle away from the curb. She observed that Ogle was not wearing a seatbelt as he drove away. At this point, the agents discussed with each other and were on the radio discussing whether they should stop Ogle. Special Agent Oksendahl testified that she knew Ogle could not be legally stopped for the seatbelt violation if this was the only violation because it is a "secondary" violation. Thus, the agents continued to follow Ogle's vehicle.
As the agents followed Ogle, Special Agent Oksendahl testified she witnessed Ogle turn left without signaling. She further testified that Ogle made another left turn and a right turn, but could not recall if he signaled. The agents stopped Ogle for violating traffic laws. Special Agent Oksendahl testified that while the officers had a lot of information about Ogle's drug trafficking, it was not a factor in deciding to stop Ogle. She further testified that the reason for the stop was because Ogle failed to signal when turning left. Nonetheless, the law enforcement officers' reports indicate Ogle was stopped for not wearing his seatbelt and for a nonfunctional taillight.*fn1
Special Agent Henning informed Ogle in an recorded interview that he was stopped for a seatbelt violation. Thus, not a single report prepared by any of the officers mentions failure to use a turn signal as basis for stopping Ogle's vehicle. The first time the turn signal violation is proffered as the reason for the stop was in response to the suppression motion.
After Ogle was stopped, the agents asked Ogle if he would talk to them. After being advised he was not under arrest and was free to leave, Ogle agreed to sit in the backseat of the agents' vehicle. Once the interview began, Ogle expressed a desire to get a soda from his car. Special Agent Henning walked to Ogle's vehicle and retrieved the soda. Special Agent Oksendahl does not recall if Ogle told the agents where to find the soda. As the interview progressed, the agents asked Ogle for his cell phone number. Ogle stated he could not recall his number, but he could get it if he had his phone from the vehicle. Special Agent Henning returned to Ogle's vehicle to get Ogle's cell phone. On this ...