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United States v. Walker

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

October 18, 2016

United States of America Plaintiff-Appellee
Michael John Walker Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: May 18, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - St. Paul

          Before RILEY, Chief Judge, COLLOTON and KELLY, Circuit Judges.


         A jury convicted Michael Walker of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. Based on Walker's criminal history, the district court sentenced him to 20 years in prison under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). On appeal, Walker challenges the denial of his motions to suppress evidence and to dismiss on speedy-trial grounds. He also argues that the district court abused its discretion by limiting his cross-examination at trial of one of the government's witnesses, and by rejecting his proposed jury instructions. Finally, he contends that the district court erred by determining that he qualified as an armed career criminal. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm Walker's conviction, but vacate his sentence and remand for resentencing.

         I. Background

         On January 21, 2014, Walker was charged in a two-count indictment with being a felon in possession of a firearm, and being a felon in possession of ammunition, both in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g) and 924(e). Walker made his initial appearance three days later, and, in mid-February, he filed several motions, including a motion to suppress evidence obtained during a traffic stop. In mid-June, the suppression motion was denied after an evidentiary hearing. Shortly thereafter, Walker's counsel moved on Walker's behalf for a competency evaluation. While the competency proceedings were pending, Walker moved to dismiss on speedy-trial grounds. In December, the district court found Walker to be competent, and denied his motion to dismiss. On January 5, 2015, the case proceeded to a jury trial, where Walker was convicted on both counts. In August, the district court sentenced Walker to 20 years in prison after determining that he qualified as an armed career criminal based on his prior Minnesota convictions for third-degree burglary, attempted aggravated robbery with a dangerous weapon, and second-degree burglary. Walker filed a timely notice of appeal.

         II. Discussion

         A. Motion to Suppress Evidence

         During the suppression hearing before a magistrate judge, Minneapolis police officers James Golgart and Jeremy Foster testified as follows. In the early morning hours of September 30, 2013, Golgart and Foster were on patrol, when Walker, driving a white BMW with a cracked windshield, passed their squad car. As the BMW passed Golgart and Foster, they could see that its windshield was cracked: Golgart stated that the crack started on the passenger side and "spider[ed]" over to the driver's side of the vehicle in such a manner that it obstructed the driver's view; Foster stated that the windshield was cracked on the passenger side, but that the crack did not extend all the way across the windshield. The officers followed the BMW for two blocks, during which time it blocked a crosswalk when it stopped at a traffic light. The officers initiated a traffic stop, and approached the BMW. As soon as the windows of the BMW were rolled down, they could both smell "fresh, " i.e., unburned, marijuana, an odor they had been trained to detect during their training as police officers. Walker appeared to be very nervous. Golgart then decided to search the BMW, and both Walker and his passenger were secured in the squad car. During Golgart's search of the passenger compartment of the BMW, he did not find any marijuana, but he did find under the driver's seat a glass pipe and a rock-like substance he believed to be cocaine. At that point, Golgart informed Walker and the passenger that they were under arrest, and continued searching the BMW. In the trunk, Golgart discovered a 12-gauge shotgun, a box of shotgun shells in a bag from the sporting goods store Cabela's, and a high-capacity rifle magazine filled with ammunition. Golgart and Foster subsequently transported Walker and the passenger to the Hennepin County Jail, where jail personnel discovered marijuana in the passenger's anus.

         Golgart acknowledged that, in 2010, he had been the subject of an internal affairs (IA) investigation regarding an incident in which he examined a suspicious suitcase without contacting the bomb squad. He testified that he was terminated from the police department after the investigators concluded that he had given a false statement during the IA investigation, but that his termination was later rescinded and replaced with a 40-hour suspension without pay for his failure to use proper discretion regarding the suspicious suitcase.

         The magistrate judge recommended denial of Walker's suppression motion, reasoning that-whether or not the crack in the windshield actually obstructed Walker's vision-the officers' observations regarding the windshield provided a particularized and objective basis to stop the vehicle in order to determine whether there was a violation of Minnesota Statutes § 169.71(a)(1), which provides that a person shall not operate a motor vehicle with a windshield cracked to an extent to limit or obstruct proper vision. The magistrate judge further reasoned that the smell of marijuana and Walker's nervousness established probable cause for the warrantless search of the BMW under the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. Walker objected to the recommendation, contending that the magistrate judge had accepted Golgart's testimony as credible without considering the IA investigation. The district court summarily overruled Walker's objection, adopted the recommendation, and denied the suppression motion. The district court later denied Walker's motion to reopen the suppression issue to present a newspaper article discussing the fact that crosswalks in Minneapolis required frequent repainting.

         On appeal, Walker does not dispute that the BMW's windshield was cracked; he asserts only that the windshield was not cracked to such an extent that it impeded the driver's view, and he argues that Golgart therefore lacked a valid basis for the traffic stop. Walker also argues that Golgart impermissibly extended the traffic stop beyond the time necessary to investigate the cracked windshield, citing Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1614 (2015), which held that an officer's authority for conducting a traffic stop ends when tasks related to the traffic infraction are, or reasonably should have been, completed.

         "We review the denial of a motion to suppress de novo but the underlying factual determinations for clear error, giving due weight to inferences drawn by law enforcement officials." United States v. Hurd, 785 F.3d 311, 314 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting United States v. Clutter, 674 F.3d 980, 982 (8th Cir. 2012)). We will affirm unless the denial of the motion is unsupported by substantial evidence, is based on an erroneous interpretation of the law, or it is clear, based on the entire record, that a mistake was made. United States v. Zamora-Lopez, 685 F.3d 787, 789 (8th Cir. 2012) (citing United States v. Payne, 534 F.3d 948, 950-51 (8th Cir. 2008)).

         "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). Any traffic violation, regardless of its perceived severity, provides an officer with probable cause to stop the driver, but the officer must have an objectively reasonable basis for believing that the driver has committed a violation. Id.; see also United States v. Jones, 275 F.3d 673, 680 (8th Cir. 2001). Here, the district court accepted as credible Golgart's testimony that he believed, based on his observations, that the crack in the BMW's windshield obstructed the driver's view. United States v. Frencher, 503 F.3d 701, 701 (8th Cir. 2007) ("A credibility determination made by a district court after a hearing on the merits of a motion to suppress is 'virtually unassailable on appeal.'" (quoting United States v. Guel-Contreras, 468 F.3d 517, 521 (8th Cir. 2006))). Even if Golgart was mistaken, his observations regarding the severity of the crack provided a reasonable basis for his belief that Walker was violating § 169.71(a)(1). See United States v. Smart, 393 F.3d 767, 771 (8th Cir. 2005) (possibility that defendant had not violated traffic law, and subsequent determination that he had not, did not mean that officer's initial suspicion of violation was unreasonable).

         Walker also contends that Golgart impermissibly extended the traffic stop beyond the time necessary to investigate the cracked windshield. In Rodriguez, the Supreme Court held that a police officer may conduct checks unrelated to a traffic stop, but he may not do so in a manner that prolongs the stop, "absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual." Rodriguez, 135 S.Ct. at 1615. Under the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, a police officer who has lawfully made a roadside stop of a vehicle may search the passenger compartment and trunk of that vehicle if probable cause exists to believe that contraband or evidence of criminal activity is located inside the vehicle. United States v. Caves, 890 F.2d 87, 89 (8th Cir. 1989). Probable cause for a search under the automobile exception exists if the facts and circumstances known to the officers when they began the search were sufficient in themselves for a person of reasonable caution to believe that contraband or evidence of criminal activity was present in the vehicle. Id. at 90. The odor of unburned marijuana can be highly probative in establishing probable cause for a search. See Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 13 (1948) (presence of odor, testified to by witness who is qualified to know that odor is distinctive to forbidden substance, might be persuasive evidence of probable cause for search); United States v. Smith, 789 F.3d 923, 928-29 (8th Cir. 2015) (holding that the smell of marijuana combined with the credible testimony of a police officer is sufficient to establish probable cause); Caves, 890 F.2d at 91 (odor of burnt marijuana emanating from driver is less probative of existence of unused marijuana in vehicle than would be odor of unburned marijuana emanating from both driver and vehicle); see also United States v. Gerard, 362 F.3d 484, 489 (8th Cir. 2004) (noting that other circuits have ...

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