United States District Court, D. North Dakota
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
L. HOVLAND, CHIEF JUDGE
the Court is the Defendant's motion to suppress filed on
August 8, 2018. See Doc. No. 30. The Government
filed a response in opposition to the motion on August 21,
2018. See Doc. No. 35. A hearing on the motion was
held on March 25, 2019. Both parties filed post-hearing
briefs on April 9, 2019. See Doc. Nos. 61 and 63.
For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.
early morning hours of May 30, 2018, Williston Police
Sergeant Kristiina Ravaska was on patrol in Williston, North
Dakota. While on patrol, she observed that a vehicle behind
her had the driver's side headlight out, a violation of
North Dakota law. At approximately 1:57 a.m., she conducted a
traffic stop on the vehicle, a blue 1989 Dodge Durango, for
the equipment violation. The dash camera in Sgt.
Ravaska's patrol car was not operational. The Williston
Police Department does not use body cameras.
driver was the sole occupant of the vehicle and upon Sgt.
Ravaska's request, could not produce a driver's
license, proof of insurance, or registration for the vehicle.
The driver identified himself as Willie Navarette. At
approximately 2:04 a.m., Sgt. Ravaska called in the name, but
police dispatch could not locate a driving record. Dispatch
advised that Navarette was on federal supervision. Police
Officer Jason Barten arrived on scene to assist while Sgt.
Ravaska was running the records check on Navarette. No. dash
camera video of the incident exists from Officer Barten's
Ravaska returned to the vehicle. Navarette was still
unable to produce his driver's license, but was checking
his pockets as if looking for it. Sgt. Ravaska asked if he
wanted to step out of the vehicle to check his pockets for
his driver's license, and Navarette did so. Navarette
testified Sgt. Ravaska ordered him out of the vehicle. When
the driver's door opened, Sgt. Ravaska observed in plain
view, a loaded magazine for a handgun in the door panel.
See Doc. Nos. 60-2 and 60-3. Navarette denied any
knowledge of the ammunition magazine and upon asking if
possessing such an item was a violation of his supervision,
he stated he did not know and attempted to get back into the
vehicle. At approximately 2:18 a.m., Sgt. Ravaska informed
Navarette that he was not under arrest, but would be detained
and asked him to place his hands behind his back. Navarette
started pulling away and tensing up. With the assistance of
Officer Barten, Navarette was handcuffed. Sgt. Ravaska
advised Navarette of his Miranda rights and received
confirmation he understood them. Navarette consented to a pat
down and Sgt. Ravaska located an empty holster for a handgun
on his belt. Sgt. Ravaska asked him where he placed the
weapon and Navarette stated he wished to remain silent.
looking into the vehicle from the outside, Officer Barten
advised Sgt. Ravaska he could see a handgun located between
the front driver's seat and the center console.
See Doc. No. 60-5. Sgt. Ravaska was also able to
observe the firearm from outside the vehicle. Navarette was
placed in Officer Barten's patrol vehicle. Sgt. Ravaska
then entered the vehicle and seized the handgun -- a
.40-caliber Glock with a seated magazine containing 13 rounds
and a single chambered round. See Doc. No. 60-6.
Continuing the search of the vehicle, she found two rifles,
an assortment of ammunition, and mail addressed to Navarette,
all in the passenger compartment. See Doc. Nos.
60-7, 60-8, 60-9, 60-10, 60-11, and 60-12. Upon completion of
the search of the vehicle, Navarette was arrested at
approximately 2:58 a.m.
who was visiting Williston and staying in a hotel at the time
of the incident, testified he had purchased the vehicle for
$800 two days prior to the traffic stop. He could not recall
the name of the person from whom he purchased the vehicle
although he believed the seller now lives in Virginia. The
seller did not provide Navarette a title for the vehicle.
Navarette testified he did not yet have proof of insurance or
registration for the vehicle because he had just recently
purchased it. His Texas driver's license had been
misplaced. When he purchased the vehicle both headlights were
working. In addition, prior to being stopped on May 30, 2018,
Navarette had stopped at two convenience stores, left the
vehicle running while he went inside, and did not observe
that either headlight was out when he returned to the
parties dispute whether Navarette was taken to the front of
the vehicle and shown that the headlight was out. Navarette
testified he did not ask to see the headlight. Sgt. Ravaska
testified Navarette asked to see the headlight and she took
him to the front of the vehicle and showed him the headlight
that was out after she patted him down. Although several
photos of the vehicle were taken, none showed the front of
Ravaska testified that pursuant to department practice and
policy, since Navarette's vehicle was legally parked, it
was not towed or impounded. Navarette testified that he
contacted his mother about the vehicle a couple days after
his arrest, but it was never located.
was initially charged in state court. The state court charges
were dismissed when the federal indictment charging
possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon
THE STOP OF THE VEHICLE
contends the stop of the vehicle was unjustified as the
headlights on his vehicle were working properly and there is
no evidence to support Sgt. Ravaska's testimony that the
driver's side headlight was out. The Government contends
Sgt. Ravaska's testimony was credible and thus there was
a sufficient basis for a traffic stop. As the Government puts