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United States of America v. James Christopher Valimont

May 13, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Gerrard United States District Judge


This matter is before the Court on the defendant James Christopher Valimont's Motion to Suppress (filing 15) and the Findings and Recommendation and Order (filing 24) of United States Magistrate Judge F.A. Gossett. The order incorporated the findings made by Judge Gossett at the hearing on Valimont's motion, see filing 27 at 149--64, and recommended that the motion to suppress be denied. Also before the Court is Valimont's objection to the Magistrate Judge's order (filing 29). The Court has conducted a de novo review of Valimont's motion to suppress, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds Valimont's objection is without merit, adopts the findings of the Magistrate Judge, and denies Valimont's motion to suppress.


The Magistrate Judge accurately summarized the facts of this case in his findings, read into the record at the hearing on Valimont's motion to suppress, so the Court will provide only a brief summary. See filing 27 at 149--58. The Magistrate Judge heard testimony from Nebraska State Patrol Trooper Jared Jacobsen, who conducted the traffic stop that resulted in Valimont's arrest, and from Valimont, and reviewed a video recording of the stop taken from Jacobsen's cruiser. While Jacobsen and Valimont agree on many of the basic details, they offered conflicting accounts of several key points.

A. Jacobsen's Testimony

On November 18, 2012, Nebraska State Patrol was operating a ruse drug checkpoint at the I-80 exchange near Bradshaw, Nebraska. Filing 27 at 17. Approaching the (non-existent) checkpoint, several signs warned eastbound drivers on I-80 that they were approaching a State Patrol drug checkpoint. Filing 27 at 18--19. The signs were placed such that the only exit available before the supposed checkpoint was a rural exit with no advertised services or rest areas. Filing 27 at 17--18.

Trooper Jared Jacobsen was parked in a hidden location adjacent to the eastbound off-ramp. Filing 27 at 20, 62. Jacobsen testified that he would wait for vehicles to take the exit, and then pull them over if they committed a traffic violation. Filing 27 at 18. At around 9:57 a.m., Jacobsen observed yellow Penske rental truck exit the Interstate. Filing 27 at 20, 80--81. Jacobsen saw the truck stop at the end of the off-ramp, signal a right turn, and then proceed south on a county road. After a short distance, the truck executed a U-turn and headed back toward the Interstate. As the truck headed north toward the eastbound on-ramp, Jacobsen began driving toward the same intersection on the off-ramp, in order to observe the truck. Filing 27 at 21, 71. Jacobsen testified that he saw the truck turn onto the on-ramp without signaling a turn. Filing 27 at 24. Jacobsen stated that he had a clear view of the truck the entire time following its U-turn and that it never signaled the turn back onto the Interstate. Filing 27 at 23--25, 58, 84, 92--93. Jacobsen activated his emergency lights and pulled the truck over for violating Neb. Rev. Stat. § 60-6,161, which requires drivers to use a turn signal continuously for at least 100 feet before turning. See also United States v. Adler, 590 F.3d 581 (8th Cir. 2009).

Jacobsen exited his cruiser and contacted the driver and sole occupant of the truck, Valimont. Filing 27 at 28--29. At Jacobsen's request, Valimont handed over his license and the rental agreement for the truck. Jacobsen testified that he asked Valimont if he was lost, and that Valimont responded that he had exited because he had received a series of texts and phone calls. Filing 27 at 29. According to Jacobsen, Valimont stated that was on his way from Arizona to see his daughter in Iowa, and that he was using the truck to transport some used furniture to her. Filing 27 at 30--31. Jacobsen observed that the truck appeared "lived in," noting that it contained several duffle bags and a half-eaten burrito. He also noticed that Valimont had two cell phones in the car. Filing 27 at 31, 43. Jacobsen asked Valimont to exit the vehicle and join him in his cruiser to complete some paperwork, and Valimont agreed. Filing 27 at 31. Before Valimont entered the cruiser, Jacobsen frisked him for weapons and found none. Filing 27 at 59.

Valimont sat in the front, passenger seat of the cruiser (in other words, not in the caged portion) and was not handcuffed. Filing 27 at 32--33, 41. Jacobsen ran a criminal records check on Valimont and began the process of issuing a warning for the traffic violation. Filing 27 at 32--34. While he was doing this, he asked Valimont if he had a criminal record, about his travel, and again asked why he had exited the Interstate. Valimont again answered that he had needed to use his cell phone. Filing 27 at 34--35.

At that point, Jacobsen advised Valimont that carrying less than an ounce of marijuana was only an infraction in Nebraska and normally not an arrestable offense. Filing 27 at 35. Jacobsen explained that this was normal practice when speaking with someone pulled over at a ruse checkpoint. Valimont denied having any drugs in the vehicle. Jacobsen then told Valimont that there were several reasons why people exited after seeing the ruse signs: because they were driving impaired, had a warrant, or were carrying drugs. Jacobsen testified that he then "went into detail about sometimes those drugs or narcotics are small amounts and sometimes they're larger amounts." Filing 27 at 36. And, according to Jacobsen, Valimont responded that he did not have any drugs in the truck, and that Jacobsen was free to search it. Filing 27 at 36. Jacobsen asked if Valimont meant he could search the truck for drugs, and, according to Jacobsen, Valimont again agreed. Filing 27 at 37. Jacobsen observed that when he asked Valimont if he had any drugs in the truck, both his hands began to shake. Filing 27 at 38--39.

Around that time, Jacobsen completed the warning paperwork and had received the results of the records check, which showed only a previous domestic violence offense. Filing 27 at 37. Jacobsen testified that he then returned Valimont's license and rental agreements and advised him the stop was concluded. Filing 27 at 37, 46, 107--08. Jacobsen then asked for and received Valimont's permission to search the truck. Filing 27 at 38. Throughout their conversation Jacobsen maintained a calm, conversational tone. Filing 27 at 44. In total, approximately 18 minutes had elapsed from the initial stop to this point. Filing 27 at 31, 46, 66--67, 91--92, 123.

Jacobsen began to search the truck, but then decided it was safer to first move Valimont to the rear of the patrol car. Valimont moved to the rear without objection. Filing 27 at 41--42. Upon searching the cargo hold of the truck, Jacobsen discovered several large bales of marijuana. Filing 27 at 47.

Jacobsen then returned to the cruiser and advised Valimont he was under arrest. Filing 27 at 47. Valimont was read his Miranda rights, handcuffed, and returned to the rear of the cruiser. Filing 27 at 47--48, 93. Jacobsen then drove Valimont to the York County Jail in York, Nebraska. Jacobsen did not question Valimont during the ride, but made some polite conversation. Filing 27 at 48--49. In addition to ...

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