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United States v. Eckhardt

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

August 22, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DOUGLAS ECKHARDT, Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          SUSAN M. BAZIS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Douglas Eckhardt's Motion to Suppress or, Alternatively, Dismiss the Indictment. (Filing No. 13.) Defendant is charged in a two-count indictment with intent to distribute proceeds for an illegal activity and conspiracy to distribute marijuana. (Filing No. 1.)

         An evidentiary hearing was held on Defendant's motion on June 29, 2018. Having heard the testimony and considered the evidence, the undersigned will recommend that the motion be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         On September 20, 2017, Omaha Police Officer Jeffrey Vaughn[1] (“Officer Vaughn”) observed a vehicle driven by Defendant traveling westbound on I-80 at mile marker 430 in Sarpy County, Nebraska.[2] (TR. 17.) At the time, Officer Vaughn's vehicle was facing northbound, sitting stationary in the median of the interstate. (TR. 18, 45.) Officer Vaughn testified that Defendant was traveling in the lane closest to the median.[3] (TR. 46.)

         Officer Vaughn testified that Defendant was following a white motor vehicle at the time Officer Vaughn observed him.[4] (TR. 17.) The cruiser's video of the stop shows a white vehicle in front of Defendant's vehicle. (Ex. 5.) At the point of the stop, the white vehicle was some distance in front of Defendant's vehicle. (Ex. 5.) According to Officer Vaughn, the white vehicle was also traveling in the lane closest to the median when it passed his vehicle. (TR. 48.) Officer Vaughn testified that it appeared that Defendant was following the white vehicle at an unsafe, unreasonable distance. (TR. 18.) As Defendant approached, Officer Vaughn used a stopwatch to get an electronically timed distance between the white vehicle and Defendant's vehicle. (TR. 19.) The stopwatch showed that the vehicles were traveling four-tenths of a second apart, or approximately forty feet. (TR. 19.) Officer Vaughn testified that he considers two seconds between vehicles acceptable. (TR. 20.) Officer Vaughn observed that Defendant's vehicle appeared to be a rental and that Defendant's driver's side and rear driver's side windows were down a couple of inches. (TR. 20.) Officer Vaughn testified that this was significant because it indicated to him, based on his experience, that the individual driving the vehicle was either a smoker or involved in transporting drugs. (TR. 21.) Officer Vaughn stated that he has found that individuals transporting drugs travel with their windows down to get the odor of narcotics out of the rental vehicle. (TR. 21.)

         Officer Vaughn pulled into traffic to conduct a traffic stop on Defendant's vehicle. (TR. 22.) There were vehicles between Officer Vaughn and Defendant because the traffic was heavy on the interstate. (Tr. 22.) Officer Vaughn caught up to Defendant and activated his overhead lights. (TR. 22.) According to Officer Vaughn, from the time he activated his overhead lights, it took Defendant over thirty seconds to pull over.[5] (Ex. 5; TR. 23.) Officer Vaughn testified it usually takes individuals around ten to fifteen seconds to pull over. (TR. 24.)

         Once Defendant stopped, Officer Vaughn approached the passenger's side window of Defendant's vehicle.[6] (TR. 24.) Officer Vaughn noticed that Defendant had a pillow and blanket on the back seat. He also noticed there were food and drink items scattered in Defendant's vehicle. (TR. 24.) Officer Vaughn testified that he believed this was significant because, in his experience, it indicates hard driving, which means that an individual is attempting to move from one point to another as quickly as possible. (TR. 24.) Officer Vaughn explained the reason for the traffic stop, and requested Defendant's driver's license, vehicle paperwork, and rental agreement, which Defendant provided. (TR. 24-25.)

         Officer Vaughn asked Defendant to step back to his cruiser to review the paperwork. (TR. 25.) While waiting for dispatch to run Defendant's driver's license and conduct a warrant check, Officer Vaughn engaged Defendant in conversation. (TR. 25.) Defendant told Officer Vaughn that he was traveling to Commerce City, Colorado, which is a suburb of Denver, Colorado. (TR. 26-27.) Defendant initially told Officer Vaughn that he was not sure how long he was going to be there, but he later indicated he was going to be there for a couple of days. (TR. 27.) Defendant said he was potentially going to visit Estes Park to look at jewelry because he is a collector and sells jewelry. (TR. 27.) Defendant stated he was going to visit friends and relatives. (TR. 28-29.) He later indicated that he was only going to visit his nephew, and that the friends he mentioned were actually his nephew's friends. (TR. 29.) Defendant did not know any addresses or phone numbers for those individuals, but he stated he knew where he was going because he had been there before. (TR. 29-30.) Defendant's driver's license indicated that he was from Illinois. (TR. 27.) Defendant testified that he was traveling from the Quad Cities to Colorado. (TR. 80-81.)

         Once Officer Vaughn received word from dispatch that Defendant had a valid driver's license and no warrants, he gave Defendant a warning ticket and returned his paperwork. He then asked Defendant whether he could ask him some additional questions. (TR. 31.) Defendant agreed. (TR. 31; Ex. 5.) Officer Vaughn asked Defendant whether he had any illegal items in his vehicle, such as drugs. Officer Vaughn also asked Defendant if he had any large amounts of U.S. currency. (TR. 31; Ex. 5.) Defendant denied having such items in the vehicle. (TR. 31; Ex. 5.) Officer Vaughn then asked Defendant if he could search his vehicle, and Defendant shock his head yes. (TR. 32.) Officer Vaughn asked Defendant again whether he could conduct the search, and Defendant verbally responded he could. (TR. 32; Ex. 5).

         Officer Vaughn began to search the vehicle and located a purple Crown Royal bag which contained less than an ounce of marijuana. (TR. 32.) Officer Vaughn came back to his vehicle and spoke to Defendant about the marijuana. Defendant acknowledged that there was marijuana in the vehicle. (TR. 32.) Officer Vaughn then searched the trunk of the vehicle and observed a garment bag and a black duffel bag. Inside the duffel bag, Officer Vaughn found a white plastic grocery bag filled with approximately $33, 000.00, which was held together with rubber bands. (TR. 33.) Officer Vaughn returned to his cruiser to ask Defendant about the money. Defendant told Officer Vaughn that there was about $20, 000.00 in the vehicle and that he was going to use the money to purchase jewelry. (TR. 33, 34-35.) Officer Vaughn found approximately three pounds of marijuana in the garment bag. (TR. 34.)

         Officer Vaughn placed Defendant in handcuffs. (TR. 34.) Defendant did not make any statements at that time. (TR. 34.) Defendant and his vehicle were transported to the City of Omaha's impound lot located at 78th and F Street. (TR. 34.)

         DISCUSISON

         Defendant requests that the Court suppress evidence obtained following the traffic stop and search of his vehicle on September 20, 2017. Defendant argues that Officer Vaughn was outside his primary jurisdiction and lacked authorization to conduct the traffic stop. Defendant also claims Officer Vaughn lacked probable cause to believe Defendant ...


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