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United States v. Agarwal

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

May 11, 2018




         This case comes before the Court on Magistrate Judge Russell G. Vineyard's Final Report and Recommendation (the “R&R”) [54] which recommends denying Defendant Shyam Agarwal's motions [15], [43] to suppress evidence. Agarwal has filed objections to the R&R [64].

         Agarwal is charged in a one-count indictment with intent to distribute a Schedule I controlled substance, AB-PINACA, AB-CHMINACA, and XLR11 (collectively, “synthetic marijuana”), in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and(b)(1)(c). Agarwal seeks to suppress evidence collected and seized by the police following a traffic stop on April 14, 2015. The facts of the case are largely undisputed and the Court adopts the facts as set forth in the R&R except as discussed herein. Agarwal objects to one factual issue in the R&R and the conclusions reached by the magistrate judge.

         I. Legal Standard on Review of a Magistrate Judge's R&R

         A district judge has a duty to conduct a “careful and complete” review of a magistrate judge's R&R. Williams v. Wainwright, 681 F.2d 732, 732 (11th Cir. 1982) (per curiam) (quoting Nettles v. Wainwright, 677 F.2d 404, 408 (5th Cir. Unit B 1982)). This review may take different forms, however, depending on whether there are objections to the R&R. The district judge must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the [R&R] to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). In contrast, those portions of the R&R to which no objection is made need only be reviewed for “clear error.” Macort v. Prem, Inc., 208 Fed.Appx. 781, 784 (11th Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (quoting Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005)).[1]

         “Parties filing objections must specifically identify those findings objected to. Frivolous, conclusive or general objections need not be considered by the district court.” Nettles, 677 F.2d at 410 n.8. “This rule facilitates the opportunity for district judges to spend more time on matters actually contested and produces a result compatible with the purposes of the Magistrates Act.” Id. at 410.

         After conducting a complete and careful review of the R&R, the district judge “may accept, reject, or modify” the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Williams, 681 F.2d at 732. The district judge “may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

         II. Agarwal's Objections to the R&R

         Agarwal objects to three of the conclusions reached by the magistrate judge in the R&R. Specifically, Agarwal objects to the conclusions that the scope and duration of the traffic stop were reasonable; that Agarwal's consent to search his vehicle was freely and voluntarily given; and that the collective knowledge doctrine provided Georgia state trooper Jeremy Lipham with independent probable cause to search Agarwal's vehicle. Further, he objects to the factual statements in the R&R indicating that trooper Lipham received updates from Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) agents monitoring the controlled buy sufficient to establish independent probable cause. As such, the Court will consider these questions de novo.

         A. The Scope and Duration of the Traffic Stop Were Reasonable

         Agarwal objects to the magistrate judge's finding that the scope and duration of the stop were reasonable because he argues that Lipham was not acting diligently in his investigation of the traffic offense. Agarwal was pulled over after Lipham observed one of his brake lights was not functioning. The stop lasted approximately twelve minutes from the beginning of the stop until Agarwal provided written consent for Lipham to search his vehicle.

         During a legal stop, police officers may prolong the detention to investigate a driver's license and registration, conduct a criminal history check, and conduct further investigation if the police officer has an “articulable suspicion of other illegal activity.” United States v. Boyce, 351 F.3d 1102, 1106 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting United States v. Purcell, 236 F.3d 1274, 1277 (11th Cir. 2001). Lipham had an objectively reasonable, articulable suspicion of illegal activity based on the brake light not functioning correctly, a violation of O.C.G.A. § 40-8-25(b), which requires that a vehicle's brake lights be operational.

         Under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20 (1968), an officer's actions during a traffic stop must be “reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.” “Furthermore, the duration of the traffic stop must be limited to the time necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.” Purcell, 236 F.3d at 1277 (emphasis omitted). “The traffic stop may not last ‘any longer than necessary to process the traffic violation' unless there is articulable suspicion of other illegal activity.” Id. (quoting United States v. Holloman, 113 F.3d 192, 196 (11th Cir. 1997)).

         “The touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness.” Florida ...

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