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United States v. Campbell

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

January 8, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ERICKSON MEKO CAMPBELL, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia No. 3:14-cr-00046-CAR-CHW-1

          Before TJOFLAT and MARTIN, Circuit Judges, and MURPHY, [*] District Judge.

          TJOFLAT, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         This appeal presents important questions about the proper confines of a traffic stop. First, whether a highway patrolman had reasonable suspicion to stop a motorist for a rapidly blinking turn signal. Second, if there was reasonable suspicion, whether the seizure became unreasonable when the patrolman prolonged the stop by questioning the motorist about matters unrelated to the stop's mission. The District Court concluded that the initial stop was valid and that the questioning about unrelated matters did not transform the stop into an unreasonable seizure. The District Court therefore denied the motorist's motion to suppress inculpatory evidence discovered during a subsequent search.

         We agree that there was reasonable suspicion to stop the motorist. But we find that under the Supreme Court's recent decision in Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609 (2015), the patrolman did unlawfully prolong the stop. Because his actions were permitted under binding case law at the time, however, the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies. We thus affirm the denial of the motion to suppress.

         I.

         A.

         At about 9:00pm on a brisk night in December 2013, Deputy Sheriff Robert McCannon was patrolling Interstate 20 in Georgia when he observed a Nissan Maxima cross the fog line.[1] McCannon activated the camera on the dashboard of his patrol car, and after observing the Maxima cross the fog line a second time and noticing that its left turn signal blinked at an unusually rapid pace, he pulled the car over. He approached the Maxima, introduced himself to the driver, Erickson Campbell, asked him for his driver's license, and explained why he had pulled him over. After determining that the Maxima's left turn signal was malfunctioning, McCannon decided to issue Campbell a warning for failing to comply with two Georgia traffic regulations: failure to maintain signal lights in good working condition, [2] and failure to stay within the driving lane.[3] McCannon asked Campbell to step out of his car and accompany him to the patrol car while he wrote the warning ticket.

         While writing the ticket, McCannon asked the dispatcher to run a check on Campbell's license and engaged Campbell in conversation. He learned that Campbell was en route to Augusta to see his family, where Campbell worked, that Campbell had been arrested sixteen years ago for a DUI, and that Campbell was not traveling with a firearm. Then he asked Campbell if he had any counterfeit CDs or DVDs, illegal alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, ecstasy, or dead bodies in his car. Campbell answered that he did not. At that time, McCannon asked Campbell if he could search his car for any of those items, and Campbell consented.

         While McCannon continued writing the warning ticket, Deputy Patrick Paquette, who had arrived on the scene a few minutes earlier, began searching the car. McCannon finished the warning ticket and had Campbell sign it. After giving Campbell the ticket and returning his license, McCannon joined Paquette in the search. They found a 9mm semi-automatic pistol, 9mm ammunition, a black stocking cap, and a camouflage face mask in a bag hidden under the carpet in the Maxima's trunk. Confronted, Campbell admitted that he lied about not traveling with a firearm because he was a convicted felon and had done time.

         B.

         Campbell was indicted for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Following his indictment, he asserted that the evidence found in the search of his car was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, and moved the District Court to suppress it.[4] He presented two arguments in support of his motion. First, the seizure was unreasonable because Deputy McCannon lacked reasonable suspicion to believe that a traffic violation had occurred. Second, even if there was reasonable suspicion, his seizure became unreasonable when McCannon prolonged the stop by asking Campbell questions unrelated to the purpose of the stop. In turn, the unreasonable seizure tainted any consent he had given the officers to search his car, requiring that the evidence uncovered during the search be suppressed. [5]

         Campbell's first argument was that his rapidly blinking turn signal did not supply reasonable suspicion to make the traffic stop. All that O.C.G.A. § 40-8-26 requires is that the turn signal "indicate a driver's intention to change lanes," and the Maxima's left turn signal was able to do that. That the signal was not blinking as designed was irrelevant, Campbell said, because the statute did not require that a turn signal "(1) blink in unison with the other turn signal, (2) blink at a certain pace, or even, (3) blink as intended by the vehicle manufacturer."[6]

         Campbell's second argument was that McCannon unlawfully prolonged the stop by asking questions unrelated to the purpose of the stop. Specifically, he challenged questions on the following topics:

McCannon asked: (1) where he was going, (2) who he was going to see, (3) where he worked, (4) if he had time off work, (5) when his last traffic ticket was, (6) if he had ever been arrested, (7) how old his car was, (8) how good of a deal he got on his car, (9) whether he had any counterfeit merchandise in the car, and, (10) if he had a dead body in the car.

         Relying on the Supreme Court's decision in Rodriguez, Campbell maintained that if McCannon prolonged the stop at all through these inquiries, the stop became unlawful.

         The District Court held an evidentiary hearing on Campbell's motion to suppress. Deputy McCannon, whom the Government called to the stand at the outset of the hearing, was the sole witness. Aside from his testimony, the Court had the benefit of the video created by the dashboard camera. The video portrays what transpired between McCannon's activation of the camera and Campbell's arrest, including the questioning Campbell complains of as unrelated to the purpose of the stop. The video's timestamps indicate precisely when this questioning took place. The following bullet points, headed by the timestamps, demonstrate this.

0:00: McCannon activates the camera.
2:05-16: McCannon provides the Sheriff's Office dispatcher with the car's license plate number. The dispatcher runs the number and informs him that it belongs to Erickson Campbell, an "active felon."
2:31: McCannon activates his patrol car's flashing lights.
2:36-58: Campbell pulls over.
3:25-32: McCannon approaches the car from the passenger side and requests Campbell's driver's license.
3:34-4:42: McCannon explains to Campbell that he stopped him for "weaving in his lane" and because his left turn signal was blinking rapidly. McCannon says the rapid blinking means "you've got a bulb out somewhere." He then checks the lights in the front and back of the car, none of which are out. McCannon says it must be that the turn signal is "about to go bad," but that he won't write a ticket for that- just a warning.
4:43-5:09: McCannon asks Campbell where he is going. Campbell says he is traveling to Augusta, Georgia. McCannon asks why he is going there, and Campbell responds that he is going to see his family.
5:10-13: McCannon asks Campbell to step out of the car and walk with him to the patrol car where he will write the warning.
5:48: McCannon begins writing the warning ticket.
6:13-29: McCannon asks Campbell about his family in Augusta, adding that he knows a little about Augusta. Campbell says he does not know much about Augusta; he just has family there. McCannon continues writing the ticket.
6:30-57: McCannon asks Campbell what type of work he does. Campbell says that he works for American Woodlawn, building for Home Depot and Lowes.
7:07-27: McCannon asks Campbell where his family lives in Augusta. Campbell responds that his family lives off of Watson Road. McCannon indicates he knows approximately where that is, and continues writing the ticket.
7:48-8:30: McCannon stops writing to retrieve his jacket from the patrol car.
8:32-38: McCannon asks Campbell if he is traveling with a firearm. Campbell shakes his head no.
9:07: McCannon acknowledges Sergeant Paquette, who has just arrived off camera.[7]
9:12-18: McCannon asks Paquette to "come here and let me ask you about this location." McCannon tells Campbell that Paquette is from Augusta.
9:31-39: McCannon calls the dispatcher to run a check on Campbell's driver's license.
9:40-54: McCannon asks Campbell if he had been arrested before. Campbell responds yes, about sixteen years ago, for a DUI.
10:00-56: McCannon and Paquette ask Campbell about his destination and where his family lives in Augusta, while McCannon continues to intermittently write the ticket.
11:16-19: McCannon: "I know I asked you if you have any firearms tonight, and you said 'no.'" Campbell nods and says "yes, sir."
11:20-45: McCannon: "Any counterfeit merchandise that you're taking to your relatives in Augusta? And what I mean by that is-any purses? Shoes? Shirts? Any counterfeit or bootleg CDs or DVDs? Anything like that? Any illegal alcohol? Any marijuana? Any cocaine? Methamphetamine? Any heroin? Any ecstasy? Nothing like that? You don't have any dead bodies in your car?" Campbell shakes his head or otherwise responds in the negative to each question.
11:47-55: McCannon: "I know you said you didn't have that, and I'm not accusing you of anything-can I search it? Can I search your car for any of those items I asked you about?" Campbell responds in the affirmative, nodding and gesturing toward the car.
• 12:02-13:05: Paquette pats down Campbell after McCannon indicates that he had not yet done so. McCannon ...

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