From Casetext: Smarter Legal Research

U.S. v. Mendez

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
Feb 23, 2007
476 F.3d 1077 (9th Cir. 2007)

Summary

holding that, under Muehler, "expanded questioning [during a traffic stop] need not have been supported by separate reasonable suspicion"

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Gushwa

Opinion

No. 05-10205.

Argued and Submitted February 16, 2006.

Filed February 23, 2007.

Jon M. Sands Michael D. Gordon, Federal Public Defender, Phoenix, AZ, for the defendant-appellant.

Paul K. Charlton, John Joseph Tuchi Bill C. Solomon, United States Attorney, Phoenix, AZ, for the plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona; James A. Teilborg, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CR-04-00241-JAT.

Before STEPHEN REINHARDT, RICHARD A. PAEZ, and RICHARD C. TALLMAN, Circuit Judges.


ORDER

The majority opinion and dissent, filed October 30, 2006, 467 F.3d 1162 (9th Cir. 2006), are hereby withdrawn. The superseding opinion will be filed concurrently with this order. Further petitions for rehearing or rehearing en banc may be filed.

OPINION


Lionel Mendez was pulled over by two police officers for failure to display a visible license plate or registration tag. He was asked to exit the car, patted down for weapons and told to sit on the curb behind the vehicle while a records check was conducted. In response to questioning about matters unrelated to the purpose of the traffic stop, Mendez told the officers that he was a felon and that there was a gun in the vehicle, at which point they arrested him, searched the car and found the gun. After the district court denied his motion to suppress the evidence, Mendez entered a conditional plea of guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The only issue on appeal is whether the district court erred when it denied his motion to suppress. We conclude that it did not.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Our recitation of the facts is based primarily on the testimony adduced at the suppression hearing. Detectives Jaensson and Bracke testified; Mendez did not.

At approximately 9:18 p.m. on December 21, 2003, two Phoenix gang enforcement officers pulled over a car driven by Mendez because it did not appear to have a license plate or temporary registration tag. Both officers testified that the sole purpose of the stop was "no registration." The officers, Detectives Jaensson and Bracke, approached the car. Det. Jaensson told Mendez why they had stopped him and asked for "his identification or license." Mendez presented a California identification card. Det. Jaensson then instructed him to get out of the vehicle and interlock his hands behind his head. He proceeded to pat him down for weapons, during which time he noticed a tattoo on Mendez's left hand. The pat-down produced no weapons. Det. Jaensson then instructed Mendez to sit on the curb behind his car.

Det. Jaensson stayed with Mendez at the curb while Det. Bracke took the identification card to the patrol car to conduct a records check. While waiting for Det. Bracke to complete the records check, Det. Jaensson again noticed the tattoo on Mendez's left hand and recognized it as a gang-affiliated insignia. Prompted by the gang tattoo, he asked Mendez several questions, beginning with "Where are you from?" According to Det. Jaensson, Mendez responded that he was "from the Latin Kings," a gang located in Chicago. Det. Jaensson testified that he next asked Mendez about his other tattoos. In response to one of Det. Jaensson's questions, Mendez said that he had left the Latin Kings "in good standing," and had moved to Arizona "to get away from all that, to turn his life around."

While Det. Jaensson was questioning Mendez, Det. Bracke was at the patrol car conducting a records check, using the car's Mobile Data Terminal ("MDT"). At this time, he noticed in the rear window of Mendez's vehicle a temporary registration plate that had expired eight days earlier on December 13th.

The MDT is the computer in the patrol car that the officers use to conduct records checks.

After completing the records check, which revealed that Mendez had a valid driver's license and no outstanding warrants, Det. Bracke returned to the curb with the intention of informing him that the temporary registration plate in his rear window had expired. While returning, Bracke overheard Mendez telling Det. Jaensson that he had come to Arizona "trying to get away from the gang life." Det. Bracke also overhead him say that he had spent time in prison in Illinois. Upon approaching the curb, Det. Bracke asked Mendez why he had been imprisoned. Mendez replied that he had been convicted of a weapons violation. Det. Bracke then asked whether he had any weapons in the car. According to the two detectives, Mendez became agitated, told them that he was a good father and was trying to make a good life for himself in Arizona. He then added that there was a firearm in the driver's door handle. At this point, the officers arrested him. Det. Bracke then searched the vehicle and found a loaded, small caliber, semi-automatic pistol in the driver's side armrest. The entire encounter up to the time of the arrest and search took approximately eight minutes.

Mendez was indicted on charges of violating 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2) (felon in possession of a firearm). He moved to suppress the handgun, arguing that the officers improperly interrogated him about matters unrelated to the traffic stop and failed to diligently investigate the purpose of the stop. The district court denied the motion, finding that the detectives "identified specific, objective factors sufficient to permit them to expand the scope of questioning" and did not unreasonably prolong the stop. Mendez subsequently entered a conditional guilty plea, preserving his right to appeal the court's ruling on the suppression motion. The district court sentenced him to fifty-seven months in prison. He appeals.

II. DISCUSSION

Mendez does not contest the legality of the initial traffic stop. Instead, he argues that the officers' unrelated questioning and the purported extended detention violated his Fourth Amendment rights because (1) the officers did not observe additional particularized, objective factors sufficient to create reasonable suspicion to justify interrogating him about matters beyond the purpose of the stop, and (2) the officers unreasonably prolonged the stop.

Mendez also claims that the officers' questioning violated Arizona law. However, Mendez forfeited his state law claim by failing to raise it before the district court in his motion to suppress.

We agree with the district court that the stop was not unnecessarily prolonged. Det. Jaensson's questioning occurred while Det. Bracke was running a check on Mendez's identification. It could not have expanded the duration of the stop since the stop would, in any event, have lasted until after the check had been completed. See Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 437, 104 S.Ct. 3138, 82 L.Ed.2d 317 (1984) (stating that a records check is an expected part of a traffic stop). Having overheard Mendez's answer to Det. Jaensson as he was returning to his vehicle, Det. Bracke immediately asked his two questions. The arrest occurred only eight minutes after the stop.

Mendez further argues that the officers were not diligently investigating the traffic violation because the officers did not run a check on his car's vehicle identification or its registration until after he had been arrested. However, the district court's factual determination that the officers were diligently pursuing the purpose of the traffic stop was not clearly erroneous. The record suggests that, until Mendez told the officers about his prison record and his possession of a weapon, Det. Bracke may have intended to let him go with a warning about his expired temporary registration plate and, thus, may have seen no need to check his registration or vehicle registration number further.

Mendez's primary argument, that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to support their questioning, is "premised on the assumption that the officers were required to have independent reasonable suspicion in order to question [him] . . . because the questioning constituted a discrete Fourth Amendment event." Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93, 100-01, 125 S.Ct. 1465, 161 L.Ed.2d 299 (2005). In making this claim, Mendez understandably relied on our precedent holding that, during a traffic stop, a police officer may only "ask questions that are reasonably related in scope to the justification for his initiation of contact" and may expand the scope of questioning beyond the initial purpose of the stop only if he "articulate[s] suspicious factors that are particularized and objective." United States v. Murillo, 255 F.3d 1169, 1174 (9th Cir.2001); see also United States v. Chavez-Valenzuela, 268 F.3d 719, 724 (9th Cir.2001) ("An officer must initially restrict the questions he asks during a stop to those that are reasonably related to the justification for the stop."); United States v. Perez, 37 F.3d 510, 513 (9th Cir. 1994). The Supreme Court, however, recently decided in Muehler, that "mere police questioning does not constitute a seizure" unless it prolongs the detention of the individual, and, thus, no reasonable suspicion is required to justify questioning that does not prolong the stop. Muehler, 544 U.S. at 101, 125 S.Ct. 1465 (internal quotation marks omitted). Although Muehler involved an interrogation during a search of a building, and made no mention of our precedent regarding questioning during traffic stops, its reasoning is equally applicable in the traffic stop context. See id. (noting that in Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405, 408, 125 S.Ct. 834, 160 L.Ed.2d 842 (2005), it "rejected the notion that the shift in purpose from a lawful traffic stop into a drug investigation was unlawful because it was not supported by any reasonable suspicion." (internal quotation marks omitted)). To the extent that Chavez-Valenzuela, Murillo, and Perez hold that such questioning must be supported by separate reasonable suspicion, they have been overruled by Muehler. See Miller v. Gammie, 335 F.3d 889, 899-900 (9th Cir.2003) (holding that a three-judge panel may depart from Circuit precedent that has not "been expressly overruled by an en banc court" when an intervening decision by the Supreme Court or en banc court has "undercut the theory or reasoning underlying the prior circuit precedent in such a way that the cases are clearly irreconcilable"). Thus, because we conclude that the officers' questioning did not prolong the stop, we are compelled to hold that the expanded questioning need not have been supported by separate reasonable suspicion.

III. CONCLUSION

We hold that the officers' questioning of Mendez did not extend the duration of a lawful stop. For this reason, we also hold that the expanded questioning need not have been supported by separate reasonable suspicion.

AFFIRMED.


Summaries of

U.S. v. Mendez

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
Feb 23, 2007
476 F.3d 1077 (9th Cir. 2007)

holding that, under Muehler, "expanded questioning [during a traffic stop] need not have been supported by separate reasonable suspicion"

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Gushwa

holding that motorists' general expectations in a traffic stop include a records check

Summary of this case from United States v. Maffei

holding that so long as officers' questioning does not prolong the stop, "expanded questioning need not have been supported by separate reasonable suspicion."

Summary of this case from United States v. McReynolds

holding that a stop was not prolonged after an officer completed his record checks, and while no concurrent action advanced the mission of the traffic stop, asked a driver why he had been imprisoned and if he had any weapons in his vehicle

Summary of this case from Stanwood v. Stolts

holding that additional actions taken at the same time as a records check cannot expand the duration of the stop because the stop would have lasted until after the check had been completed

Summary of this case from United States v. Reinke

holding that questioning outside the scope of the reason for stopping an individual “need not have been supported by separate reasonable suspicion”

Summary of this case from United States v. Wendfeldt

holding that unrelated questioning is permissible so long as it does not extend the duration of the stop

Summary of this case from State v. Washington

holding that unrelated questioning need not be supported by separate reasonable suspicion if it does not prolong the stop

Summary of this case from State v. Washington

finding that, to the extent prior Ninth Circuit cases held that unrelated questioning must be supported by reasonable suspicion even if it did not prolong the traffic stop, that prior case law has been overruled by Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93

Summary of this case from Herrera-Amaya v. Arizona

finding that officer questioning on matters unrelated to the initial stop does not violate the Fourth Amendment unless it prolongs the stop

Summary of this case from United States v. Brooks

finding eight minutes reasonable

Summary of this case from State v. Friend

stating that because "officers' questioning did not prolong the stop, we are compelled to hold that the expanded questioning need not have been supported by separate reasonable suspicion"

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Aparicio-Lopez

noting that Chavez-Valenzuela was partially overruled by Muehler v. Menu, 544 U.S. 93, 125 S.Ct. 1465, 161 L.Ed.2d 299

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Roberts

In Mendez, Detectives Jaensson and Bracke had stopped Mendez because his car did not have a license plate or temporary registration tag.

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Turvin

In Mendez, the validity of the initial stop was not disputed. Nonetheless, we clearly held that questioning that extends the duration of a stop must be supported by reasonable suspicion.

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Turvin

In Mendez, we identified the overall length of the stop, observing that the eight-minute stop was not beyond the time normally required to issue a citation.

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Turvin

In Mendez, we rejected a Fourth Amendment claim despite the fact that police officers in that case had, without reasonable suspicion, asked Mendez questions unrelated to the purpose of an initially lawful traffic stop.

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Turvin

In United States v. Mendez, 476 F.3d 1077, 1080 (9th Cir. 2007), we held that police officers did not need independent reasonable suspicion of criminal activity in order to question the defendant about unrelated matters so long as they were still processing his traffic violation.

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Beard

In Mendez, the Court of Appeals held that officers did not deviate from the mission of a traffic stop or prolong the stop by asking unrelated questions, even while no other activities concurrently advanced the mission of the traffic stop and even after officers had completed their records check. 476 F.3d at 1079-80.

Summary of this case from Stanwood v. Stolts

observing that an eight minute stop was not beyond the time normally required to complete a traffic stop

Summary of this case from Stanwood v. Stolts

In Mendez, the Ninth Circuit held that Muehler had impliedly overruled previous Ninth Circuit cases holding that “such questioning must be supported by separate reasonable suspicion.” Mendez, 476 F.3d at 1080–81 ; see also United States v. Turvin, 517 F.3d 1097, 1099–1100 (9th Cir.2008) (Mendez “acknowledged that the Supreme Court had overruled those portions of [an earlier case]... that required police officers to have reasonable suspicion to ask questions beyond the scope of a traffic stop.”).

Summary of this case from United States v. Rodriguez

In United States v. Mendez, 476 F.3d 1077 (9th Cir.2007), the Ninth Circuit expressly overruled Perez as to the issue of police questioning on matters unrelated to the purpose of the initial detention after the Supreme Court's decision in Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93, 125 S.Ct. 1465, 161 L.Ed.2d 299 (2005).

Summary of this case from United States v. $102,836.00 in U.S. Currency

In United States v. Mendez, 476 F.3d 1077 (9th Cir.2007), the Ninth Circuit expressly overruled Perez as to the issue of police questioning on matters unrelated to the purpose of the initial detention after the Supreme Court's decision in Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93, 125 S.Ct. 1465, 161 L.Ed.2d 299 (2005).

Summary of this case from United States v. $102,836.00 in U.S. Currency

In Mendez, two Phoenix officers stopped a car because it did not appear to have a license plate or temporary registration tag.

Summary of this case from Brogdon v. Phx. Police Dep't

applying Mena to traffic stop

Summary of this case from Broadnax v. Borough of North Plainfield
Case details for

U.S. v. Mendez

Case Details

Full title:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Lionel MENDEZ…

Court:United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

Date published: Feb 23, 2007

Citations

476 F.3d 1077 (9th Cir. 2007)

Citing Cases

U.S. v. Turvin

A. Our analysis of the district court decision is based primarily on our recent and on-point decision in…

Stanwood v. Stolts

The time reasonably required for a traffic stop will vary, although the Court of Appeals has held that…