Mitchell, 293 U.S. App. D.C. 24, 951 F.2d 1291, 1295 (D.C. Cir. 1991). It is the law of this Circuit that, even if the stop is a pretext for a search, "that does not mean that a violation of the Fourth Amendment occurred. It is well settled that a court must look to objective circumstances in determining the legitimacy of police conduct under the Fourth Amendment, rather than an officer's state of mind." Id.
More recently, this Circuit defined with greater elaboration how the "objective circumstances" standard is to be applied. United States v. Whren, 311 U.S. App. D.C. 300, 53 F.3d 371 (D.C. Cir. 1995). According to the police in that case, defendant's car was stopped after he turned without signaling and because he was traveling at an "unreasonable" speed. 53 F.3d at 372. The Whren defendant argued that even under the "objective circumstances" standard, the stop was invalid because, quoting the rule of the 10th and 11th Circuits, "a stop is valid only if 'under the same circumstances a reasonable officer would have made the stop in the absence of the invalid purpose.'" Id. at 374. Defendant contended that no reasonable officer would have stopped the defendant for turning without signaling and for driving at an "unreasonable" speed. Our Court of Appeals disagreed with the Whren defendant and with its sister circuits. It held that "a traffic stop is permissible as long as a reasonable officer in the same circumstances could have stopped the car for the suspected traffic violation." Whren, 53 F.3d at 375. Thus, since driving with a cracked windshield is a traffic violation, a reasonable officer "could have" stopped defendant's car if he "could have" seen the crack in the windshield before he stopped the car. Accordingly. even if Officer Sepeck used the broken windshield as a pretext for a drug search, the stop here would not violate the Fourth Amendment as it is construed in this Circuit if a reasonable officer could have seen the crack in the windshield before he stopped defendant's car. I find that he could, and that Officer Sepeck did, see the crack in the windshield before he stopped defendant's car.
In corroboration of Officer Sepeck's testimony, the government offered his contemporaneous diagram of an extensive crack in the windshield. In addition, both defendant's mother and defendant himself confirmed that the windshield had a substantial crack in it before the stop. A question remained whether a reasonable officer could have observed the crack from a distance of 50 feet as the car approached him at dusk. To resolve this factual question, defense counsel arranged for a viewing of the car by the Court at dusk on November 10 with both counsel present, defendant having waived his presence. The viewing confirmed that street light reflected on, and highlighted, the crack so that it was observable to my unpracticed eye from 30 feet away. In the circumstances here, whether the officer was 50 feet away or 30 feet away is not a material issue. In any event, I infer and find that a trained and experienced police officer could have observed the car as quickly, or more quickly, and at a greater distance, as Officer Sepeck testified that he did.
Accordingly, I find that Officer Sepeck observed the crack in the windshield and thereafter lawfully stopped defendant's car. The ensuing search followed logically and legally from the stop, the defendant's inability to produce a license and registration, his suspicious movements, and the jerk of the car.
Defendant also moves to suppress his statements that "he knew his windshield was cracked and that he meant to go to the junkyard and get a new one." Defendant's Motion at 4. Defendant argues that his statements are the "direct fruits" of the Fourth Amendment violation that occurred when he was stopped by Officer Sepeck, and so under the "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine, his statements should be excluded. See Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 486, 9 L. Ed. 2d 441, 83 S. Ct. 407 (1963). Because I conclude above that there was no Fourth Amendment violation when defendant was stopped by Officer Sepeck, there is, logically, no subsequent Fourth Amendment violation here under Wong Sun.
Defendant also argues that his statements were taken in violation of his Miranda rights. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694, 86 S. Ct. 1602 (1966). Miranda holds that once a defendant in custody asks to speak with a lawyer, all interrogation must cease until a lawyer is present. The Supreme Court has defined "interrogation" as "words or actions on the part of police officers that they should have known were reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response." Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 302, 64 L. Ed. 2d 297, 100 S. Ct. 1682 (1980). The defendant was in "custody" at the time the statements were made. The question here is whether defendant was "interrogated" when he was presented with a traffic ticket for the defective windshield violation. Plainly, he was not. Defendant made his statements spontaneously, as no questions were asked of him; and it cannot be said under these circumstances that an officer's presenting a traffic ticket to the defendant is an action "reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response."
Defendant's motion to suppress the evidence is denied.
Date: Nov. 17, 1995
Louis F. Oberdorfer
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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