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Jones v. United States

June 4, 2009


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-1520-06) (Hon. Craig S. Iscoe, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Senior Judge

Submitted September 10, 2008

Before NEBEKER, TERRY, and SCHWELB, Senior Judges.

Appellant, Rodney Jones, was convicted of carrying a pistol without a license, possession of an unregistered firearm, possession of unregistered ammunition, and possession of marijuana. His arrest and conviction arose from the stop and search of his vehicle at a police traffic checkpoint in Northeast Washington. Jones argues that the trial court erred in denying his pre-trial motion to suppress the evidence recovered from his vehicle and his person. He also asserts that the government presented insufficient evidence to support his convictions of the three weapons-related offenses. We agree with the trial court that the search of Jones' vehicle and his person was lawful and that the evidence was sufficient. Accordingly, we affirm.


On the night of January 26, 2006, the Metropolitan Police Department established a traffic safety compliance checkpoint at 21st and East Capitol Streets, Northeast. At that location 21st Street has three lanes. The police blocked the two outer lanes with patrol cars, funneling traffic into one slow-moving lane, and set up additional lighting so that they could monitor the flow of traffic more effectively. They stopped vehicles only when they saw an obvious traffic violation.

Officer Ty Truong was monitoring traffic at the checkpoint that night when he saw a burgundy van, driven by appellant Jones, approach the checkpoint at a speed of about seven miles per hour. From a distance of approximately five to seven feet, Officer Truong noticed that Jones' van did not have a rear-view mirror. The officer then motioned for Jones to pull over.

After Jones pulled his van to the curb, Officer Truong told him that he had been stopped because the van lacked a rear-view mirror. The officer asked Jones for his driver's license, and Jones replied that he did not have one.*fn1 Officer Truong then asked if Jones had anything illegal in the van. Jones hesitated, then answered, "No." Jones did not look at the officer as he was being questioned but stared straight ahead, behavior which struck Truong and his partner as unusual. Officer Truong then asked Jones to step out of the van. When Jones did not comply at first, Officer Truong asked him again to alight from the van. Jones then attempted to reach for the ignition keys, which were still in place. At that moment, however, another officer who had approached the van from the passenger side reached in through the window and took the keys out of the ignition. Officer Truong then opened the door on the driver's side of the van, and Jones stepped out. After Officer Truong confirmed via radio that Jones' license had expired in 2002, he arrested Jones for driving without a license.

The officer then conducted a search of the van and discovered a loaded gun under the driver's seat, with the butt of the gun facing outward. A search of Jones' person yielded several plastic bags of marijuana.

The government introduced into evidence at the suppression hearing a photograph of the van as it appeared on the night of Jones' arrest. Officer Truong noted in his testimony that no rear-view mirror was visible in the picture.

Jones testified at the suppression hearing that on January 26 he had borrowed and was driving his girl friend's car, which had side mirrors and a rear-view mirror. Jones stated that when Officer Truong pulled him over, he never asked about a rear-view mirror but instead requested his driver's license and registration. Jones added that after he told the officer that he did not have his license with him, Officer Truong responded that he was "out here looking for drugs and guns." After Jones replied that he could not be of any assistance, Officer Truong asked Jones for permission to search the car, but Jones declined. Jones said that Officer Truong then instructed him to turn off the engine, but as he was doing so, the officer became agitated and called for assistance. Truong and another officer then "snatched" him out of the van and proceeded to search it.

At the conclusion of the suppression hearing, the court credited Officer Truong's testimony that he stopped Jones' van because it lacked a rear-view mirror, and did not credit Jones' testimony. The court ruled that the stop of the van was lawful, and that the search of the van and of Jones' person was lawful as incident to his arrest for driving without a license. Accordingly, the court denied the motion to suppress evidence.

At trial Officer Truong and other officers testified about the circumstances leading to the stop of the van and the seizure of the gun and the marijuana. Jones did not ...

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