Mr. Jones’s case is “governed by the usual rule that probable cause to believe the law has been broken ‘outbalances’ private interest in avoiding police contact.”
United States v. Jones
United States Court of Appeals
December 13, 2022
On Monday November 11, 2019, at 3:00 a.m. Warren, Ohio, police officers responded to a call about an unknown disturbance at the Sunoco Gas Station, 805 West Market Street in Warren, Ohio. They found Mr. Donald Jones playing loud music from his SUV in the parking lot. Mr. Jones turned off the music, and, in the 30 to 40 seconds it took the officers to drive around the store to investigate the original disturbance, Mr. Jones drove away. The officers followed Mr. Jones, pulled him over, and told him that they had stopped him for a noise ordinance violation. The officers then smelled marijuana and searched the car, finding hidden compartments containing two firearms, drugs, and drug paraphernalia.
Mr. Donald Jones was playing his music so loud that it caused his car to vibrate. As law enforcement approached, he turned the music down and drove away. What began at this Sunoco Gas Station, 805 West Market Street in Warren, Ohio would result in a conviction and an appeal.
The district court denied Mr. Jones’s challenge to the admission of this evidence, and Mr. Jones was ultimately convicted on four gun-and-drug-related counts.
Two Warren police officers arrived at a Sunoco gas station in response to a call about an unknown disturbance, which was a “spillover” from a nearby bar. Warren Police Officer Michael Edwards and Officer Donald Shipman, observed a few people milling about the parking lot and multiple parked cars; they also heard loud music coming from a parked black GMC Yukon SUV that was registered to Mr. Jones. Officers testified that the music was so loud they could feel the vibrations coming from the car. A man outside the SUV made a slashing motion to indicate to turn the music down, and Mr. Jones, sitting in the driver’s seat of the SUV, turned the music off. The officers then circled around the building in response to their initial disturbance call and, finding nothing out of the ordinary, returned to the front of the gas station 30 to 40 seconds later. In that time, Mr. Jones had driven out of the parking lot. The officers followed Mr. Jones for approximately a mile before pulling him over. Officer Edwards approached Mr. Jones, told him that he was being stopped for a noise ordinance violation, and, “at some point” during the stop issued Mr. Jones a citation for violating the Warren City noise ordinance.
Officer Edwards testified that he smelled burnt marijuana coming from inside the car, asked Mr. Jones to step out of the car, and patted him down. The pat down revealed no weapons, but Officer Edwards removed Mr. Jones’s bulky wallet from Mr. Jones’s pocket and noticed a large amount of cash in the wallet. Officer Edwards searched the SUV. Officer Edwards testified that he noticed a loose access panel near the driver’s side floorboards on the transmission hump, so he pulled off the panel and found plastic baggies and a digital scale. Officer Edwards then lifted the armrest of the center console and found a container with marijuana residue in it. Seeing that the cup holders were also loose, Officer Edwards lifted the cupholders and found two loaded firearms and a glass jar with narcotics inside; the parties stipulated that the narcotics were 53 Tramadol pills and 18.03 grams of a heroin and fentanyl mixture. A third officer, William Fowler, who arrived to assist with Mr. Jones’s arrest, seized $9,050 from Mr. Jones; Mr. Jones had cash in his wallet, pocket, and shoe.
A federal grand jury indicted Mr. Jones on four counts:
Felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2);
Possession with intent to distribute heroin and fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C);
Possession with intent to distribute Tramadol, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(E)(2) and;
Possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §924(c)(1)(A).
Mr. Jones moved to suppress the evidence recovered from the stop as the fruit of an illegal seizure, claiming that the Fourth Amendment does not authorize stops based on a completed non-traffic misdemeanor offense. The district court denied the suppression motion. The court found that the officers had probable cause, based on their own “firsthand” observations, that Mr. Jones had violated the noise ordinance; accordingly, they had a basis to stop and cite Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones went to trial. Officer Edwards, Shipman, Fowler, and an additional officer, John Dina, testified. Officer Edwards, Shipman, and Fowler testified about the events on the night of Mr. Jones’s arrest while Dina testified about drug trafficking generally. At the close of the government’s case, Mr. Jones moved for judgment of acquittal under Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure; the district court denied the motion. Mr. Jones testified as part of his defense. Mr. Jones did not renew his Rule 29 motion for acquittal at the close of evidence. A jury found Mr. Jones guilty on all four counts. The district court sentenced Mr. Jones to 124 months’ imprisonment [ten years].
Mr. Jones timely appealed.
Mr. Jones appeals the district court’s denial of his suppression motion. The Fourth Amendment protects “[T]he right of the people” to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. Amend. IV. A vehicle stop is a seizure. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809–10 (1996). “Whether a seizure was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment is a question of law,” The stop of Mr. Jones’s car was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
Mr. Jones’s arguments to the contrary are unavailing. First, it does not matter, as Mr. Jones argued in the district court, that there was a slight delay between the completion of the misdemeanor and the stop. The district court correctly found that just because the officers had probable cause, they did not “have to drop everything and…stop someone immediately.” Mr. Jones does not get to benefit from the “good fortune” of being “able to conclude his offenses and elude the police.” Mr. Jones next relies on the balancing of factors set forth in a case decided after his suppression hearing—coincidentally named United States v. Mr. Jones,953 F.3d 433 (6th Cir. 2020). But Mr. Jones does not help Mr. Jones. The Mr. Jones decision considered when a person may be subjected to a Terry stop to investigate a completed misdemeanor based on less than probable cause. See, e.g., id. at 437–38 (asking whether “‘restraining police action until after probable cause is obtained’” would “unnecessarily hinder the investigation or allow a suspect to ‘flee in the interim’” (emphasis added) (citation and alteration omitted)).
Mr. Jones’s case is “governed by the usual rule that probable cause to believe the law has been broken ‘outbalances’ private interest in avoiding police contact.” The district court did not err in denying Mr. Jones’s motion to suppress.
Information for this article was obtained from U.S. v. Jones, 21 – 3910 and Attorney Jay Milano’s Motion to Suppress Memorandum in Support, filed June 10, 2019. Interestingly, the Motion to Suppress was filed on 51st Anniversary of the U.S. Supreme issuing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). Mr. Donald Jones had the same legal outcome as John Terry – the evidence was lawfully obtained.
This case was issued by the Sixth Circuit Appellate Court and is binding in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
- The critical question in this case centers on the doctrine of probable cause. Once probable cause that a crime has been established can law enforcement delay enforcement? In this case the delay was very brief; perhaps just a few minutes at most. The case information does not provide the specific amount of time between the violation and the traffic stop. Though the court does not analyze the case through the lens of the Stale Probable Cause Doctrine it certainly is instructive. Once probable cause is established law enforcement can enforce the law unless the statute of limitations is breached or officers obtain additional information that the probable cause is tainted, such as a different person committed the crime. In this case, the enforcement of the loud music violation was contemporaneous with the loud music violation. Jones’ legal team advocates that the delay in enforcement rendered the stop unreasonable. The Sixth Circuit Appellate Court dismissed this argument as it held “Mr. Jones does not get to benefit from the “good fortune” of being “able to conclude his offenses and elude the police.”. For more on delayed enforcement after probable cause has been established see Eight Days After Probable Cause is Established does a Law Enforcement Officer Need an Arrest Warrant Before a Warrantless Arrest is Effected?.
- The Sixth Circuit Appellate Court describes this incident inception at the Sunoco Gas Station at 3:00 a.m. as a spillover from a nearby bar. Officer Michael Edwards and Officer Donald Shipman were wise not to approach Mr. Jones in the Sunoco parking lot if there were dozens of vehicles and former bar patrons loitering. Officer safety would dictate that interacting with Mr. Jones a distance away would be safer for Mr. Jones, the community and the officers. Well done Officer Edwards and Officer Shipman!
- For more information on the probable cause doctrine as applied to stopping a vehicle see Wh(r)en is it lawful to stop a vehicle?, Is It Reasonable for an Officer to Stop a Vehicle for a Traffic Violation Witnessed by Another Officer? and Is a Pre-Textual Traffic Stop Lawful for a Burned-Out Light Over Rear Plate … Even if the Rear Plate is Visible?.
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