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United States v. Peltan

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 28, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
RYAN PELTAN, Defendant.

          ORDER

          LAWRENCE J. VILARDO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Ryan Peltan was charged in a two-count indictment with robbery of a pharmacy with a dangerous weapon, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2118(a)(1), 2118(c)(1), and 2; and with brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A)(ii) and 2. Docket Item 1. On July 12, 2016, Peltan moved to suppress evidence. Docket Items 19 and 21. After both sides briefed the issue, Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy held an evidentiary hearing.[1] Both sides then submitted memoranda of law, see Docket Items 35 and 36, and on February 23, 2017, Judge McCarthy issued a Report and Recommendation, recommending that Peltan's motion to suppress should be denied. Docket Item 37.

         After this Court granted the defendant's motion to extend his time to file objections, Docket Item 39, Peltan objected to Judge McCarthy's report and recommendation on March 20, 2017. Docket Item 40. The government responded on April 7, 2017, Docket Item 42, and after granting the defendant another continuance, this Court heard oral argument on June 1, 2017. See Docket Item 45. For the following reasons, this Court adopts Judge McCarthy's Report and Recommendation and denies Peltan's motion to suppress.

         FACTS

         Akron, Ohio police officers Amanda Baker and Tim Shmigal were patrolling their assigned district in October 26, 2015, when they spotted the defendant and a companion outside a parked car in a parking lot known for drug activity. Docket Item 31 (hearing transcript) at 7-8. The defendant had apparently taken luggage, clothing, and other personal effects out of the car and was sorting through them. According to one of the officers, what the defendant was doing “seemed odd and out of place." Id. at 9. The officers asked the defendant what he was doing, whether he had any prior drug arrests, and whether he had track marks on his arms. Id. at 9-12. The defendant gave appropriate and believable answers and showed the officers that his arms were free from track marks. Id. at 11-13.

         Satisfied with what they learned, the officers drove away. Id. at 13. When they ran a search of the vehicle's license plate, however, the officers found that its owner, Ryan Peltan, had two outstanding warrants lodged against him as well as a suspended driver's license. Id. at 13-16. They returned to the vehicle and asked the defendant if he was, in fact, Ryan Peltan. When he answered in the affirmative, they arrested him for driving with a suspended license and because of the two outstanding warrants. Id. at 17.

         Because they had arrested the owner of the vehicle, the officers planned to inventory and tow the vehicle pursuant to Akron police department policy. Id. at 19. That policy permitted the officers to release the vehicle only to its registered owner, and so the officers could not release the car to Derrick Snell, the defendant's companion who was also at the scene. Id. at 21.

         The car doors were open, and its contents therefore were visible to the police officers. Id. at 18, 76-77. Officer Baker observed a box of ammunition on the driver's seat, id. at 18, as well as two marijuana pipes and a prescription pill bottle that was later determined to have pills in it. Id. at 23. Officer Shmigal also saw the pipes and the prescription pill bottle. Id. at 76-77. Both officers testified that the pipes were, in fact, drug paraphernalia, illegal to possess under Ohio law. See Id. at 23-26, 76-77, 88-89. The officers therefore arrested Snell as well. Id. at 26.

         During the inventory search that followed, the officers found pistols, ammunition, and a bag with about 10, 000 pills inside it. Id. at 28-29.

         ANALYSIS

         The court reviews de novo a magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation to suppress evidence in a criminal case. See 28 USC § 636(b)(1); Fed. Rule Crim. P. 59(b)(3). In conducting its review, the Court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         Peltan first challenges his initial encounter with the police officers, arguing that their questions were akin to an illegal stop and frisk. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). But his argument is misplaced for two reasons.

         First, contrary to the defendant's assertions, the officers did not stop him or restrain his liberty in any way. On the contrary, both officers remained in their police car and simply asked Peltan a few questions, which he answered voluntarily. And because the interaction was consensual, it was not a seizure for purposes of the Fourth Amendment.

         “[A] seizure does not occur simply because a police officer approaches an individual and asks a few questions.” Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 434 (1991). Until an officer uses physical force or a show of authority to restrain liberty, “an encounter between a police officer and a citizen is consensual, and implicates no ...


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