United States District Court, D. Utah
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S
MOTION TO SUPPRESS
Stewart United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendant Steven Acosta's
Motion to Suppress. For the reasons discussed below, the
Court will deny the Motion.
night September 22, 2017, Officer Brennon Peterson, an
officer with the Cedar City Police Department, observed a tow
truck driving without its taillights on. Officer Peterson
pulled behind the vehicle, followed it for a period of time,
and ran its license plate through his computer. The license
plate came back for an Audi passenger car, not a tow truck.
Officer Peterson then ran the license plate through dispatch
for verification and it again returned as belonging to an
Audi. Having followed the vehicle for five or six blocks,
Officer Peterson activated his lights and initiated a traffic
stop. As will be discussed further below, Officer
Peterson's vehicle was equipped with a dash cam, but the
stop was not recorded.
Peterson approached the vehicle, which had two occupants.
Officer Peterson engaged with Defendant Acosta, who was the
driver of the vehicle. Officer Peterson asked Mr. Acosta
about the license plate and Mr. Acosta stated that it
belonged to the tow truck. Officer Peterson disagreed and
asked Mr. Acosta to step out of the vehicle. Officer Peterson
wanted to run the VIN, but could not see the VIN in the
doorjamb without opening the door. Officer Peterson asked Mr.
Acosta to step out of the vehicle for safety reasons and had
him stand behind the door. Officer Peterson relayed the VIN
to dispatch. After doing so, dispatch reported that the
registration was expired and that the vehicle did not have
insurance. Based on the lack of insurance, the tow truck
would have been impounded.
Officer Peterson was examining the VIN, he saw a box of 9mm
ammunition on the floor of the driver's side of the
vehicle. Officer Peterson asked Mr. Acosta if there was a
firearm in the vehicle and Mr. Acosta stated that there was a
firearm under the driver's seat. Officer Peterson leaned
in to verify that there was a firearm.
Peterson then asked Mr. Acosta if he had any felony
convictions. Mr. Acosta stated that he did. Officer Peterson
asked dispatch to confirm Mr. Acosta's criminal history.
Dispatch confirmed that Mr. Acosta did have felony
convictions. Mr. Acosta was then arrested for being a felon
in possession of a firearm.
back-up arrived, Officer Peterson went to seize the firearm
and remove any ammunition from it. While emptying the
firearm, he detected an odor of marijuana. Officer Peterson
asked Mr. Acosta if there were any drugs in the vehicle and
Mr. Acosta stated that there were not. Officer Peterson then
observed a glass pipe in the vehicle and Officer Peterson
advised Mr. Acosta of his Miranda rights. Mr. Acosta
agreed to speak to Officer Peterson and admitted that the
glass pipe was his.
point, a back-up officer, Officer Bergstrom, conducted a
further search of the vehicle. Officer Bergstrom found a blue
tube with a substance consistent with marijuana. He also
found a black bag with a substance consistent with the
appearance of methamphetamine. In addition, Officer Bergstrom
found a flashlight-Taser, a knife, digital scales,
prescription pills, and over $200 in cash.
Acosta was placed in Officer Peterson's patrol car. Upon
questioning, Mr. Acosta stated that he was unaware of the
black bag or its contents, but did state that the firearm
belonged to his wife. The passenger of the vehicle, also a
convicted felon, was allowed to leave after the conclusion of
raises three issues in his Motion. First, Defendant argues
that evidence should be suppressed based on the
government's failure preserve evidence. Second, Defendant
challenges his removal from the vehicle so that Officer
Peterson could check the VIN. Third, Defendant seeks
dismissal based on a violation of the Equal Protection
PRESERVATION OF EVIDENCE
Acosta first argues that the failure of Officer Peterson to
record the stop on his dash cam should warrant suppression.
Officer Peterson's vehicle was equipped with a dash cam.
However, at the hearing, Officer Peterson testified that the
stop at issue here was not recorded because his dash cam had
run out of memory. Officer Peterson testified that,
generally, officers turn in their memory card every two hours
to have the data uploaded, which clears the card. Officer
Peterson had not done this. Had the dash cam been
functioning, it would have recorded the stop, including a
thirty second period prior to when the officer activated the
Process clause requires “that criminal defendants be
afforded a meaningful opportunity to present a complete
defense.” To protect this right, the Supreme Court
“has developed ‘what might loosely be called the
area of constitutionally guaranteed access to
evidence.'” “[T]he government violates a
defendant's right to due process when: (1) it destroys
evidence whose exculpatory significance is apparent before
destruction; and (2) the defendant remains unable to obtain
comparable evidence by other reasonably available
means.” “[I]f the exculpatory value of the
evidence is indeterminate and all that can be ...