United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Waddoups, United States District Judge.
matter is before the court on a Motion to Suppress filed by
defendant Kimberly Sue Meadows. Ms. Meadows' vehicle has
a third brake light on the interior side of the rear window.
The rear window is tinted, which results in the brake light
being tinted as well. A Utah Highway Patrol Trooper stopped
Ms. Meadows on the basis that a tinted brake light
constitutes an equipment violation. During the stop, the
trooper found methamphetamine, cocaine, and drug
paraphernalia. Ms. Meadows moves to suppress this evidence,
and any statements she made related to the stop, on the
ground the initial stop was unlawful. For the reasons stated
below, the court denies the Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 19).
December 4, 2017, Ms. Meadows was driving on I-70 when
Trooper Christopher Terry observed her 1993 sedan. The sedan
had a tinted rear window, with a third brake light on the
interior side of that window. Trooper Terry stopped Ms.
Meadows on the basis that a tinted brake light is an
equipment violation under “Windows Section 9,
subsection 2(f) of the Utah Safety Inspection Manual.”
He then issued a warning citation for operating an unsafe and
improperly equipped vehicle in violation of Section
41-6A-1601(1) of the Utah Code. See Warning Citation
(Gov't Ex. 3).
the stop, Trooper Terry noted that Ms. Meadows' vehicle
was registered in California, but she lived in Colorado. When
Ms. Meadows gave other conflicting information, Trooper Terry
became suspicious of criminal activity and deployed his
Police Service Dog to conduct an exterior sniff of the
vehicle. The dog alerted, and Trooper Terry found 50 grams or
more of methamphetamine, 500 grams or more of cocaine, and
drug paraphernalia. Ms. Meadows moves to suppress this
evidence, along with all of her statements, on the ground
that the initial stop was illegal.
court held an evidentiary hearing on March 1, 2018, during
which a video recording was played showing the initial stop.
The recording showed that the brake light was visible and
functioning at the time of the stop, but it was covered by
the tinted rear window. The facts of the initial stop are not
in dispute, and Ms. Meadows does not challenge any other
portion of the stop. The parties agree the outcome of this
motion will turn on the court's interpretation of the
March 1, 2018 hearing, the court set a briefing schedule and
time for oral argument. Since that time, the issues in the
case have been evolving. In her first memorandum, Ms. Meadows
made the following arguments: “(1) she did not violate
any Utah traffic laws; (2) the rules and regulations
governing safety inspections are categorically different from
traffic laws and unenforceable as such; and (3) Trooper Terry
made an unreasonable mistake of law.” Memo in Supp., at
3 (ECF No. 27). With respect to her first argument, Ms.
Meadows contends she did not violate Section 41-6a-1601(1)
because her vehicle was not in an unsafe or improper
condition at the time of the stop. As to her second argument,
Ms. Meadows contends United States v. Rosvall, 651
F.Supp.2d 1274 (D. Utah 2009) precludes stops for violations
under the Utah Vehicle Safety Inspection Manual. Finally, Ms.
Meadows contends Trooper Terry did not make a reasonable
mistake of law because Section 41-6a-1601, as clarified by
Section 41-6a-1604, is unambiguous and Trooper Terry should
have known a safety inspection violation cannot be the ground
for a traffic stop.
argument on August 16, 2018, Ms. Meadows then asserted an
additional argument that Utah had decriminalized its traffic
code, and therefore the stop could not be based upon an
equipment violation. Because the issue was newly raised, the
court allowed time for supplemental briefing.
supplemental memorandum, Ms. Meadows made two arguments.
First, she made a “facial challenge to Utah's
statutory scheme” because “it allows an officer
to ‘stop, inspect, and test' a motor vehicle for a
non-criminal offense.” Supp. Memo in Support of Mot. to
Suppress, at 1 (ECF No. 37). Ms. Meadows asserts that,
effective May 2017, infractions under Section 41-6a-1601 were
decriminalized by the Utah Legislature to something less than
an infraction. And, any stop based on something less than an
infraction upsets the proper balance for search and seizures.
Second, Ms. Meadows argued that stopping an out-of-state
vehicle for a violation of a Utah equipment law may also
violate the Commerce Clause.
briefing, the court set final oral argument for October 25,
2018. Shortly before the hearing, defense counsel notified
the court and government that Ms. Meadows also challenged the
validity of Utah's vehicle safety inspection rules on the
basis that they had not been passed in accordance with the
requirements of Utah Code § 63G-3-201(5)(a). In
particular, Ms. Meadows asserted the safety inspection rules
are invalid because they fail to state the penalty for a
violation of the rules as required by law. Initially, the
government reserved the right to brief the newly raised
issue, but after oral argument, it submitted the matter to
the court. The court has taken each of the arguments under
advisement and now issues this decision.
INTERPLAY BETWEEN UTAH STATUTORY AND ADMINISTRATION
Utah's Traffic Code
Meadows contends she did not violate the Utah Traffic Code
because she operated her vehicle in compliance with Section
41-6a-1601(1)(a) of the Utah Code. The relevant provisions of
that Section are as follows:
(1)(a) A person may not operate or move . . . on a highway a
vehicle . . . which: . . .
(ii) does not contain those parts or is not at all times
equipped with lamps and other equipment in proper condition
and adjustment as required in this chapter; [or]
(iii) is equipped in any manner in violation of this
chapter . . . .
Utah Code Ann. § 41-6a-1601(1)(a) (emphasis added). The
chapter at issue is Chapter 6a, which is entitled
“Traffic Code.” Part 16 pertains to Vehicle
Equipment and Section 1601 et seq. refers to
particular equipment requirements. Ms. Meadows asserts
Section 41-6a-1604 sets the conditions for brake lights and
nothing in that section prohibits a tint over a third brake
light. It is correct that tinted brake lights are not
expressly addressed in that section. The section does
require, however, that each stop lamp “comply with the
requirements and limitations established under Section
41-6a-1601.” Id. § 41-6a-1604(4)(a)
Section 41-6a-1601 also does not specifically address tinting
over a third brake light, it does direct the following:
In accordance with Title 63G, Chapter 3, Utah Administrative
Rulemaking Act, and in coordination with the rules made under
Section 53-8-204, the department shall make rules setting
minimum standards covering the design, construction,
condition, and operation of vehicle equipment for safely
operating a motor vehicle on the highway as required under
Id. § 41-6a-1601(2)(a) (emphasis added). The
reference to “the department” means the
Department of Public Safety (the “Department”).
Id. § 41-6a-102(10). The Legislature therefore
delegated authority to the Department to make specific rules
for equipment standards and any such rules are ...