from the United States District Court for the District of
Utah (D.C. No. 1:16-CR-00004-DN-1)
Edward Jones, Heber City, Utah, for Defendant-Appellant.
John Viti, Assistant United States Attorney (John W. Huber,
United States Attorney, with him on the brief), Salt Lake
City, Utah, for Plaintiff-Appellee.
PHILLIPS, EBEL, and MORITZ, Circuit Judges.
MORITZ, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
a traffic stop in Arizona, law enforcement discovered
evidence linking Deon Martinez to a bank robbery in Utah.
Martinez argues that the state trooper who pulled him over
lacked reasonable suspicion to do so. For the reasons
discussed below, we agree. We therefore reverse the district
court's order denying Martinez's motion to suppress
relevant facts unfold along a 130-mile stretch of the
Interstate 40 (I-40) corridor in Arizona. At 11:41 one
morning, a state police dispatcher reported a robbery at a
Wells Fargo in Winslow, Arizona. Christian Phillips, an
Arizona State Trooper, heard this report while patrolling
I-40 about an hour east of Winslow. The dispatcher identified
two suspects: (1) a man wearing a Bud Light hat and (2) a man
running "from the bank in the alley wearing a
blue-and-white checkered shirt[ and] blue jeans." R.
vol. 2, 16. The dispatcher didn't identify any vehicle
the thieves might have used to make their escape. Nor did the
dispatcher identify the race, ethnicity, or physical features
of either of the two robbery suspects.
12:13 p.m. that same day, Phillips heard a second report of
activity along the I-40 corridor, this time in Flagstaff,
Arizona. This second report described an event that took
place before the Winslow robbery and was far less serious; no
robbery, or any other crime for that matter, occurred in
Flagstaff. Instead, the second report alerted officers about
a "suspicious" white Cadillac spotted outside a
Wells Fargo branch earlier that morning. Id. at 36.
The report also described the Cadillac's driver: a Native
American man wearing "a light blue checkered
hoodie" and a Bud Light hat. Id. at 17. And it
said that the Cadillac headed east from Flagstaff at 11:00
a.m. The only other identifying detail Phillips recalled was
that one of these reports (though he couldn't say which
one) relayed that one of the suspects was wearing glasses.
heard the second report, Phillips ventured west on I-40
toward Winslow. Fewer than fifteen minutes later, Phillips
saw a white Cadillac-a rare sight on that stretch of I-40, he
later testified-driving east on the other side of the
highway. He turned around to pursue it and asked dispatch to
run its license plate. Phillips caught up to the Cadillac and
pulled alongside to look into the driver's window.
Although Phillips later explained that the windows "were
excessively tinted . . . to the point that [he] could not see
into the vehicle," he testified that he "was able
to make out the outline of the driver." Id. at
23-24. From this outline, Phillips saw that the driver was
wearing glasses and "had facial features that led [him]
to believe" that the driver "was a Native American
male." Id. After conducting this
reconnaissance, Phillips dropped back to tail the Cadillac
and called for an additional officer.
before Phillips's colleague could arrive and before
Phillips received the result of the license-plate check, the
Cadillac engaged its right turn signal, announcing its
imminent exit from the highway and prompting Phillips to pull
it over. In explaining his decision to stop the Cadillac,
Phillips later testified that he did so solely because he
believed it was involved in the Winslow robbery. Indeed, he
specifically testified that the driver didn't commit any
traffic violations. And he said that he stopped the Cadillac
when he did because he didn't want to lose it in the dirt
roads and small communities located off that part of the
highway. Nor did he want to endanger innocent bystanders if
the encounter took a violent turn.
Cadillac stopped for Phillips without incident. Phillips
approached and asked the driver to get out. When the driver
opened the car door, Phillips noted the overwhelming scent of
marijuana. He further observed that the driver was a woman
who, although wearing glasses, might not have been Native
American; Phillips testified that he did "not know what
her nationality or ethnicity was." Id. at 34.
was seated in the front passenger seat, and Phillips detained
him as well. A subsequent search of the Cadillac revealed
evidence linking Martinez to an entirely different bank
robbery-one that occurred in Utah.
federal grand jury indicted Martinez for that Utah bank
robbery, and Martinez moved to suppress the evidence seized
from the Cadillac. The district court conducted an
evidentiary hearing at which Phillips testified as described
above. It then found that Phillips had reasonable suspicion
to stop the Cadillac and accordingly denied Martinez's
motion to suppress. Martinez entered a conditional guilty
plea that preserved his right to challenge the district
court's suppression ruling on appeal. He makes that
argues that the district court wrongly concluded Phillips had
reasonable suspicion to stop the car. "'When
reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress, we view the
evidence in the light most favorable to the government,'
and 'accept the district court's findings of fact
unless clearly erroneous.'" United States v.
Moore, 795 F.3d 1224, 1228 (10th Cir. 2015) (quoting
United States v. Katoa, 379 F.3d 1203, 1205 (10th
Cir. 2004)). Nevertheless, we independently review "the
ultimate determination of reasonableness under the Fourth
Fourth Amendment prohibits "unreasonable searches and
seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. Because "[a]
routine traffic stop is considered a seizure within the
meaning of the Fourth Amendment," all traffic stops must
be reasonable. Moore, 795 F.3d at 1228. And
"[a] traffic stop is reasonable if it is (1) justified
at its inception and (2) reasonably related in scope to the
circumstances [that] justified the interference in the first
place." Id. (quoting United States v.
Karam, 496 F.3d 1157, 1161 (10th Cir. 2007)); see
also Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). Here, Martinez
only challenges the initial justification for the traffic
stop, not its scope.
a traffic stop is justified if the officer observes or
reasonably suspects a traffic or equipment violation. See
United States v. Botero-Ospina, 71 F.3d 783, 787 (10th
Cir. 1995) (en banc). Here, of course, Phillips didn't
see the Cadillac's driver commit any traffic or equipment
violations. Nor did he reasonably suspect the driver had done
so. But a law-enforcement officer may also stop a vehicle if
the officer harbors "a reasonable suspicion that [other]
criminal activity may be afoot." United States v.
Whitley, 680 F.3d 1227, 1233 (10th Cir. 2012). ...