United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
W. Grimm United States District Judge
Christopher Williams was stopped in a vehicle with defective
tail and tag lights on a private road in an apartment complex
when Officer Jonathan Eveler observed him and stopped the
vehicle for violations of Maryland Transportation Code
(“Transportation Code”). The stop led to a drug
arrest. Williams filed a Motion to Suppress, ECF No. 18,
arguing that the stop violated the Fourth
Amendment. Williams did not violate the
Transportation Code sections regarding tail and tag lights,
and it was not a reasonable mistake of law to conclude that
he did. However, Officer Eveler had a reasonable suspicion
that Williams had just or was about to commit a violation of
the Transportation Code by driving on a public highway with
defective rear and tag lights. Therefore, the stop was
justified under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968),
and Williams' motion to suppress is DENIED.
November 1, 2018, at approximately 10:15 p.m., Officer Eveler
of the Prince George's County Police Department was
patrolling with several other officers on 16th Avenue in
Hyattsville, Maryland, within the LaSalle Park apartment
complex. Hr'g Tr., 101:5-8, ECF No. 34
(“Tr.”). Undisputed testimony established that
16th Avenue is a private road that loops around the apartment
complex and connects to Chillum Road, a public road.
Id. at 14:13-22. Officer Eveler drove past a silver
Mercedes, with Williams inside as the sole occupant, stopped
next to a dumpster in a spot with a yellow “X”
through it. Id. at 105:3,
101:23-102:5. The vehicle's lights were on, but its
right tail light and tag lights were not functioning.
Id. at 111:22-112:21. Officer Eveler drove past the
vehicle en route to assist nearby officers, but returned to
Williams' vehicle approximately one minute later to
initiate a stop. Id. at 102:6-11. At that point,
Williams' vehicle began to reverse then drive forward.
Id. at 26:7-8, 48:23-49:12. The vehicle's tail
and tag lights were working. Id. at 103:17-22.
Officer Eveler then activated his emergency lights and
stopped the vehicle. Id. at 26:9-10. Officer Eveler
testified that during the stop he detected the odor of
marijuana and observed what he believed to be crack cocaine.
Id. at 31:12, 34:8-11. Williams was arrested and an
inventory search was performed of the vehicle. Id.
at 38:10-15. During the inventory search, approximately
fifteen minutes after the initial stop, the vehicle's
right tail light and tag lights again were not working.
Id. at 42:25-43:4, 103:24-104:6.
Fourth Amendment protects “[t]he right of the people to
be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S.
Const. amend. IV. “‘Temporary detention of
individuals during the stop of an automobile by the police,
even if only for a brief period and for a limited purpose,
constitutes a ‘seizure'' under the Fourth
Amendment. An automobile stop, therefore, is subject to the
reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment.”
United States v. Bowman, 884 F.3d 200, 209-10 (4th
Cir. 2018) (quoting Whren v. United States, 517 U.S.
806, 809 (1996); citing Whren, 517 U.S. at 810).
to be reasonable, a seizure must be “‘based on
probable cause' to believe that the individual has
committed a crime.” Bailey v. United States,
568 U.S. 186, 192 (2013) (quoting Dunaway v. New
York, 442 U.S. 200, 213 (1979)). Probable cause exists
when the “facts and circumstances within the
officer's knowledge . . . are sufficient to warrant a
prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing,
in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed,
is committing, or is about to commit an offense.”
United States v. Gray, 137 F.3d 765, 769 (4th Cir.
1998) (quoting Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U.S. 31,
37 (1979)). “[S]ome latitude” exists, however,
for detention without probable cause “where ‘the
intrusion on the citizen's privacy was so much less
severe' than that involved in a traditional arrest that
‘the opposing interests in crime prevention and
detection and in the police officer's safety' could
support the seizure as reasonable.” Bailey,
568 U.S. at 193 (quoting Michigan v. Summers, 452
U.S. 692, 697-98 (1981)). These brief detentions are known as
“Terry stops, ” because in Terry v.
Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27 (1968), the Supreme Court held that
“a police officer who has reasonable suspicion of
criminal activity may conduct a brief investigative
stop.” Bailey, 568 U.S. at 193.
Government argues that Williams violated two sections of the
Transportation Code: § 22-204(a), regarding tail lamps,
and § 22-204(f), regarding tag lights. If Williams
violated one or both sections, Officer Eveler had probable
cause to stop Williams and the motion to suppress should be
denied. Williams did not violate these sections of the
Transportation Code because he was parked and not on a
highway when his tail and tag lights were inoperable.
Therefore, these alleged violations do not provide a basis to
dismiss the motion to suppress.
22-204(a) provides in relevant part that “every motor
vehicle . . . shall be equipped with at least 2 tail lamps
mounted on the rear, which, when lighted as required in
§ 22-201.1 of this subtitle, shall emit a red light
plainly visible from a distance of 1, 000 feet to the
rear.” Md. Code Ann., Transp. § 22-204(a). Section
Either a tail lamp or a separate lamp shall be constructed
and placed to illuminate, with a white light, the rear
registration plate and render it clearly legible from a
distance of 50 feet to the rear. Any tail lamp or tail lamps,
together with any separate lamp or lamps for illuminating the
rear registration plate, shall be wired to be lighted
whenever the head lamps or auxiliary driving lamps are
§ 22-204(f). Also relevant is Transp. § 22-201.1,
which applies to both §§ 22-204(a) and (f). Section
22-204(a) references § 22-201.1 directly. While §
22-204(f) does not explicitly reference § 22-201.1,
§ 22-202(a) states:
Whenever a requirement is declared in this subtitle as to
distance from which certain lamps and devices shall render
objects visible or within which the lamps or devices shall be
visible, the requirement applies during the times stated in
§ 22-201.1 of this subtitle in respect to a vehicle
without a load when on a straight, level, unlighted highway
under normal atmospheric conditions, unless a different time
or condition is expressly stated.”
§ 22-202(a) (emphasis added). Thus, § 22-204(f)'s
requirement that tag lights must be visible from a distance
of 50 feet to the rear triggers § 22-202(a), which in
turn provides that the lighting requirement applies during
the times stated in § 22-201.1. Therefore, the lighting
requirements for tail lamps and tag lights apply during the
times described in § 22-201.1.
Every vehicle on a highway in this State, at any time when,
due to insufficient light or unfavorable atmospheric
conditions, persons and vehicles on the highway are not
clearly discernible at a distance of 1, 000 feet ahead, shall
display lighted lamps and illuminating devices as
respectively required in this subtitle for different classes
of vehicles, subject to exceptions with respect to parked
vehicles, and further that stoplights, turn signals, and
other signaling devices shall be lighted as prescribed for
the use of these devices.
§ 22-201.1 (emphasis added). Read in conjunction with
the previously cited sections of the Transportation Code, the
tail light and tag light requirements of §§
22-204(a) and (f) apply to specific circumstances, one of
which is that the vehicle must ...