Wednesday, October 14, 2020

No Evidence of Lack of Permit Means Stop Violates Fourth Amendment


US v. Feliciana: Feliciana was driving a bakery delivery truck down the George Washington Memorial Parkway (in Virginia, but a federal enclave) when he was pulled over by a Park Police officer. His offense? The officer knew that commercial vehicles requires a permit to operate on the parkway and Feliciana’s truck appeared to be one. Once stopped, the officer found marijuana on Feliciana, who was charged with possession and operating a vehicle without a permit. The district court denied Feliciana’s motion to suppress and he entered a conditional guilty plea (to the marijuana charge, only).

The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of the motion to suppress. The court noted that the “entire factual basis . . . offered for conducting the traffic stop was that he saw a vehicle requiring a permit on the Parkway,” but that was “wholly innocent.” It rejected the Government’s argument that such permits are rarely issued, raising an inference of a violation, by noting that “we find no evidence in the record to support” that claim. Without more, the Government failed to “articulate some particularlized and objective basis for suspecting illegality.” The court also rejected the Government’s argument that the regulation requiring permits is structured in such a way as to allow “discretionary spot checks” on vehicles on the Parkway. Finally, the court held that the stop was not made pursuant to any administrative scheme that would avoid Fourth Amendment issues.

Congrats to the Defender office in the Eastern District of VA on the win! 

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