from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Oklahoma (D.C. No. 4:16-CR-00003-CVE-1)
on the briefs: [*]
L. O'Connell, Federal Public Defender, Barry L.
Derryberry, Assistant Federal Public Defender, and Stephen J.
Greubel, Senior Litigator, Office of the Federal Public
Defender, Northern District of Oklahoma, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for
C. Williams, Sr., United States Attorney, and Leena Alam,
Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the United States
Attorney, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff-Appellee.
HARTZ, MATHESON, and MORITZ, Circuit Judges.
John Eldridge Cone pleaded guilty to possession of controlled
substances with intent to distribute. See 21 U.S.C.
§§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C). But he reserved the right
to appeal the district court's denial of his motion to
suppress the evidence seized from his car by a police officer
during a traffic stop. His sole argument on appeal is that
the officer exceeded the Fourth Amendment bounds of the stop
by asking him about his criminal history and travel plans.
Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we
proper scope of a traffic stop includes "certain
negligibly burdensome precautions" taken for officer
safety. Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609,
1616 (2015). Brief questions about a driver's criminal
history are no more burdensome than computer background
checks, which circuit precedent has routinely permitted. And
because Defendant fails to show the necessary causal
connection between the travel-plan question and the discovery
of the drugs, we need not address the validity of that
November 29, 2015, Tulsa Police Officer Peter Maher was
driving on patrol. About 10:30 p.m. he noticed a white pickup
truck crossing through an intersection on 41st Street without
a functioning license-plate light, in violation of Oklahoma
activating his emergency lights, Maher turned around to
pursue the truck. He found the truck in a motel parking lot,
near another motel well known for criminal activity. In
recent months he and his partners had made numerous arrests
for narcotics trafficking and firearms offenses in the
immediate area. Maher parked his vehicle, approached
Defendant's parked truck by foot, and knocked on the
driver's side window. About two minutes had passed since
Maher first observed the traffic violation.
Defendant lowered his window, Maher asked for his
driver's license and informed him that his car's tag
light was not functioning. Defendant acknowledged that he was
the person who had been driving on 41st Street. Maher asked
if Defendant had "ever been in trouble before" (to
which Defendant replied yes), R., Vol. III at 20, and whether
he had "been to prison before" (to which Defendant
again replied yes), id. at 21. Maher asked "For
what?" and Defendant falsely claimed that it was for
money laundering. Id. Maher testified that "the
vast majority of the time" he would question those he
has pulled over "[t]o assess somebody's criminal
history, to determine if they have any violent history in
their past that might pose a safety risk to me . . . or my
partners during the course of an encounter."
Id. at 21.
also asked a question along the lines of "What are you
doing here?" or "Who are you visiting here?"
about which he and Defendant spoke "very, very
briefly." Id. at 46. Planning to run a warrant
inquiry and status check of Defendant's license, Maher
followed his typical practice of requesting drivers to step
out of their vehicles while he ran the computer check. He
said that he makes the request for his own safety, a
particular concern here because he was alone. As Defendant
got out, Maher noticed the butt of a pistol protruding from
underneath the truck's center console. Maher drew his
pistol and told Defendant to get on the ground. After a brief
exchange Defendant attempted to flee but Maher apprehended
him. Officer Kristi Score soon arrived and secured
Defendant's truck, where she found the pistol to be
loaded. As she unloaded the firearm, she detected the odor of
marijuana emanating from the passenger side of the truck. She
opened the passenger-side door and found a backpack
containing drugs, including marijuana and methamphetamine, as
well as small bags and digital scales.
was charged with one count of being a felon in possession of
a firearm; one count of possessing methamphetamine, cocaine,
oxycodone, and MDMA with intent to distribute; and one count
of possessing a firearm in relation to a drug-trafficking
crime. He moved to suppress the seized evidence, raising two
grounds at the suppression hearing: One, he attacked
Maher's credibility regarding the events surrounding the
stop; and two, he argued that even under the disputed
version, the officer conducted an improper investigation by