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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Pyles - 904 F.3d 422 (6th Cir. 2018)


To justify stopping a car, an officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion. Once an officer discovers that a car's owner has an outstanding arrest warrant, he needs only reasonable suspicion that the owner is in the vehicle. It is fair to infer that the registered owner of a car is in the car absent information that defeats the inference. Considerable authority supports this inference. This inference may, however, be defeated by contrary evidence.


On April 26, 2017, defendants Robbie Whitis, Jason Whitis, and Joshua Pyles drove from Somerset, Kentucky to Louisville to pick up methamphetamine and marijuana to distribute back in Somerset. On the way home, Brad Ramsey, a trooper with the Kentucky State Police, noticed their car traveling 63 miles per hour in a 70-miles-per-hour zone, amidst other vehicles going much faster. Ramsey followed the car and ran its license plate number through the Kentucky law enforcement database. The database revealed that the car's owner, Angela Burdine, had an outstanding arrest warrant. Ramsey stopped the vehicle. He approached the car on the rear passenger's side and noticed Pyles stuffing something under a pile of clothes in the back seat. One of the occupants rolled down the window, and Ramsey smelled marijuana. Ramsey called for backup. Together, the officers searched the car and found a loaded .380 caliber handgun, a jar containing marijuana and marijuana cigarettes, a plastic bag containing marijuana, and a shoebox holding over 200 grams of methamphetamine. The officers took the three men into custody. A grand jury indicted all three on drug and firearm charges. At trial in federal district court, Pyles filed a motion to suppress the evidence on the ground that the investigative stop was violative of the Fourth Amendment. After holding a suppression hearing in which Trooper Ramsey testified, the court concluded that Ramsey had reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle based on the outstanding arrest warrant of its owner. A jury convicted Pyles of conspiring to distribute methamphetamine and of possessing a firearm to aid the crime. Whitis, on the other hand, pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. The probation office calculated a guidelines range of 262 to 327 months, increased in part based on career-offender and leadership enhancements. The court rejected the career-offender enhancement. But it applied the leadership enhancement, ultimately yielding a guidelines range of 120 to 125 months, based on a statutory minimum of 120 months. The court varied upward and sentenced Whitis to 200 months. Pyles and Whitis appealed.


Were the convictions and sentences proper?




The appellate court affirmed the conviction and sentence. It held that Pyles' claim that the district court should have suppressed the evidence since the traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment was without merit because the record showed that the owner of the vehicle in which they were passengers had an outstanding arrest warrant, which gave the police officer reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop. The court also held that Whitis' claim that his sentence was procedurally unreasonable since the district court erred in determining the appropriate sentence by failing to consider his mental and physical health was without merit because the record showed the district court looked at 18 U.S.C.S. § 3553(a) factors and explained that it was imposing a sentence above the guidelines range since the range understated Whitis' criminal history.

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