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U.S. v. BINGHAM

June 10, 2004.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
KENNETH BINGHAM.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BLANCHE MANNING, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Defendant Kenneth Bingham was indicted for possession of a firearm by a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The present matter comes before the Court on Bingham's Motion to Quash his Arrest and Suppress. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court GRANTS this motion and suppresses the firearm found as a result of his arrest.

This case stems from a traffic stop of Bingham by the Chicago police after Bingham allegedly failed to stop at a stop sign. The Government contends that Bingham's arrest and the search of his vehicle was valid as: (1) a search incident to a legal arrest under New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 460 (1981), based on the fact that Bingham was driving without a license; or (2) a limited search based on the officers' reasonable suspicion that Bingham might have had a weapon in his vehicle, under Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1033 (1983). In response, Bingham asserts that the arrest and search are invalid because: (1) the police did not have a valid reason for the initial stop because he did not run the stop sign; (2) he was legally driving on a prior traffic ticket; and (3) the police did not have reasonable suspicion to believe that he had a weapon in his vehicle. Before discussing these legal issues, however, the Court will first address the credibility of the witnesses and make the relevant factual findings. FACTUAL FINDINGS*fn1

  Not surprisingly, the Government and Bingham have vastly different versions of the circumstances leading up to his arrest. The Court will therefore first review each side's version of the events and then opine which version it believes to be more credible.

  A. The Government's Version of Bingham's Arrest

  Around 9:00 p.m. on September 9, 2003, two uniformed Chicago police officers, Martian Teresi and Dan Kohler, were on routine patrol in a marked patrol car. While proceeding northbound on South Halsted Street, the officers observed a 2003 Chevrolet Avalanche ("the Avalanche"), traveling southbound on Halsted, fail to stop at the stop sign at the intersection of Halsted and 105th Street.*fn2 Officer Teresi, who was driving, then made a u-turn at the intersection and proceeded to stop the Avalanche on the southbound lane of Halsted near 106th Street.

  Officer Teresi approached the driver's side of the Avalanche, while Officer Kohler went to the passenger's side. As Officer Teresi was about 8 to 10 feet from the rear of the vehicle, he allegedly saw the driver and lone occupant, Bingham, quickly turn his left shoulder towards the center of the truck, as if he was placing or picking up an item in the center counsel. Thinking the driver was reaching for a weapon, Officer Teresi asked him to place his hands out of the window, Bingham complied with this request. Officer Teresi then asked Bingham for his driver's license, which Bingham allegedly did not have nor did he produce any traffic tickets in lieu of his license. Officer Teresi then placed Bingham under arrest for driving without a license and put him in the back of the squad car.

  After placing Bingham under arrest, Officer Teresi returned to the Avalanche to see if Bingham was in fact reaching for or hiding a weapon. Upon looking into the vehicle, the officer noticed that a removable cup holder in the center console was slightly "ajar." When the officer pulled the cup holder up, he saw a small storage space underneath which contained a loaded .40 caliber handgun. After discovering the gun, Officer Teresi drove the Avalanche to the police station, while Officer Kohler drove Bingham in the police car. At the station, in addition to the gun charge, Bingham was issued traffic tickets for failure to stop and driving without a license.

  B. Bingham's Version of his Arrest

  Bingham alleges that at around 9:00 p.m. on September 9, 2003, he was driving his mother's Avalanche southbound on South Halstead street near 105th Street. In that area, Halsted is a four lane street with two lanes on each side divided by a center median planted with trees and other shrubbery. As he approached 105th Street, traveling in the left-hand lane, near the median, Bingham saw a marked Chicago police squad car behind him traveling at a "high rate of speed" in the right hand lane of Halsted. As Bingham approached the intersection of 105th and Halsted, the police car was almost directly behind him. After Bingham made a complete stop at the stop sign at 105th Street, the police car turned on its flashing lights and pulled him over near the intersection of 106th and Halsted.

  After pulling his car over to the curb, Officer Teresi accused him of "blowing the stop sign" and ordered him out of the Avalanche. At the rear of the vehicle, Bingham gave Officer Kohler a traffic ticket which he was driving on in lieu of his driver's license. Bingham's license was not suspended or revoked. Officer Kohler then placed Bingham in the back seat of the squad car, while Officer Teresi searched the Avalanche without consent. Officer Teresi then allegedly found the handgun.

  C. Findings of Fact and Credibility Determinations

  Having heard testimony from both officers and Bingham, observing their demeanor, considering the reasonableness of each party's version of the events, and carefully examining the exhibits presented at the suppression hearing, this Court finds Bingham's testimony more credible than that of Officers Teresi and Kohler. This determination is based on the demeanor of the officers, as well as Bingham, while testifying and the fact that the Court finds several major inconsistencies with the officers' testimony.

  First and foremost, the Court is very troubled by the officers' testimony that Bingham did not give them a traffic ticket in lieu of his license. This testimony was contradicted by the exhibits presented at trial. Defendant's Exhibit No. 2 is a copy of a February ticket ("the February Ticket") that Bingham alleges he gave to the police. The February Ticket incorrectly lists Bingham's driver's license number as B58550564249. Exhibit No. 1 is a photocopy of Bingham's actual driver's license with his correct license number — B52550564249. The two tickets issued on September 9, 2003 ("the September Tickets"), however, do ...


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