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United States v. Bernard

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 24, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
LEONARD CHARLES BERNARD, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: March 21, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, at Statesville. Richard L. Voorhees, Senior District Judge. (5:13-cr-00032-FDW-DSC-1)

         ARGUED:

          Stephen Thomas Meier, STEPHEN T. MEIER, P.L.L.C., Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          Amy Elizabeth Ray, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Asheville, North Carolina, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          R. Andrew Murray, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellee.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, NIEMEYER, and MOTZ, Circuit Judges.

          GREGORY, Chief Judge:

         Appellant Leonard Charles Bernard was found guilty of one count of possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 and one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924. Bernard now challenges the district court's denial of his pretrial suppression motion to exclude physical evidence and statements under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Because the district court properly denied Bernard's suppression motion, we affirm his convictions.

         I.

         Early in the morning on December 4, 2012, Officer Barry Willis saw Bernard driving eastbound on Interstate 40 in Iredell County, North Carolina, in a white Jeep. Because Bernard appeared to be driving erratically, Officer Willis decided to conduct a traffic stop to determine if Bernard might be impaired or fatigued. When Officer Willis approached the Jeep, he observed Bernard acting nervously, so he requested Bernard's license and registration and asked Bernard if he could pat him down to search for weapons. Bernard consented to the pat-down, and Officer Willis then asked Bernard to join him in the patrol vehicle. Bernard did so, sitting next to Officer Willis uncuffed in the passenger seat.

         As Officer Willis was processing Bernard's information to ascertain whether he had outstanding warrants, he experienced technical difficulties and had to use his cell phone to call the main office to conduct the warrant check. Officer Willis estimated that this process took approximately five to seven minutes. During this time, he engaged in casual conversation with Bernard, who informed Officer Willis that he was from Lathrop, California, but had previously lived in Greensboro, North Carolina. Bernard explained that he planned to stay in North Carolina for 2 weeks to visit with friends and repair motorcycles and that he would extend his trip if he found additional motorcycles to repair in North Carolina because business was slow in California. Officer Willis said he found this story suspicious because the weather in California was conducive to riding motorcycles year-round, while people generally did not ride motorcycles in the winter in North Carolina. He asked Bernard if he had any controlled substances or firearms in or on top of his vehicle. Bernard said no.

         The central information system verified that Bernard had no outstanding warrants, and Officer Willis issued him a warning ticket for "other hazardous violation." Officer Willis returned Bernard's documents to him, but as Bernard opened the door to exit the police vehicle, Officer Willis asked Bernard if he could answer a few more questions. Bernard said yes. Officer Willis then asked a second time if Bernard had any controlled substances, and Bernard again answered no. Officer Willis next asked Bernard if he could search his Jeep. Bernard said yes, informed Officer Willis that he had a rifle in the car, and also ...


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