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United States v. Starks

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

October 8, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
FOSTER L. STARKS, Defendant, Appellant

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. Hon. Joseph L. Tauro, U.S. District Judge.

James L. Sultan, with whom Kerry A. Haberlin was on brief, for appellant.

Randall E. Kromm, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Carmen M. Ortiz, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Thompson and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 84

THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.

Foster Starks, Jr. was not having a good day. First, he learned that his son had been arrested, then he was tasked with the unenviable job of retrieving a rental car from the son's irate girlfriend. Lastly, as he was nearing home that night, he saw a State Trooper's blue lights reflected in the rental's rearview mirror. So one could say that the cherry on the cake of Starks's day was the Trooper's discovery of the bag on the seat beside him--containing, as it did, a gun and two boxes of ammunition. Starks was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, and when his luck did not improve at trial, he was convicted and sentenced to 210 months in prison. He raises a number of issues on appeal, including one that is determinative. Because the district court erred in holding that Starks, as the unauthorized driver of the rental car, did not have standing to challenge the stop, we reverse his conviction and remand for an evidentiary hearing.

I.

BACKGROUND

A. The Stop

On the night of May 24, 2009, Starks was driving north on Route 24 in a black Kia Sportage. Massachusetts State Trooper Jason Vital was on patrol that evening when he saw Starks signal and pull into the breakdown lane. Vital stopped to offer assistance, and as he approached the Kia, Starks stepped out of the car. Noticing that Starks looked " tense, jittery, nervous," Vital asked if he was alright, and Starks replied that he had dropped his cigarette. Starks then reached down to the floor on the driver's side and produced the lit cigarette. Satisfied

Page 85

that his assistance was not needed, Vital returned to his cruiser and watched as Starks resumed his journey.

Starks was not, however, home free. According to Vital, he followed behind Starks and noticed that the Kia was traveling at approximately forty to forty-five miles per hour in a sixty-five mile per hour zone. After observing the Kia drifting and crossing the lane lines, Vital conducted a registry check and determined that the car was registered to a rental company, but that the registration listed the car's color as red, rather than the black that it was. Vital continued to follow Starks for a short time, and after noticing two more lane violations, he activated his lights and pulled over the Kia.

Starks provided his license and registration to Vital, and during their discussion about the color discrepancy, Starks said, " [H]ey, it's a rental." [1] Vital returned to his cruiser to conduct a license and warrants check, and discovered that Starks's license had been suspended as a result of an unpaid seatbelt violation. At the same time, Vital learned that Starks had " a fairly lengthy criminal history," and had completed a sentence for armed robbery. Vital returned to the Kia and placed Starks under arrest for driving on a suspended license.

In conducting a pat-down frisk, Vital felt a pill bottle in Starks's pocket. He removed the bottle, which Starks said contained blood pressure medication, and opened it to find that it held " approximately nine types of different pills."

B. The Search

Vital handcuffed Starks and placed him in the back of his cruiser. Vital then returned to the Kia and shone his flashlight through the passenger-side front window. He spotted a white plastic shopping bag on the front seat. The bag was translucent enough that Vital could see through it to glimpse a white box with the word " ...


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