Houman Fakhimi

U.S. v. Joseph Jenkins: Question Every Detail of a Traffic Stop

Orange County Trial Lawyer Houman Fakhimi knows that no matter what the criminal charge is, technicalities can be everything.

U.S. v. Joseph Jenkins proves this. Although the defendant in this particular case was ultimately unsuccessful in winning his appeal, the method employed to challenge the state's evidence in many cases can result in a courtroom victory in Orange County criminal defense cases.

This was a case out of Maine, with connections to Nevada, but the basic principles are still relevant here in California.

It started back in March of 2010. It was early in the morning when a trooper from Maine, Robert Cejka, was patrolling with his college-age daughter, who was interested in studying criminal justice.

He had just finished a traffic stop and was walking back to his cruiser when he saw a van approaching. In a split second, he believed he saw a "glinting" blue light, akin to the kind of blue lights that are found behind the windshields of certain police cruisers. According to Maine's state law, that kind of light on civilian cruisers is illegal.

Cejka attempted to pull over the vehicle, and for about 40 seconds, the van did not stop, instead reportedly making several jerky motions, reaching both in front and behind the passenger seat, weaving to the left and then stopping suddenly about a half mile later.

When the trooper approached the vehicle, he ordered the driver's hands to the steering wheel. It was at that time he noticed that there was a television screen playing a movie in the dash board. There was no mounted blue light, but there was a suction cup attached to the windshield. The back of the rear view mirror was reportedly chrome, and it was at this time that the trooper realized that the blue glinting light was likely due to a handicap placard that was reflected there.

Joseph Jenkins, the driver, said he had tried to call his wife before the stop, and that's why he swerved.

However, the trooper said he simply didn't find that plausible, given the motions of the vehicle.

When the trooper asked for identification, Jenkins provided a postcard that said his last name was "White."

As it turned out, that wasn't true, and after telling a number of reportedly false statements, Jenkins admitted he didn't have a license and was arrested for that reason. Later at the jail, officers learned Jenkins' real name and the fact that he had a warrant out for his arrest from Nevada. He was wanted for kidnapping.

Based on that, a judge issued a warrant for probable cause to search the van. There, the trooper found a gun, a holster, ammunition and marijuana.

He was subsequently charged with a federal firearm offense under U.S.C. 922g1, as he was a convicted felon in possession of a gun.

A court denied his motion to suppress the evidence on the basis of the legality of the search, so he subsequently pleaded guilty - on the condition that he could appeal the legality of the search. He was sentenced to 36 months in prison.

That appeal contended that Cejka did not have a valid basis to stop him, given that the flashing light he saw was not what he thought it to be. He also argued that Cejka shouldn't have continued to search the van, once he realized there was no illegal blue light. And finally, the warrant that authorized search of his van did not describe the contraband. He also tried to argue that kidnapping is not a crime of violence under Nevada law, and therefore, he shouldn't have received the harsher penalty that he did.

His attorneys argued on just about every basis they could think - the trooper's use of the word "thought" versus " believed," whether the trooper was simply trying to impress his daughter, to whether he actually believed there was an illegal light in the van in the first place.

Ultimately, a federal appeals court denied his motions.

But there have been countless cases in which attorneys arguing on these very same types of points have been successful.

Having an attorney with a wide range of experience and knowledge is going to grant you the best possible shot at winning.

Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are charged with a crime. Protecting your rights and setting up an aggressive defense at the beginning stages is critical in defending against criminal charges.