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United States v. Alvarado

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Jackson Division

October 2, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF
v.
ARMANDO ALVARADO, DEFENDANT

Page 506

For Armando Alvarado, Defendant: Michael L. Scott - Government, S. Dennis Joiner, FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER - Jackson, Jackson, MS.

For USA, Plaintiff: Glenda R. Haynes, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE - Jackson, Jackson, MS.

OPINION

Page 507

ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO SUPPRESS

Carlton W. Reeves, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Before the Court is the Defendant Armando Alvarado's Motion to Suppress certain evidence resulting from his detention and arrest. The Court has reviewed the submissions of the parties, the testimony, and the evidence presented at the suppression hearing; received arguments of counsel; and reviewed the recording of the stop taken from a camera installed in the officer's patrol car. [1] For the reasons stated below, the motion is GRANTED.

FACTS[2]

On the morning of August 23, 2012, Trooper Patrick Wall, while working drug interdiction, [3] was watching the I-20 eastbound traffic in Rankin County, Mississippi, near the 62-mile marker. The traffic was fairly heavy, and based upon Wall's experience, the conditions of the road, the traffic, and the posted speed limit justified a minimum of seven car lengths between

Page 508

vehicles. R.9. Wall observed a small black vehicle, later identified as a Volkswagen Jetta, following too closely to a vehicle in front of it. R.7. After seeing the Jetta, Wall activated his blue lights and proceeded to stop the vehicle. R.8. Once the driver saw that the patrolman's lights were activated, the driver of the vehicle slowed down and pulled over. Wall never drove beside the vehicle, so he saw the occupants for the first time after the vehicle had stopped.

After approaching the vehicle, Wall noticed that " there were several other people in the vehicle." R.10. [4] He asked the driver, Defendant Armando Alvarado, to step out of the car, state his name, and take out his driver's license. In response to Wall's requests, Alvarado presented his driver's license, which showed that Alvarado had a Rosenberg, Texas, address. Wall confirmed that the name on the driver's license was the same name that Alvarado had given to him. R.11. When Wall asked Alvarado who owned the vehicle, he answered " daughter," and a few seconds later, " my daughter" and " son-in-law." VR 3:06-3:09; see also VR 4:14, 20:35-21:10 (Alvarado confirming that his daughter and son-in-law owned the car).

Wall advised Alvarado that he had been stopped for following too closely. VR 3:15. Wall then asked Alvarado a series of questions, including questions about the following: Alvarado's destination, VR 3:47; how long he intended to be at his destination, VR 3:56; and the purpose of his trip, VR 4:00. In response to the series of questions, Alvarado explained that he was going to Atlanta to visit his brother and that he expected to stay three to four days. VR 3:50-3:57. Wall also asked Alvarado if his license was valid, if he had ever been arrested, and if he had any outstanding tickets. VR 4:06-09. In response to Wall's question regarding whether Alvarado had insurance papers, Alvarado said that the insurance card was in the glove compartment, which was locked and would need to be popped open with a screwdriver that was in the trunk. VR 4:31-5:38.

While continuing to detain Alvarado, Wall turned his attention away from Alvarado and returned to the vehicle to ask the passengers questions. At the suppression hearing, Wall testified that he " used a little" Spanish to communicate with the passengers. R.25. However, he can only be heard asking the passengers questions in English. See, e.g., VR 5:45-7:07 (" Where are y'all headed?" ; " How long are you gonna be over there?" ; " Where are y'all gonna stay?" ). Due to traffic noise, many of Wall's questions to the passengers of the vehicle are unintelligible on the video. In addition, Wall's microphone could not pick up any of the passengers' responses to the questions. It is apparent, however, that there was a language barrier between Wall and the passengers because Wall can be heard asking them, " How do you say . . . in Spanish?" VR 7:23.

After questioning the passengers, Wall returned to Alvarado to ask additional questions. Wall asked Alvarado who was in the car with him, and Alvarado responded that the passengers were friends. VR 7:38. When Wall told Alvarado that the passengers said that they and Alvarado were family, Alvarado reiterated that they were just friends. VR 7:54. Alvarado explained that the passengers were from the Rosenberg (Texas) area, where Alvarado also resided, and that he was giving

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them a ride to Atlanta. VR 8:20. Wall then specifically asked Alvarado if the passengers were " illegal." VR 8:34. Alvarado answered, " I don't know." VR 8:35.

Wall asked Alvarado how long he was going to be in Georgia and whether he had any clothes. Alvarado answered that he would be in Atlanta three or four days and that he did, in fact, have clothes which were in the trunk of the car. VR 8:58-9:07.

At the suppression hearing, the attorney for the government specifically asked Wall about any inconsistent or conflicting statements, and Wall explained as follows:

[Alvarado] said they were family. The passenger said they were just friends. [Alvarado] couldn't tell me their names. They couldn't tell me his name. The fact that he's driving first he said his daughter's car and then I believe he said his brother-in-law's car, it's probable, . . . it's possible that you know the stars could align and he's borrowing whoever's vehicle and the owner's not there driving some friends that he doesn't know to Atlanta or wherever they said they were going, I mean it's possible but it's just not probable and that is [when] I [then] went ahead and contacted Francisco [Ayala]. [5]

R.26. The video does not, however, show Wall ever asking Alvarado the passengers' names.

More than fifteen minutes into the stop, Wall returned to his vehicle to run a license check. Through the conversation with the dispatcher, Wall learned that Alvarado had been arrested previously for " smuggling aliens." VR 16:51. Wall advised the dispatcher that he was going to ask to search the vehicle, VR 17:17, and he explained that he believed Alvarado was " hauling illegals," VR 17:20. Wall then obtained the phone number for Ayala and called him. He informed Ayala that he thought he had a " small load," noting that " it's not but three of them in there." VR 18:14. Wall explained that he believed the driver was a United States citizen who had a past-" a criminal history" of " smuggling aliens." VR 18:20-25. He then asked Ayala, " Are you interested?" VR 18:26-18:30, and he gave Ayala his specific location. Id.

Nearly twenty minutes into the stop, Wall returned to Alvarado and advised him that he was not going to give him a ticket, VR 18:58, but that he simply needed to document the stop, VR 19:00. See also R.38. Even though Wall testified during the hearing that he only intended to document the stop and did not intend to write a ticket, Wall also explained that Alvarado was not free to leave " until [Wall] knew what was going on with [Alvarado] and the passengers in the vehicle." R.46.

After speaking to the dispatcher and Ayala, Wall began questioning Alvarado about his previous arrests. Alvarado explained that he was arrested for assault and for transporting undocumented immigrants. With respect to the arrest for transporting undocumented immigrants, however, Alvarado explained that he was released " right away." VR 19:50-20:07. [6] Wall then asked Alvarado if he had been

Page 510

arrested for " hauling drugs," VR 20:17, to which Alvarado answered, " No. Never." VR 20:20. He also denied having drugs in his car when asked. Nevertheless, Wall asked for permission to search the vehicle, and according to Wall, Alvarado consented. [7]

By the time Alvarado consented to the search, Trooper Jamie Puckett had arrived on the scene, and he assisted in conducting the search. The search took nearly fifteen minutes. VR 26:41-41:37. During this entire time, Alvarado was standing at the rear of the vehicle beside the road, where Wall had directed him to stand, and the other occupants had also exited the vehicle.

Just as the troopers completed their search, immigration officials arrived on the scene. There is no evidence that anything illegal was found in the vehicle, but Alvarado and his passengers were arrested. A criminal complaint was returned against Alvarado charging him with " knowingly transport[ing] illegal aliens within the United States." Docket No. 1, at 1 (citing 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii)).

LEGAL STANDARD

Generally, a defendant who seeks to have evidence suppressed bears the burden of proving that evidence was seized illegally. United States v. Roch, 5 F.3d 894, 897 (5th Cir. 1993). However, when a seizure is conducted without a warrant, the burden shifts to the government to show that the seizure was reasonable. Id. In this instance, the government carries the full burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the stop and subsequent detention of Alvarado were ...


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