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United States v. Compian

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division

May 2, 2017




         Before the Court is Defendant Juan Antonio Compian's (Compian) Motion to Suppress (D.E. 18) and the Government's Response (D.E. 20). Compian asserts that the events leading up to his arrest and the evidence obtained thereby violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. After an evidentiary hearing on March 31, 2017, the Court DENIED the motion for the reasons set out below.


         On December 4, 2016, Border Patrol Agent Joshua Blanton (Agent Blanton) was patrolling Highway 281 in his marked Border Patrol unit about eight miles south of the Falfurrias immigration checkpoint where Highway 281 intersects Farm to Market Road 755 (FM 755). Human smugglers commonly use FM 755 as a drop-off, where they unload undocumented immigrants so that the immigrants can circumvent the checkpoint on foot. This area is more than 50 miles from the border, but because of its proximity to the checkpoint, Border Patrol agents have daily encounters with human and drug smugglers.

         Agent Blanton was traveling southbound, moving away from the checkpoint. Meanwhile, Compian was traveling northbound in a red suburban. Compian's vehicle caught Agent Blanton's attention because it braked rapidly, causing the front of the vehicle to nosedive. Compian had his window down, and when they made eye contact, he covered his face with his hand and turned away. Agent Blanton became suspicious so he took a turnaround and followed Compian. He noticed that Compian's vehicle veered from side to side within the lane which, based on training, indicated that Compian was looking at the Agent instead of the road. Compian then abruptly pulled over to the shoulder. Agent Blanton also pulled over, stopping about thirty yards behind him. Compian got out of his vehicle, approached the front driver's side tire, and kicked and inspected it for 30 to 40 seconds. He then got back in his vehicle and continued traveling north. Agent Blanton, who had worked as a manager at Discount Tire for about ten years before joining Border Patrol, did not notice any problems with the tire.

         Agent Blanton followed Compian and pulled up next to him to check for passengers, but did not see any. He noticed that Compian looked straight ahead as if avoiding eye contact. Agent Blanton did not believe he had sufficient grounds to stop Compian so he passed him, but kept watch in the rearview mirror. Compian abruptly switched lanes and took a turnaround which almost caused a collision with another vehicle. Agent Blanton decided to initiate a stop so he turned around and activated his emergency lights. Compian pulled to the side of the highway and the Agent expected a bailout-passengers attempting to flee on foot-but no one left the vehicle. He asked Compian if he was okay and why he had made the abrupt maneuver. Compian explained that he was having trouble with his wheel-it was shaking violently and about to fall off. However, there did not appear to be anything wrong with it.

         For safety reasons, Agent Blanton asked Compian about his criminal history. Compian was evasive and the Agent noticed a change in his body language and voice as well as what looked like prison tattoos. He asked Compian to step out of the vehicle so he could frisk for weapons. Compian continued being evasive, but eventually admitted that he had been to prison for assault.

         Although Agent Blanton believed he had probable cause to search the vehicle, he asked Compian for consent to search to keep the encounter calm and cordial. Compian gave the Agent permission to search the vehicle. For his safety, Agent Blanton placed Compian in handcuffs and placed him the back of the unit. He advised Compian that he was not under arrest and that the detention would be temporary while he searched the vehicle. Two undocumented immigrants were then discovered in the vehicle.


         Compian asserts three arguments: (1) the stop was an illegal detention not supported by a reasonable suspicion; (2) the stop was unreasonably prolonged; and (3) the search was not justified by probable cause or voluntary consent. The Court considers each argument in turn, and concludes that they are without merit.

         A. The Legality of the Stop

         “The Fourth Amendment permits a Border Patrol agent conducting a roving patrol to stop a vehicle for purposes of a temporary investigation ‘if the officer's action is supported by reasonable suspicion to believe that criminal activity may be afoot.'” United States v. Galvan-Torres, 350 F.3d 456, 457 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002)). Courts must consider “the totality of the circumstances of each case to see whether the detaining officer has a particularized and objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing.” Arvizu, 534 U.S. at 273. Factors that may be considered include:

(1) proximity to the border; (2) characteristics of the area; (3) usual traffic patterns; (4) agent's previous experience in detecting illegal activity; (5) behavior of the driver; (6) particular aspects or characteristics of the vehicle; (7) information about recent illegal trafficking in aliens or narcotics in the area; and (8) the number, appearance, and behavior of the passengers.

United States v. Jacquinot, 258 F.3d 423, 427 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 884-85 (1975)). “No single fact is determinative of the outcome of a reasonable suspicion analysis.” Galvan-Torres, 350 F.3d at 458 (citing United ...

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