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United States v. Antuna

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Victoria Division

May 23, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSE EDUARDO SALAS ANTUNA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          JOHN D. RAINEY SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Jose Eduardo Salas Antuna (“Defendant”) is charged with conspiracy to possess and possession with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a), and 841(b)(1)(A). Now pending before the Court is Defendant's motion to suppress (D.E. 16), to which the United States has responded (D.E. 24). The Court held an evidentiary hearing on Defendant's motion on March 29, 2017, after which the Parties filed supplemental briefing (D.E. 29, 30).

         I. Background [1]

         Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Trooper Natee N. Wong (“Trooper Wong”) testified that on October 14, 2016, he was on patrol in his marked patrol car on U.S. Highway 59 in Victoria County near the rest stop northeast of Victoria. He was stationary on a crossover watching traffic travel northbound and conducted a traffic stop on Defendant after observing him driving in the left lane for approximately one half mile without passing any vehicles, in violation of the Texas Transportation Code. When he pulled out behind Defendant, Defendant pulled over into the right lane. Defendant gripped the steering wheel hard with both hands, his elbows were locked, and he appeared to be driving in an uncomfortable and tense position.

         The entire interaction between Trooper Wong and Defendant was recorded on Trooper Wong's dash cam, including the alleged traffic violation. See Gov't Hrg. Ex. 1, D.E. 27-1. The video shows Trooper Wong approaching the passenger side of the car. He immediately tells Defendant that he was stopped because he was driving in the left hand lane without passing any vehicles, and he asks Defendant for his license. As Defendant hands Trooper Wong his Mexico driver's license, he says he only understands a little bit of English and that he is traveling to Houston to pick up his grandfather for a party in Monterrey, Mexico. Trooper Wong looks in the back seat and asks Defendant, “Drogas?” (drugs), to which Defendant responds, “No.” Less than a minute into the stop, Trooper Wong asks Defendant to exit the vehicle and continues to ask him questions about his destination. Trooper Wong then points to the trunk and asks if there are drogas in the trunk; Defendant again says no. About two minutes into the stop, Trooper Wong says, “Can I look? Can I search?” and points to his eyes and then to the trunk. In response, Defendant opens the trunk. Trooper Wong motions to Defendant to stand on the grass as he begins to search the vehicle. Trooper Wong then closes the trunk and returns to his patrol car to conduct an EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) computer search to check for border crossings and Defendant's driving and criminal history. Around four minutes into the stop, while waiting for the results of the computer check, Trooper Wong asks Defendant “Puedo buscar? Can I search?” and points to his eyes and then points to the vehicle.[2] Defendant responds, “Si” (yes). Trooper Wong again asks, “Puedo buscar?” and Defendant again says “Si.” Trooper Wong searches the vehicle's trunk, undercarriage, and interior for several minutes. Around 14 minutes into the stop, Trooper Wong finds a bundle later determined to be crystal methamphetamine. His canine, Yaki, then performs a search and finds eight bottles containing liquid methamphetamine.

         Defendant was arrested and transported to the Victoria County Jail, where he was interviewed by DPS Officer Kopacz and Victoria County Sheriff's Deputy Rigoberto Robles, whom Officer Kopacz asked to help translate Defendant's interview. Deputy Robles testified that he read Defendant his Miranda warnings verbatim from the card offered into evidence by the Government (Gov't Hrg. Ex. 4, D.E. 27-4); however, an audio recording of the interview showed this testimony was incorrect. The relevant portion of the interview concerning Miranda was translated into English as follows:

Robles: Okay. You have the right to take off care (sic) and not make any statements in any way. Some statement that you make may be used against you in a - in trial. Some statement you make may be used as evidence against you in court. You have the right to have an attorney present to advise you before and during an examination (sic) - examination (sic). Do you understand what an examination (sic) is?
Defendant: Yes, yes.
R: If you can't employ an attorney, you have the right to have an attorney designated to advise you before and during an examination (sic). You have the right to have - to terminate the interview at caring (sic) moment. You knowing, intelligent and voluntarily valve (sic) your rights established (sic) in the foregoing warning (sic). Do you understand what I told you?
D: Yes, sir.
R: Okay. Are you going to talk? Are you going to talk to us?
D: Yes.
R: Okay.
D: Yes.
R: He agrees. He understands his rights.
Kopacz: Is he going to waive his rights and talk to us ...

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