United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division
ORDER DENYING MOTION TO SUPPRESS
GONZALES RAMOS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Defendant Antonio Escobar's motion to
suppress evidence (D.E. 15). Escobar is charged by indictment
(D.E. 9) with one count of possession with intent to
distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. The
Government filed a response to the motion (D.E. 16), and the
Court held a hearing on October 24, 2017. For the following
reasons, the motion (D.E. 15) is DENIED.
August 8, 2017, border patrol agents Damien Guerrero and
Gregorio Reyes were manning a United States Border Patrol
checkpoint on Highway 77 near Sarita, Texas. Agent Reyes was
working with his canine partner, Maya.
7:16 p.m., Escobar, who was driving a gold Kenworth
tractor-trailer, stopped at the checkpoint. Agent Guerrero,
who has approximately nine years' experience as a border
patrol agent, testified that Escobar immediately seemed
nervous or “antsy” when Agent Guerrero approached
his truck. Asked about his cargo and destination, Escobar
responded that he was bound for Oklahoma, and that he picked
up his load, which he believed to be windows, in Brownsville,
Texas. Agent Guerrero thought it “very unusual”
that Escobar was uncertain as to what he was hauling, which,
along with Escobar's nervousness, aroused Agent
Guerrero then asked to see Escobar's bill of lading.
According to Agent Guerrero, Escobar's hands shook as he
handed over the bill of lading, parts of which were marked
over with white-out and which had handwriting on the seal and
a handwritten trailer number. Agent Guerrero testified that
it was “very uncommon” in his experience to see
white-out and handwriting on a bill of lading, and that he
knew of other instances where commercial drivers carrying
forged bills of lading were in fact transporting contraband
or illegal aliens.
Guerrero then waved Agent Reyes over to the truck so that
Maya could conduct a “free air” sniff around the
trailer. Agent Guerrero testified that by this point
(approximately 45 seconds into the stop, according to a video
recording of the primary checkpoint area), he had already
decided to refer Escobar to the checkpoint's secondary
inspection area, whether or not Maya alerted to the trailer.
the next minute, Agent Guerrero accompanied Agent Reyes and
Maya as they circled the trailer, but Maya did not alert.
Approximately two minutes into the stop, Agent Guerrero
returned to the cab and, after checking the interior to see
whether anyone was hiding inside, resumed his discussion with
Escobar. He asked Escobar if he would allow him to check both
the tractor and the trailer. Escobar agreed, on the condition
that the agents provide him with documentation confirming
they had opened the trailer. At that point, Agent Guerrero
asked Escobar if he was a United States citizen, which he is.
The initial inquiry complete, Agent Guerrero pointed Escobar
to where to park in the secondary area of the checkpoint, and
approximately three minutes into the stop, Escobar drove the
truck to secondary.
the truck was in the secondary inspection area, Agent Reyes
and Maya conducted a “free air” sniff around the
tractor and trailer. This time, Maya alerted to the tractor
cab. The ensuing search produced approximately 13 bundles of
cocaine that were found under the bed in the cab of the
truck. Escobar was arrested and now moves to suppress the
fruits of the search.
The Detention Was Not Unlawfully Prolonged
Fourth Amendment generally prohibits law enforcement from
stopping motorists absent “individualized suspicion of
wrongdoing.” City of Indianapolis v. Edmond,
531 U.S. 32, 37 (2000). However, the Supreme Court has
exempted immigration checkpoints from this rule because of
the public interest in stemming the flow of illegal
immigration and the brief, nonintrusive nature of these
checkpoints. See United States v. Martinez-Fuerte,
428 U.S. 543, 556-58 (1976). “[T]he brevity of a valid
immigration stop was a principal rationale for the Supreme
Court's conclusion in Martinez-Fuerte that
immigration checkpoints are constitutional.” United
States v. Machuca-Barrera, 261 F.3d 425, 433 (5th Cir.
“[t]he permissible duration of an immigration
checkpoint stop is . . . the time reasonably necessary to
determine the citizenship status of the persons
stopped.” Id.; see also Id. at 434
n.29 (“[W]hile a border patrol agent may refer a car to
secondary for any reason (or no reason at all), . . . the
length of the detention is still limited by the
immigration-related justification for the stop.”). Thus
“the length of the detention, not the questions
asked” determines the constitutionality of an
immigration checkpoint stop. Id. at 432.
“if the initial, routine questioning generates
reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity, the stop may
be lengthened to accommodate its new justification.”
Id. at 434. To justify extending the stop,
“officers must have a ‘reasonable suspicion'-
that is, ‘specific and articulable facts . . . taken
together with rational inferences from those facts'-that
‘criminal activity [is] afoot.'” United
States v. Escamilla, 852 F.3d 474, 480-81 (5th Cir.
2017) (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 30
(1968)). In assessing reasonable suspicion, the Supreme Court
has “said repeatedly that [courts] must look at the
‘totality of the circumstances' of each case to see
whether the detaining officer has ...