United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division
C. GUADERRLMA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Defendant Gabriela Alicia Perez'
"Motion to Suppress Evidence" (ECF No. 38) filed on
May 4, 2019. On May 29, 2019, the Court held an evidentiary
hearing on the Motion where the parties presented their
evidence and arguments. See ECF No. 45. For the
reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND
DENIES IN PART Defendant's Motion.
March 27, 2019, Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper
Jesus Rios ("Officer Rios") conducted a traffic
stop on Defendant's 2008 Buick Enclave SUV on Interstate
10 ("I-10"). Mot. at 1; Resp. at 1, ECF No. 41.
Officer Rios' reason for conducting the traffic stop was
his observation that the middle passenger in the third row
was not wearing a seatbelt. Resp. at 1. After approaching the
vehicle; informing Defendant, the driver, of the reason for
the traffic stop; and asking her for her driver's license
and vehicle proof of financial responsibility; Officer Rios
observed a female in the front-right passenger seat, two
children in the second-row seat, and three male passengers
not wearing seatbelts in the third-row seat. Id. at
2. Officer Rios asked the three men for identification, but
they did not respond. Id. Officer Rios asked the men
again in Spanish for their identification, and two responded
that they did not have any; the third man still offered no
response. Id. After speaking to the men in the third
row and the women in the front, Officer Rios requested
assistance from another officer and eventually had all five
adults exit the vehicle. Id.
Defendant and the four adult passengers departed the vehicle,
Officer Rios had the three men in the back, who were
suspected of being illegal aliens, remove their shoes and had
Defendant walk to his vehicle. Govt. Ex. 3, ECF No. 47. After
requesting that another officer on the scene watch the three
men and the front-seat passenger, Officer Rios approached
Defendant and questioned her outside his vehicle.
Id. After a few minutes of questioning, Officer Rios
opened the door to the front seat of his vehicle and had
Defendant sit inside while he continued with his questioning.
Id. Based on Defendant's statements and the
statements from the three men who were sitting in the third
row, Officer Rios contacted United States Border Patrol
("Border Patrol") and turned Defendant and her
adult passengers over to them about an hour after stopping
Defendant. Id.; Resp. at 3. After being turned over
to Border Patrol, two of the three men allegedly admitted
that they did not have proper legal documentation that would
allow them to enter, travel through, or remain in the United
States; consequently, all persons present in Defendant's
vehicle at the time of the stop were transported to Border
Patrol's Sierra Blanca station for processing. Resp. at
3-4. Subsequently, on April 24, 2019, Defendant was indicted
for Conspiracy to Transport Aliens, in violation of 8 U.S.C.
§ 1324. Id. at 4.
is well established that the burdens of production and
persuasion generally rest upon the movant in a suppression
hearing." United States v. de la Fuente, 548
F.2d 528, 533 (5th Cir. 1977). However, in certain
situations, the burden of persuasion shifts to the
government. Id. For example, "[w]hen the
government searches or seizes a defendant without a warrant,
the government bears the burden of proving, by a
preponderance of the evidence, that the search or seizure was
constitutional." United States v.
Guerrero-Barajas, 240 F.3d 428, 432 (5th Cir. 2001).
Further, the government also bears the burden of proving that
a confession obtained during custodial interrogation is
admissible. Taylor v. Alabama, 457 U.S. 687, 690
(1982); de la Fuente, 548 F.2d at 533. However, in
order to shift the burden to the government, the defendant
must first discharge his initial burden of producing some
evidence, based on specific factual allegations, sufficient
to make a prima facie showing of illegality. United
States v. Lyons, 31 Fed.Appx. 833 (5th Cir. 2002).
Motion, Defendant seeks to exclude all physical and
testimonial evidence derived and flowing from her allegedly
illegal seizure and custodial interrogation. Mot. at 3.
Defendant's bases for her Motion are the Fourth Amendment
to the United States Constitution, Bond v. United
States, 529 U.S. 334, 336 (2000) ("The Fourth
Amendment provides that '[t]he right of the people to be
free in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against
unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
violated'" (quoting U.S. Const, amend. IV)); the
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, U.S.
Const, amend. XIV ("No State shall make or enforce any
law which shall... deny to any person within its jurisdiction
the equal protection of the laws."); and the
exclusionary rule, Segura v. United States, 468 U.S.
796, 804 (1984) ("The suppression or exclusionary rule
is a judicially prescribed remedial measure [that]. ..
reaches not only primary evidence obtained as a direct result
of an illegal search or seizure, but also evidence later
discovered and found to be derivative of an illegality or
'fruit of the poisonous tree.'" (internal
citations omitted)). This case presents the Court with two
1) Did Officer Rios have reasonable suspicion of a seatbelt
violation when he conducted the traffic stop?
2) Did Officer Rios administer a custodial interrogation
prior to mirandizing Defendant? • The Court will address
each of these questions in turn.
argues that Officer Rios did not have reasonable suspicion to
execute a traffic stop for a seatbelt violation. Mot. at 1-3.
The government counters that Officer Rios' stop was legal
because he had reasonable suspicion supported by articulable
facts that a passenger in Defendant's vehicle was
committing a seatbelt violation. Resp. at 6. The Court holds
that Officer Rios had reasonable suspicion to make a traffic
stop for a violation of Texas Transportation Code §
legality of a traffic stop is analyzed under the Terry v.
Ohio framework. United States v. Lopez-Moreno,420 F.3d 420, 430 (5th Cir. 2005) ("Under the two-part
Terry reasonable suspicion inquiry, we ask whether
the officer's action was: (1) 'justified at its
inception'; and (2) 'reasonably related in scope to
the circumstances which justified the interference in the
first place.'" (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392
U.S. 1, 19-20 (1968))). "For a traffic stop to be
justified at its inception, an officer must have an
objectively reasonable suspicion that some sort of illegal
activity, such as a traffic violation, occurred, or is about
to occur, before stopping the vehicle." Id.
Reasonable suspicion is a less demanding standard than
probable cause and requires a showing considerably less than
preponderance of the evidence, but the Fourth Amendment does
require at least a minimal level of objective justification
for making the stop. United States v. Jordan, 232
F.3d 447, 448 (5th Cir. 2000). In order to find that
sufficient reasonable suspicion existed to justify a stop,
"a court must examine the 'totality of the
circumstances' in the situation at hand, in light of the
individual officers' own training and experience, ...