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United States v. Santibanez

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Del Rio Division

September 5, 2019




         On this day, the Court considered Defendant Jaime Santibanez's [hereinafter "Defendant"] "Motion to Suppress" (ECF No. 28) [hereinafter "Motion"], filed on June 24, 2019; the Government's "Response to Defendant's Motion to Suppress" (ECF No. 29) [hereinafter "Response"], filed on July 8, 2019; Defendant's "Supplemental Response in Support of Motion to Suppress" (ECF No. 38) [hereinafter "Defendant's Supplemental Brief], filed on August 17, 2019; and the Government's "Supplemental Brief (ECF No. 39), filed on August 19, 2019, in the above-captioned cause.[1] Defendant argues that the evidence obtained as the result of an automobile stop should be excluded because law enforcement lacked the requisite reasonable suspicion to stop Defendant's vehicle. Mot. 13. After due consideration, the Court is of the opinion that the Motion should be denied for the following reasons.


         In the early afternoon of May 7, 2019, agents of the United States Border Patrol [hereinafter "Border Patrol"] observed Defendant in the parking lot of the Walmart store located at 496 South Bibb Avenue in Eagle Pass, Texas.[2] Mot. 2; Resp. 2. The agents had arrived at the Walmart parking lot while tracking a tan Ford Edge that they believed was linked to human smuggling operations. Mot. 1-2; Resp. 1-2." Earlier, the agents had identified approximately four passengers concealing themselves in the Ford Edge.[3] Mot. 1-2; Resp. 1-2. Upon arriving at the Walmart parking lot, the agents observed the Ford Edge approach and park alongside a parked red 2018 Ford F150. Mot. 2; Resp. 2.

         The Border Patrol agents then saw two Hispanic males exit the Ford Edge and enter the Ford F150. Resp. 2. The Ford Edge then left the parking lot. Id. Next, the agents saw Defendant exit the Ford F150 and approach a white Dodge Ram parked a few parking spaces away from the Ford F150. Mot. 2; Resp. 2. The agents observed Defendant have a conversation with the driver of the Dodge Ram and then return to the Ford F150 as the Dodge Ram left the Walmart parking lot.[4] Mot. 2; Resp. 2. Defendant "appeared nervous and was continuously looking around and over his shoulders." Resp. 2. Shortly afterward, the agents saw the same Ford Edge return to the Walmart parking lot and once again park next to the Ford F150. Mot. 2; Resp. 2. Thereafter, the agents observed three additional Hispanic males exit the Ford Edge and enter the Ford F150. Mot. 2; Resp. 2. The agents then saw Defendant drive the Ford F150 out of the parking lot with the Hispanic males inside. Mot. 2. At no point did the agents observe Defendant or the occupants of the Ford Edge and Dodge Ram enter or exit the Walmart store. Resp. 12-13.

         Suspecting that Defendant and the occupants of the Ford F150 were engaged in human smuggling, the Border Patrol agents notified the Eagle Pass Border Patrol Station and Maverick County Sheriffs Office about what they had observed and requested that law enforcement officers in the area assist in conducting traffic and immigration stops on the Ford F150 and its occupants. Mot. 2; Resp. 2; Homeland Security Investigations - Report of Investigation 2 [hereinafter "DHS Report"], June 24, 2019, ECF No. 28-1. Subsequently, this request was broadcast to law enforcement officers in the surrounding area. Mot. 2; Resp. 3. After receiving this request, Maverick County Constable Alejandro Gonzalez initiated a traffic stop on the Ford F150 at the 2600 block of Del Rio Boulevard in Eagle Pass, Texas.[5] Mot. 2-3; Resp. 3. During the stop, Constable Gonzalez identified Defendant as the Ford Fl5O's driver and discovered six Hispanic male passengers. Mot. 3; Resp. 3.

         Shortly after Constable Gonzalez initiated the traffic stop, Border Patrol agents arrived to conduct an immigration inspection. Resp. 3; DHS Report 3. The agents discovered that all six Hispanic male passengers were illegally present in the United States. Mot. 3; Resp. 3. As a result of this discovery, Defendant was arrested and transported to the Eagle Pass Texas Border Patrol South Station. Mot. 3-4; Resp. 3. Once submitted to questioning, Defendant made a series of statements to the agents before invoking his right to counsel.[6] Mot. 4; Resp. 3-4. On June 5, 2019, Defendant was indicted on two counts: (1) Conspiracy to Transport Illegal Aliens pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(v)(I) & (B)(i), and (2) Illegal Alien Transportation pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii) & (B)(i). Indictment, ECF No. 18.

         On June 24, 2019, Defendant filed his Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 28). Therein, Defendant avers that both Constable Gonzalez's traffic stop, and the Border Patrol agents' subsequent immigration stop, violated the Fourth Amendment. Resp. 4. Specifically, according to Defendant, (1) Constable Gonzalez lacked the requisite reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop because "Obstruction of View" is not a traffic offense pursuant to Texas state law, and (2) the agents' observations in the Walmart parking lot were insufficient to provide reasonable suspicion. Id. at 5-7. Based on these alleged Fourth Amendment violations, Defendant argues that the discovery of the six illegal immigrants in the Ford F150 and Defendant's subsequent confession at the Border Patrol station should be suppressed. Id. at 11.

         On August 9, 2019, after considering Defendant's Motion and the Government's Response, the Court sua sponte requested supplemental briefing. Order Requesting Suppl. Briefing, ECF No. 37. Therein, the Court requested that the parties respond to the following two questions:

First, if the Court were to determine that the Border Patrol agents had the requisite reasonable suspicion to make an immigration stop after the events in the Walmart parking lot, would that reasonable suspicion extend to Constable Gonzalez when he was asked to assist with a traffic stop? Second, if the Court were to determine that Constable Gonzalez lacked reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop such that the exclusionary rule may apply, which evidence, if any, should be excluded if the Court determines that the Border Patrol agents had reasonable suspicion to make the subsequent immigration stop?

Id. at 2-3. Both parties filed responses. See Def.'s Suppl. Br.; Government's Suppl. Br.


         A. Fourth Amendment

         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. CONST, amend. IV. "A person is seized by the police and thus entitled to challenge the government's action under the Fourth Amendment when the officer, 'by means of physical force or show of authority,' terminates or restrains his freedom of movement 'through means intentionally applied."' Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249, 254 (2007) (emphasis removed) (quoting Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 434 (1991); Brower v. Cnty. of Inyo, 489 U.S. 593, 597 (1989); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n.16 (1968)). When determining the constitutionality of a warrantless temporary seizure, courts apply a two-part inquiry. Terry, 392 at 19-20. First, a court determines whether a stop was reasonable "at its inception." Id. at 20. Second, a court considers whether the officer's subsequent actions were "reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the stop of the vehicle in the first place." United States v. Macias, 658 F.3d 509, 517 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing Terry, 392 U.S. at 19-20).

         First, "[f]or 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." United States v. Lopez-Moreno, 420 F.3d 420, 430 (5th Cir. 2005); see also United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002) (citing United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989)). Reasonable suspicion exists when, by the totality of the circumstances, a "detaining officer has a 'particularized and objective basis' for suspecting legal wrongdoing." Arvizu, 534 U.S. at 266 (quoting United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-18 (1981)). An officer may not rely on "a mere hunch," yet "the likelihood of criminal activity need not rise to the level required for probable cause, and it falls considerably short of satisfying a preponderance of the evidence standard." Id. at 274 (citations omitted).

         Courts in the Fifth Circuit apply "a multi-factored analysis in deciding 'whether there is reasonable suspicion to stop a car in the border area.'" United States v. Garza,727 F.3d 436, 440 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Brignoni-Ponce,422 U.S. 873, 885 (1975)). Those factors, as ...

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