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United States v. Valle-Pasillas

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division

October 11, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JOSE ALBERTO VALLE-PASILLAS Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          PHILIP R. MARTINEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On this day, the Court considered Defendant Jose Alberto Valle- Pasillas' [hereinafter "Defendant"] "Motion to Suppress Evidence" (ECF No. 70) [hereinafter "Motion"], filed on September 30, 2019, and the Government's "Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Suppress" (ECF No. 72) [hereinafter "Response"], filed on October 8, 2019, in the above-captioned cause. Defendant asserts that his traffic stop and arrest were illegal, and all evidence "obtained therefrom" should be suppressed. Mot. 1. The Government contends that the traffic stop and arrest were constitutional based on sufficient reasonable suspicion and probable cause. After due consideration, the Court is of the opinion that Defendant's Motion should be denied for the reasons that follow.

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         Defendant's Motion refences facts contained in "investigate reports provided by the Government," and introduces no additional facts. Mot. 1. Government's Response references facts contained in "reports of investigation, and interviews with witnesses," and states that "a complete and unredacted copy of the Investigate Report authored by DPS Trooper George Arellan6 [hereinafter "Trooper Arellano"] was delivered to Counsel for Defendant on August 12, 2019." Resp. 2. Thus, both Defendant's Motion and Government's Response are based on the same underlying facts contained in the Government's investigative report.

         On July 26, 2019, at 10:14 a.m., Trooper Arellano was on routine patrol on Interstate Highway 10. Resp. attach. A at 15. The Government alleges that "the posted speed limit in this area is 80 miles per hour" and there are signs advising "Left Lane for Passing Only" which are "posted about every two to four miles." Resp. 2. Defendant argues that in the Government's investigative report "nothing suggest[ed] a sign existed at the time of the alleged offenses and or traffic infractions disallowing travel in the left lane." Mot. 2.

         Texas state law provides that "[i]f, on a highway having more than one lane with vehicles traveling in the same direction, the Texas Department of Transportation or a local authority places a sign that directs slower traffic to travel in a lane other than the farther left lane, the sign must read 'left lane for passing only.'" Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § 544.011. It also provides that "the operator of a vehicle or streetcar shall comply with an applicable official traffic control device [i.e., a sign] placed as provided by this subtitle." Id. § 544.004. Together, these provisions establish a traffic violation for failing to use the left highway lane for passing where designated as such.

         Through his rearview mirror, Trooper Arellano observed a Black 2016 Cadillac Escalade [hereinafter "Black SUV"] traveling in the left lane of Interstate Highway 10. Resp. attach. A at 15. The Black SUV drastically decreased its speed and continued to travel in the left lane at 40-45 miles per hour. Id. Trooper Arellano observed that the Black SUV was impeding traffic. Id.

         Traveling in the right lane in his patrol vehicle, Trooper Arellano pulled over to the side of the road to allow traffic to pass unimpeded. Id. The Black SUV passed him in the left lane of Interstate Highway 10 continuing to travel at 40-45 miles per hour. Id. Trooper Arellano identified that the Black SUV had a California Registration of 8JSM487. Id.

         Trooper Arellano does not indicate in the Government's investigative report when he requested a records check on the California license plate. Resp. attach. A at 15. However, the Government asserts that at the time the Black SUV passed Trooper Arellano, he "requested a records check on the vehicle's California license plate," which, "revealed that the license tag had expired on June 20, 2019, over a month before the day in question." Resp. 2. Defendant asserts that it is "unclear at what point the trooper noticed that the plates were expired." Mot. 2.

         Pursuant to the Texas Transportation Code, it is a traffic violation to operate a vehicle on a public highway "after the fifth working day after the date the registration for the vehicle expires." Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § 502.407. Now behind the Black SUV, Trooper Arellano activated his red and blue emergency lights and initiated a traffic stop for two traffic violations: "Drive In Left Lane When Not Passing or Where Prohibited (TXTRC 544.011; 544.004) and Operation of Vehicle With Expired License Plate (TXTRC 502.407)." Resp. attach. A at 15.

         The Black SUV pulled over onto the unimproved shoulder of Interstate Highway 10 at mile marker 76. Id. Defendant indicates that the stop occurred at "an unknown mile marker" but offers no facts to support its assertion. Mot. 1. Immediately after the SUV stopped, a group of eight individuals immediately exited the Black SUV and fled the scene on foot. Resp. attach. A at 19. The Black SUV then fled the scene at a high rate of speed, reportedly at over 100 miles per hour. Id. at 15. The driver of the Black SUV nearly hit a truck-tractor semi-trailer, cut off other vehicles, and drove on the shoulder of the road. Id. Next, the driver attempted to exit the highway but lost control of the vehicle and rolled multiple times. Id.

         Trooper Arellano approached the Black SUV after the crash and observed the driver exit from the rear of the vehicle. Id. The driver fled on foot, and Trooper Arellano pursued him and made an arrest. Id. at 16. Trooper Arellano arrested the driver for a violation Texas Penal Code section 38.04(b)(1)(B), "Evading Arrest or Detention." Id. at 10. The driver of the vehicle was later identified as Defendant Valle-Pasillas. Id. at 15.

         On September 11, 2019, Defendant was charged in a superseding indictment with transporting aliens, in violation of 8 U.S.C. §§ 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii) and (a)(1)(B)(ii). Superseding Indictment, Sept. 11, 2019, ECF No. 47. Defendant now moves to suppress all evidence flowing from his traffic stop and arrest. Mot. 1.

         II. ...


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