United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
KEVIN H. SHARP, District Judge.
Pending before the Court is Defendant Jose Navarete Bravo's fully-briefed Motion to Suppress Evidence (Docket No. 100). The Court held a hearing on the Motion on March 20, 2015. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion will be denied.
I. Factual Findings
On June 26, 2014, Trooper Brent McCawley of the Tennessee Highway Patrol ("THP")was patrolling Interstate 40 eastbound in Putnam County, Tennessee, when he came upon a Chevrolet Trailblazer bearing Texas license plates. The rear window of the Trailblazer was darkly tinted. Trooper McCawley pulled alongside the vehicle and observed that the side windows, too, were heavily tinted.
At approximately 12:31 p.m., Trooper McCawley initiated a traffic stop by activating his overhead lights. The stop was for violation of Tennessee and Texas's window tinting laws, with the former prohibiting tinted side and rear window which allows less that 35% of light in, and the latter prohibiting tinting which lets less than 25% of light in.
The driver of the Trailblazer, Defendant herein, immediately pulled over. Trooper McCawley approached the front passenger side of the vehicle and told the occupants that the reason for the stop was that the windows were dark and "you're only allowed 25% in Texas." He then asked that the rear passenger window be rolled down some so that he could place a tint meter on the window. The meter indicated the window's tint was 1%, and Trooper McCawley told the occupants that was "the darkest [he'd] ever seen."
Trooper McCawley then asked the driver for a driver's license, but believing the driver did not understand him, spoke a few words in Spanish,  and then asked the occupants if anybody spoke English. William Daniel Navarrete, Defendant's son and a co-Defendant herein, indicated that he spoke English well. Trooper McCawley asked him to exit the vehicle, and observed that there were nine occupants of Hispanic decent in the vehicle.
Just a couple of minutes into the traffic stop, Trooper McCawley spoke with Defendant Navarrete, asking him where they were coming from and whether he lived in Tennessee. Defendant Navarrete indicated that they were looking for work and that he lived in Tennessee in a trailer "up the road, " but he did not know the address. Defendant Navarrete did not have identification, but said he had a birth certificate. When asked where he was born, Defendant Navarrete said that he had been in "Houston for a little while, " that he was an American citizen, and that he was working on getting an identification card.
Approximately four minutes into the traffic stop, Trooper McCawley told Defendant Navarrete, "I know exactly what's going on here, okay?", meaning that Trooper McCawley believed that human smuggling was occurring. He told Defendant Navarrete to be honest, and Defendant Navarrete said, "You can trust me."
Trooper McCawley asked, "What's the deal with all the people in here?" Defendant Navarrete said they were headed to a construction job, pointed down the highway, and said up the road. Trooper McCawley then asked to see his hands and said, "You don't work construction." When asked whether they picked people up and dropped them off, Defendant Navarrete said, "We don't do that shit."
Defendant Navarrete indicated that the driver of the vehicle was his father. He stated that they picked the Trailblazer up in Houston, that it was owned by a friend, but that he also did not know the name of the owner.
At six minutes or so into the traffic stop, Trooper McCawley called Trooper Corey Stuart and asked him to come to the scene because he had one of "your cases, human smuggling." Trooper McCawley based that belief upon the fact that he had seen no construction equipment in the vehicle, Defendant Navarrete had been vague in his answer and had no identification card, the other occupants of the vehicle did not appear to speak English, the vehicle was going eastbound,  and he recently observed his partner handle two cases with similar facts.
Trooper McCawley then told Defendant Navarrete it looked like a human smuggling operation and Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") would be called to see if they wanted to investigate. If not, the driver of the vehicle would be warned or cited for the tinting violation, and the occupants of the vehicle would be on their way.
Trooper McCawley returned to the vehicle and spoke with the occupants briefly in Spanish, asking them their ages. He asked where their luggage was, and askedthe driver for his wallet.
Ten minutes into the stop, Trooper Stuart arrived on the scene. Trooper McCawley told him that Defendant Navarrete seemed "cool, " but Trooper Stuart said he would get "a little aggressive" with him to see if he "could clear this crap up." Trooper McCawley returned his attention to the occupants of the vehicle and asked Defendant Bravo, the driver, how much money he was carrying.
Trooper McCawley returned to his vehicle with a driver's license that was given to him by Defendant Bravo. The license was ...