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United States v. Garcia

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division

April 21, 2015



THOMAS A. VARLAN, Chief District Judge.

This criminal matter is before the Court for consideration of the Report and Recommendation entered by United States Magistrate Judge H. Bruce Guyton ("R&R") [Doc. 35]. The R&R addresses defendant Jose Medina Garcia's motion to suppress evidence [Doc. 22], which defendant Adalberto Torres moved to adopt [Doc. 23]. Magistrate Judge Guyton held a hearing on the motion [Doc. 27]. The defendants submitted post-hearing memoranda [Docs. 30, 31]. Magistrate Judge Guyton then issued the R&R, recommending that the Court deny the request for suppression [Doc. 35]. Only defendant Jose Medina Garcia has filed an objection to the R&R [Doc. 36], and the government responded to that objection [Doc. 37]. For the reasons that follow, the Court will overrule the defendant's objections, accept the R&R, and deny the request for suppression.

I. Standard of Review

The Court reviews de novo those portions of the R&R to which the defendant has objected. 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1); Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b). Accordingly, the Court considers the motion to suppress, underlying and supporting briefs, government's response, evidence, R&R, and objections, all in light of the applicable law.

II. Facts and Procedural History[1]

On September 10, 2014, at approximately 3:30 p.m., the defendants were traveling east on Interstate 40 at approximately the 386 mile marker in Knox County, Tennessee, in a rental minivan with a California license plate. Defendant Torres was driving and defendant Garcia was in the front passenger seat.

Trooper Adam Bowman was also traveling on Interstate 40. He observed the minivan activate the right blinker and merge into the right lane of travel. As the minivan approached a tractor trailer truck, the minivan braked, activated the left blinker, and merged into the center lane of traffic in front of Trooper Bowman.

As the minivan was traveling behind the tractor trailer truck, Trooper Bowman estimated that the minivan was traveling at a speed of sixty-two to sixty-five miles per hour. He further estimated that the minivan was within twelve to fifteen feet of the rear bumper of the tractor trailer for approximately ten seconds.

Because Trooper Bowman believed the minivan had been following the tractor trailer too closely, he activated his lights and pulled over the minivan to the far right hand side of the highway. Trooper Bowman requested identification from both passengers and a copy of the rental agreement. Defendant Torres provided an out-of-state suspended driver's license. Defendant Garcia provided a valid Arizona driver's license. Upon discovering defendant Torres's suspended driver's license, Trooper Bowman called for backup.

Two state troopers arrived on the scene. Trooper Conaster arrived approximately sixteen minutes after the initial stop and Trooper Scott arrived with his K9 partner approximately twenty minutes after the initial stop. The troopers then questioned the passengers separately, and the passengers provided conflicting stories. The troopers requested consent to search the minivan, and both defendants consented. Defendant Torres refused the request to search his cellular phone.

Upon initial search of the minivan, the officers found two small duffle bags, a cellular phone, a GPS device, a radar detector, a screwdriver, and a parking pass from Chicago, Illinois. Trooper Scott's K9 partner entered the back of the minivan through an open door and alerted on the spare tire compartment. The trooper searched the spare tire compartment and found eleven vacuum sealed packages wrapped in plastic and black tape. The substance field tested positive for methamphetamine and weighed approximately twelve pounds, or 5.46 kilograms. The troopers then arrested the defendants and gave the defendants the Miranda warnings.

The defendants moved to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop, asserting that Trooper Bowman did not have probable cause to stop the minivan and that the detention was unreasonably long. After a suppression hearing and supplemental briefing, the magistrate judge issued the R&R. In the R&R, Magistrate Judge Guyton found: (1) the stop itself provides no basis for the suppression of evidence because Trooper Bowman had probable cause to stop the minivan for a traffic violation, and (2) all evidence obtained from the search of the minivan and any statements of the defendant are permissible because the duration and scope of the traffic stop did not violate either defendants' constitutional rights [Doc. 35 p. 4-10]. He accordingly recommends that the Court deny the request for suppression [ Id. p. 11].

III. Analysis

Only defendant Garcia filed an objection within the statutory period afforded to object [Doc. 36]. In large part, the defendant's objection mostly restates his original arguments. He argues: (1) that the magistrate judge incorrectly determined that Trooper Bowman had probable cause to believe a traffic violation had occurred, and (2) that defendant Garcia was detained longer than reasonably necessary because Trooper Bowman should have arrested defendant Torres at the time ...

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