Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

United States v. Aranda

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

February 12, 2018




         Pending before the court is a Motion to Suppress (Docket No. 20) filed by the defendant, Elisandro Aranda, to which the government has filed a Response in opposition (Docket No. 29), and Aranda has filed a Reply (Docket No. 32). Following the evidentiary hearing at which only Tennessee State Trooper Rhett Campbell testified, the parties filed additional briefing (Docket Nos. 37-39.) For the reasons discussed herein, the motion will be denied.


         On the morning of June 7, 2017, Trooper Campbell was parked in the median of Interstate 40 in Hickman County, about 50 miles west of Nashville, when he observed two cars commit traffic violations and pulled both cars over. As might be predicted, this is a tricky maneuver and was not executed in a simple way by Trooper Campbell, but the details of that process are not relevant to the court's inquiry on this motion to suppress. All three cars ended up on the shoulder of the interstate, with the trooper's car at the back, the SUV that he had pulled over for following another vehicle too closely in front of the trooper's car, and the defendant's Saturn 4-door sedan at the front.

         While Trooper Campbell was talking with the occupants of the SUV, he noticed, out of the corner of his eye, the back passenger-side door of the Saturn open and close quickly. Because he had only noticed the driver in the car and no other occupants, he became alarmed for his safety and immediately went up to that vehicle. The window was up, so in order to speak to the occupant in the back seat and to provide some measure of protection in case that person had a weapon, he opened the rear passenger door, using the frame of the car as a shield. There was a woman passenger in the back seat, and he instructed her and the driver to stay in the vehicle and not move around. While talking to the passenger, later identified as Cordelia Alvarado, he noticed in the webbed pocket behind the front passenger seat a medicine bottle. He asked Ms. Alvarado if she would mind handing the bottle to him, which she did. The bottle, tinted a translucent blue, had a prescription label for Tramadol, issued to David Gunnells and expiring on August 24, 2012. The occupants of the Saturn confirmed that neither of them was David Gunnells, and Ms. Alvarado stated that he was a friend of theirs and had left the bottle in the car a few days before. Trooper Campbell could tell that there were pills in the bottle, but he did not open the pill bottle at that time. He held onto the bottle as he went back to the SUV and concluded that traffic stop with a warning to the driver.

         Trooper Campbell returned to the Saturn vehicle and explained to the defendant, who was the driver of the Saturn, and Ms. Alvarado that he had pulled them over for swerving onto the “fog line” once and over the “fog line” twice.[1] The defendant stated that he had not realized that he had done that. Trooper Campbell secured the driver's license of the defendant and name, social security number, and date of birth from Ms. Alvarado, who stated that her license was in the trunk. Trooper Campbell testified that he noticed that the defendant had bloodshot eyes, his eyelids were drooping, and he appeared tired and said he was. He also noticed that both occupants were breathing heavily and that their hands were shaking. Campbell ordered Aranda out of his vehicle for questioning.

         Trooper Campbell testified that, at that point, he had probable cause to search the car, based upon the medication bottle and the nervous reactions of the defendant and Ms. Alvarado. He called for backup because there was “more going on” and returned to question the defendant and Ms. Alvarado. The defendant was standing on the side of the roadway, and Ms. Alvarado was still in the car. When asked where they were going, the defendant stated that they were going to Georgia to see Ms. Alvarado's son, who was going to be deployed with the military. Aranda did not know where in Georgia they were going or in which branch of the military Alvarado's son served. Ms. Alvarado told the trooper that they were going to South Carolina to stay with her sister for a week and then to Georgia to see her son off with the military. The defendant stated that he bought the car in Mexico, and Ms. Alvarado stated that he bought the car from a cousin in Texas. Taking their stories as conflicting, Campbell requested the vehicle's documentation and contacted the Blue Lightning Operations Center (“BLOC”), a subunit of the United States Customs branch of the Department of Homeland Security, for computer checks on both passengers and the vehicle. Trooper Campbell learned that the defendant had last crossed the Mexico border in the same car a day or two before. When asked about his last border crossing, the defendant told Trooper Campbell that it was some 3 months earlier.

         The defendant and Ms. Alvarado initially consented to the trooper's search of the car. However, before the search began, the defendant retracted his consent. Wanting consent but not feeling he needed it because he had probable cause, Trooper Campbell proceeded to search the car. He found a glass pipe used for the smoking of marijuana in the glove compartment but nothing else suspicious until he saw, under the car, a “pop rivet.” His experience doing drug interdiction for many years suggested to him that the pop rivet might conceal a hidden compartment. In order to search the compartment adequately and in a safe place, the car was moved to a truck stop at the next exit. The defendant and Ms. Alvarado were transported there in the back of Trooper Campbell's car. When the car was placed on a lift, additional searching revealed a hidden compartment behind a wheel casing that contained approximately 5 kilograms of cocaine. Aranda was charged under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) with possession with intent to distribute. On October 27, 2017, he moved to suppress the cocaine. (Docket No. 20.)


         The Fourth Amendment protects an individual's right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, including those conducted without a warrant based upon probable cause. U.S. Const. Amend. IV. There are exceptions to the warrant requirement, including the automobile exception. United States v. Lyons, 687 F.3d 754, 770 (6th Cir. 2012) (“Under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement, an officer may perform a warrantless search of a detained vehicle should the officer have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of criminal activity.”). Under the exclusionary rule, prosecutors are barred from introducing evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Davis v. United States, 131 S.Ct. 2419, 2423 (2011).


         Aranda advances several arguments for suppression: 1) Campbell's initial stop of Aranda's vehicle was improper; 2) Campbell's opening the rear passenger door constituted a constitutionally impermissible search; 3) Campbell did not have probable cause to search the car once Aranda revoked consent; and 4) moving Aranda's vehicle to the gas station was an improper seizure. The court will address each argument in turn.

         I. The initial stop

         Aranda first argues that Campbell's reason for pulling him over-crossing the fog line- did not sufficiently justify the stop. Aranda contends that Campbell did not have reason to believe that Aranda crossed the fog line, rendering the stop pretextual. He further contends that, even if he did cross the fog line, his few, brief crossings did not constitute a violation of Tennessee law. “A police officer may stop a motorist when he possesses probable cause of a civil infraction or has reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.”[2]United States v. Pacheco, 841 F.3d 384, 390 (6th Cir. 2016). Tenn. Code. Ann. § 55-8-123(1) mandates that “[a] vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from that lane until the driver has first ascertained that the movement can be made with safety.” The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that crossing the fog line unnecessarily is a violation of § 55-8-123(1). See State v. Smith, 484 S.W.3d 393, 410-11 (Tenn. 2016) (“[W]hen an officer observes a motorist crossing a clearly marked fog line, the totality of the circumstances may provide a reasonable suspicion sufficient to initiate a traffic stop to investigate the possible violation of Section 123(1). If the officer observes ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.