from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Alabama D.C. Docket No. 7:15-cr-00188-MHH-JHE-2
ED CARNES, Chief Judge, TJOFLAT, and WILLIAM PRYOR, Circuit
Alabama law enforcement officers discovered cocaine and
methamphetamine in a vehicle that Oswaldo Vargas was riding
in. He was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to
distribute and possession with intent to distribute those
drugs. The district court denied Vargas' motion to
suppress, finding that the traffic stop that led to the
discovery of the drugs did not violate the Fourth
Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable seizures. Vargas
later pleaded guilty to both charges, and he has appealed the
denial of his motion to suppress.
Shone Minor of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency pulled a
Ford Freestyle SUV with a Texas license plate to the side of
Interstate 20/59 for "following too close"
(tailgating) and for failing to maintain its lane. The
driver, Antonio Castro, immediately admitted that he did not
have a driver's license, so Minor asked Castro to come
back to Minor's patrol car, where Minor asked him a
series of routine questions. When Minor asked Castro where he
was going, Castro said Alabama, then changed his answer to
Georgia, before finally clarifying that he was going to
Atlanta specifically. He also stated that he was driving from
El Paso, although he later revealed that he lived in New
Mexico. Two minutes and fifty- seven seconds after he made
the traffic stop, Minor informed Castro that he was issuing
him a warning for a "following too close"
additional three minutes Minor continued asking Castro
questions in order to fill out the written warning. Then
Minor approached the vehicle's passenger, Vargas, to
determine whether he could legally operate the vehicle once
the stop was completed. Vargas admitted that he did not have
a driver's license either. After that, Minor spent about
twelve minutes working with Castro and Vargas in an attempt
to determine how to safely and legally get the car moved. For
example, he asked them if they knew anyone who could come
drive the vehicle for them.
minutes and thirty-four seconds into the traffic stop - about
fifteen minutes after Minor first informed Castro that he was
issuing a warning - Minor asked Castro for consent to search
the vehicle. Castro consented. The search, conducted by Minor
and a partner, revealed cocaine and methamphetamine hidden in
jury charged Vargas with conspiracy to possess with intent to
distribute cocaine and methamphetamine and substantive
possession with intent to distribute cocaine and
methamphetamine, both violations of 21 U.S.C. § 841.
Before trial, Vargas moved to suppress the government's
evidence, contending that Minor had violated the Fourth
Amendment by continuing the stop after he informed Castro
that he was issuing him a warning.
was the sole witness at the suppression hearing. He testified
that under state law he could not allow Castro or Vargas to
drive the vehicle away from the traffic stop since neither
one had a driver's license. He explained that he
eventually asked for consent to search the vehicle because he
found numerous aspects of Castro and Vargas' trip to be
suspicious and he suspected they may have been involved in
district court denied Vargas' motion to suppress. He
pleaded guilty, but reserved the right to appeal the
court's ruling on his suppression motion. He was
sentenced to 123 months imprisonment.
contends that the length of the traffic stop violated the
Fourth Amendment. "We review a district court's
denial of a defendant's motion to suppress under a mixed
standard of review, examining the district court's
findings of fact for clear error and the district court's
application of law to those facts de novo."
United States v. King, 509 F.3d 1338, 1341 (11th
general matter, a traffic stop "exceeding the time
needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made
violates the Constitution's shield against unreasonable
seizures." Rodriguez v. United States, 575
U.S.__, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1612 (2015). The Supreme Court
explained in Rodriguez that, in addition to issuing
a ticket or warning, a police officer's "mission
includes ordinary inquiries incident to [the traffic]
stop." Id. at 1615 (quotation marks omitted).
Those inquiries "involve checking the driver's
license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants
against the driver, and inspecting the automobile's
registration and proof of insurance." Id.
Because they "serve the same objective as enforcement of
the traffic code" - namely, ...