United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
K. DuBOSE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
February 14, 2017, the Court held a hearing on
Defendant's Amended Motion to Suppress. (Doc.
The Defendant, Felix Rivas, and his attorney, Daniel
McCleave, Esq., were both present. Assistant United States
Attorney George May was present on behalf of the United
States. The Court has considered the parties' additional
briefing (Docs. 26-27) and the matter is now ripe for
adjudication. For the reasons discussed herein, the motion to
suppress is DENIED.
October 3, 2016, Officer Austin Sullivan of the Saraland,
Alabama Police Department (“Sullivan”) was
patrolling southbound Interstate 65, around mile marker 15.
At the suppression hearing, Sullivan testified he observed
Rivas' truck touch or slightly cross the “fog
line” eight times. Though the view is partially
obstructed, a dashboard camera video of the traffic stop does
not contradict Sullivan's testimony.
observing what Sullivan determined to be eight traffic
infractions, Sullivan initiated a traffic stop. Sullivan
approached the vehicle and requested the Rivas' license
and registration and inquired as to whether Rivas was sleepy.
Sullivan also observed that there were only two keys on the
key ring in the ignition and that Rivas had a small bag of
luggage in the front seat of the truck. Sullivan also noticed
that Rivas' hands were shaking. According to Sullivan,
the shaking was severe enough that Rivas had trouble handing
Sullivan his identification.
after his initial contact with Rivas, Sullivan determined
that Rivas was not fluent in English. Sullivan asked Rivas to
sit in the passenger seat of his patrol car so he and Rivas
could utilize a translation program Sullivan had on his
computer. Sullivan and Rivas then both sat in the patrol car
and began to converse using the translation program. Sullivan
also observed that Rivas seemed nervous, was avoiding eye
contact, was breathing unusually, and that his carotid artery
was visibly pulsating.
continuing to try to communicate with Rivas via the
translation program, Sullivan learned via the results of
electronic records checks that Rivas had entered the United
States from Mexico a few days prior to the traffic stop.
Rivas also told Sullivan that he was on his way from Houston
to Atlanta to stay with a person named Danielle Gonzalez.
Sullivan inquired as to the nature of his trip, who Danielle
Gonzalez was, and where he lived. Through the records checks,
Sullivan also learned that Rivas had some connection to human
Sullivan issued Rivas a warning citation for the lane
infractions, Saraland Police Lieutenant Gregory Cully arrived
with drug detecting K-9, Chico. Lieutenant Cully and Chico
completed a search around the truck. Chico alerted that drugs
were present in the vehicle. Later, 136.4 grams of
methamphetamine were found hidden in one of the trucks'
two gas tanks. As a result, Rivas was indicted on the charges
now pending in this Court.
are two issues before the Court: 1) whether the initial
traffic stop violated the Defendant's rights under the
Fourth Amendment; and 2) whether the duration of the stop was
unreasonable in light of Rodriguez v. United States,
135 S.Ct. 1609 (2015). As the answer to both questions is no,
Defendant's motion to suppress is DENIED
on both grounds.
Legality of the Traffic Stop
Eleventh Circuit has explained:
“The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from
unreasonable search and seizure.”
Chanthasouxat, 342 F.3d at 1275. A traffic stop,
however, is constitutional if it is either based upon
probable cause to believe a traffic violation has occurred or
justified by reasonable suspicion in accordance with
Terry,392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889.
Chanthasouxat, 342 F.3d at 1275. When determining
whether an officer had probable cause to believe that a
traffic violation occurred, the “officer's motive
in making the traffic stop does not invalidate what is
otherwise objectively justifiable behavior under the Fourth
Amendment.” United States v. Simmons, 172 F.3d
775, 778 (11th Cir.1999) (quotation omitted). The
Constitution also permits police officers to conduct a brief
investigatory stop, Terry v. Ohio,392 U.S. 1, 88
S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), “if they have a
reasonable, articulable suspicion based on objective facts
that” an individual is engaged in criminal activity.
United States v. Powell,222 F.3d 913, 917 (11th
Cir.2000). A determination of reasonable suspicion is based
on the totality of the circumstances, and “[i]t does
not require officers to catch the suspect in a crime.
Instead, [a] reasonable suspicion of criminal activity may be
formed by observing exclusively legal activity.”
United States v. Acosta,363 F.3d 1141, 1145 (11th