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United States v. Anguiano

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

July 26, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ROBERTO ANGUIANO, III, MARIO VERDUZCO, ANGELA QUACH, and DEEDRE DIAZ

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          W. KEITH WATKINS CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On July 7, 2016, Defendant Roberto Anguiano, III, swerved over the fog line while changing lanes on an interstate highway. He was pulled over, his truck was searched, and drugs were found inside. He and his three passengers-Defendants Mario Verduzco, Angela Quach, and Deedre Diaz-were arrested. Defendants moved to suppress the evidence obtained at the stop, claiming it was acquired in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Government filed a response in opposition before the magistrate judge held a two-day evidentiary hearing on the motions. Defendants and the Government then fired off a round of supplemental briefing, leading the magistrate judge to enter a Recommendation favoring denial of the motions. Four objections followed, then a supplemental Recommendation, and then two more objections. Suffice it to say that the court has the benefit of a fully briefed motion.

         In a previous order (Doc. # 196), the Recommendation was adopted. This opinion supports that adoption.

         I. BACKGROUND

         It would be difficult to improve on the magistrate judge's detailed statement of the facts. (See Doc. # 162 at 1-23.) Instead, the court will summarize the facts relevant to today's decision while referring to the Recommendation as a more complete description of the events leading up to Defendants' arrests.

         Alabama county sheriffs' officers stopped Defendants twice on July 7, first on I-65 North in Baldwin County and second on I-85 North in Chambers County.[1]Both traffic stops are relevant to this decision.

         A. The First Stop: Baldwin County

         On the morning of July 7, 2016, Deputy Jason Kolbe with the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office was on traffic patrol in Baldwin County, Alabama. Kolbe, a trained canine handler and drug interdiction specialist, noticed a Toyota Tundra traveling northbound on I-65. Condensation on a plastic cover had partially obscured the truck's paper license tag, so Kolbe turned on his lights around 9:00 or 10:00 a.m.[2] to pull the truck over for a “no-plainly-visible-tag” violation under Ala. Code § 32-6-51. The Toyota traveled another half mile north before taking the next exit and stopping in the parking lot of a gas station.

         Kolbe approached the parked pickup, finding Verduzco in the driver's seat and the other three Defendants riding with him. Kolbe spoke with Verduzco and Anguiano and began to develop a hunch that they were smuggling illegal drugs. Kolbe identified several causes for his suspicion: Defendants continued at least a half mile to a gas station rather than pulling over on the side of the interstate; the truck was newly registered; there was a small gap between the tailgate and bumper, which could be a sign of a false truck bed; Defendants were traveling from Laredo, Texas, a known source area for narcotics; Defendants had driven through the night to reach Baldwin County; Verduzco and Anguiano offered conflicting stories, with one claiming their destination was a family reunion in Montgomery and the other saying it was a shopping trip to Atlanta; and the four occupants carried only one suitcase with them, despite their claim that they planned to stay several days in either Montgomery or Atlanta. On Kolbe's request, Verduzco and Anguiano consented to a search of the truck.

         Kolbe spent between forty minutes and two hours searching the Tundra.[3] He started on the truck's interior, where he observed rust underneath the rear bench passenger seat frame and tooling marks on the bolts securing the frame to the floorboard. To Kolbe, this indicated that the seat had been removed “on numerous occasions.” (Doc. # 190 at 46.) Because removing the seat was not necessary to service any mechanical parts, he suspected that a secret compartment in that area was being used to transport contraband. Kolbe felt around for “depth discrepancy, ” which would be indicative of a hidden void, but found nothing. (Doc. # 190 at 49.) He looked for Bondo, weld marks, and overspray, any of which would confirm his trafficking hunch. But again he found nothing, and did not have the tools on hand to remove the seat. So Kolbe moved on, searching the single piece of luggage, feeling along the truck bed, and crawling underneath the truck to inspect its undercarriage. Still, nothing turned up. Kolbe next ran an open-air sniff in a reverse search pattern with his drug dog, passing the canine four times along the truck's tailgate and twice along the front and each side. The dog never alerted, leading Kolbe to conclude that he had to let Defendants go. Having received a warning for the traffic violation, Defendants continued north on I-65. Kolbe made no written report of the stop details.

         Even after his extensive search, Kolbe still suspected that Defendants were trafficking drugs. As he later testified, “I was highly suspicious, but I had to let them go.” (Doc. # 190 at 75.) Two minutes after the truck drove off, Kolbe contacted[4]Deputy Rodney Arwood with the Chambers County Sheriff's Office, another interdiction specialist whom Kolbe had met while in training. Kolbe told Arwood about the traffic stop and informed Arwood that Defendants could be heading his way.

         Defendants' strongest objection highlights the communication between Kolbe and Arwood, so it is important to clarify precisely what was said. Kolbe testified that he told Arwood “exactly what [Defendants] told me on the side of the road, from what the driver told me, the passenger, and [their] behaviors. And then I also told him that I had searched that vehicle and where I had searched.” (Doc. # 190 at 54.) More specifically, Kolbe told Arwood about the paper license tag, the gap between the truck's tailgate and bumper, the conflicting stories regarding Defendants' destination, that Defendants drove through the night, that Defendants were exceedingly nervous during the traffic stop, and that he found rust and tool marks under the passenger bench. Kolbe is “not 100 percent certain” that he told Arwood that only one suitcase was in the truck, but believes he did. (Doc. # 190 at 138.) With this in mind, Arwood promised to keep an eye out for the Toyota.

         B. The Second Stop: Chambers County

         Sure enough, around 1:30 p.m. Arwood saw the Tundra motoring north toward Atlanta on I-85 North. Estimating that the truck was traveling well under the speed limit-roughly 60 m.p.h. in a 70 zone-Arwood pulled out of the interstate median and began following the Tundra. As Arwood's marked police car approached, the truck abruptly took the next exit. Arwood could not get over in time to make the exit, so he called a local law enforcement officer and trained dog handler, Lawrence Howell, to find Defendants and keep an eye on them. Meanwhile, Arwood pulled over and waited for Defendants on the shoulder of the road. During this detour, Anguiano spent $20 on gas at a service station, but did not fill the truck's tank.

         Before Howell could locate the Toyota, Arwood saw it back on the interstate. Traveling in the left-hand lane, it passed Arwood's parked car, then made a signaled change into the right-hand lane. In the process of moving over, the truck's right tires crossed the fog line-the solid white line on the far right side of the road. Arwood turned on his lights and initiated a traffic stop for improper lane usage under Ala. Code § 32-5A-88(1).

         The vehicles pulled over to the interstate shoulder and Arwood called in to the dispatcher to give his location and the Toyota's license plate number. Arwood approached the Tundra, identified himself, and asked the driver, Anguiano, for his license and registration. Anguiano, who had no driver's license or other identification, instead gave Arwood either a bill of sale or proof of insurance.[5]Verduzco, a passenger on this stop, also offered Arwood a photocopy of his Texas driver's license. Arwood took the documents and returned to his patrol car at the 02:37 mark.[6]

         Arwood sat in his car until minute 03:42, when Kolbe called him on his cell phone. Kolbe asked Arwood if he had “found them, ” Arwood replied that he had, and the two talked for a few minutes about where contraband might be hidden in the truck. Arwood hung up and tried to call dispatch with Defendants' personal information at the 06:00 mark.[7] Dispatch did not answer, so Arwood tried again at 07:34, this time successfully, and read Defendants' information to the dispatcher. Arwood then sat back and continued to wait for Howell to arrive with his drug dog.

         After a couple of minutes, around nine minutes into the stop, Howell arrived and joined Arwood in his patrol car. Arwood began telling Howell about Kolbe's earlier stop and his trafficking hunch before he was interrupted by dispatch at the 10:02 mark with the requested information on the Tundra's tag. Arwood and Howell resumed talking for the next four minutes or so, until they approached the Tundra at the 14:51 mark. Arwood then asked Anguiano to exit the truck; Anguiano complied, and Arwood took him to the patrol car.

         Owing to a language barrier, Arwood had Anguiano write down his name, date of birth, and Social Security number. At minute 17:56, Arwood called this information in to dispatch, remaining on the line until the 21:00 mark. Arwood still had not seen a photo ID for Anguiano, so he then asked Anguiano for his name, address, and date of birth to cross-reference the tag information he had already received from dispatch. Anguiano then began making small talk, and Arwood fielded his questions before asking at the 23:16 mark who was the owner of the truck. Anguiano responded that it belonged to Verduzco. After a few more minutes of conversation, at minute 28:54, Arwood asked for and received Anguiano's consent to search the truck. Because it was not clear who owned the truck, Arwood then spoke with Verduzco in his patrol car and obtained Verduzco's consent to search at the 36:47 mark.

         Arwood began to search the car at minute 38:05. Roughly an hour into the traffic stop, having found nothing more than what Kolbe had already noted, he had Howell retrieve his drug dog, Goose. Howell ran Goose around the outside of the truck, with no alerts. But when presented with a seam behind the rear seat of the interior of the truck, Goose alerted.[8] Arwood then explained to Anguiano that he had been performing a consensual search, but now (because Goose alerted) he had probable cause to perform a more extensive search. He had Defendants drive to a nearby mechanic, where the truck was more ...


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