United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the court on Defendant Fredi
Adame-Huante's (“Mr. Huante”) motion to
suppress evidence. (Doc. 12). In October 2018, the United
States indicted Mr. Huante on one count of possession of a
firearm by an illegal alien, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
922(g)(5)(A). (Doc. 6). Mr. Huante moves to suppress evidence
of a partially full box of gun shells, a loaded pistol, a
digital scale, and drugs found in the vehicle he was driving
when he was pulled over on March 19, 2017. (Doc. 12 at 1).
on the evidence presented at the suppression hearing, the
court finds that on March 19, 2017, Mr. Huante and a friend
were out for a drive. Around four that morning, Huntsville
Police Officer James Andrews and Officer Higgins were
patrolling in separate police vehicles. (Tr. 12 - 13). As the
two officers drove eastbound on Hood Road, Officer Andrews
observed Mr. Huante driving west followed by a white van.
(Tr. 11, 24). Officer Andrews noticed Mr. Huante and the
white van swerving out of their lane and into the middle of
the road. (Tr. 21, 24, 40).
that one or both drivers of the vehicles were driving under
the influence, the officers decided to pull the two vehicles
over. (Tr. 25). Officers Andrews and Higgins made U-turns on
Hood Road and approached the two vehicles. (Tr. 27-28).
Officer Andrews then passed the white van, followed behind
Mr. Huante, and activated his code equipment (e.g., the
vehicle's police lights). (Tr. 27-28, 49; see
also Ex. 9 at 2). Because the car's dash cam begins
recording only after the code equipment is activated, there
is no video evidence of anything that happened before this
point. (Tr. 26).
Huante did not pull over immediately. (Gov. Ex. 1). Instead,
he continued to drive another 20 seconds. (Id.).
During that time, Officer Andrews noticed the passenger lift
himself out of the seat and lean to the left. Officer Andrews
testified that the passenger appeared to be stuffing
something behind or underneath him (tr. 49; see also
Ex. 9), heightening Officer Andrews's suspicion of
criminal activity. (Tr. 49). Once the passenger stopped
moving, Mr. Huante pulled over and came to a stop. (Gov. Ex.
1; Tr. 18).
Officer Andrews approached Mr. Huante's window, he
smelled alcohol on Mr. Huante. (Ex. 9 at 2). Mr. Huante
appeared intoxicated with glassy, red, bloodshot eyes.
(Id.). Officer Andrews asked Mr. Huante to step out
of the car and patted him down for weapons. (Id.).
While speaking with Mr. Huante, Officer Andrews noticed what
appeared to be cocaine residue on Mr. Huante's nose and
pants. (Id.). Mr. Huante admitted to Officer Andrews
that he used cocaine before driving. (Tr. 50).
speaking with Mr. Huante, Officer Andrews completed a search
of the car. (Tr. 50). In the course of the search, Officer
Andrews uncovered a partially full box of gun shells (tr.
50), a loaded pistol (ex. 9 at 2), a digital scale
(see doc. 12 at 1), and drugs (tr. 39 - 40). Officer
Andrews arrested Mr. Huante for possession of a pistol
without a license and arrested the passenger for possession
with intent to distribute. (Ex. 9).
Fourth Amendment guarantees “[t]he right of the people
to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures [.]” U.S.
Const. amend. IV. “A traffic stop . . . 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 [v.
Ohio].” United States v. Harris, 526 F.3d
1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2008). Both probable cause
and reasonable suspicion are analyzed based on the totality
of the circumstances. Id.; see also Lee v.
Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1195 (11th Cir. 2002)
(citing Rankin v. Evans, 133 F.3d 1425, 1435
(11th Cir. 1998). In deciding if probable cause
existed, the court must look to whether the ‘the facts
and circumstances within the officer's knowledge, of
which he or she has reasonably trustworthy information, would
cause a prudent person to believe, under the circumstances
shown, that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is
about to commit an offense.' Lee, 284 F.3d at
1195 (internal citations omitted). Although probable cause
goes beyond a mere suspicion, it does not require the same
“standard of conclusiveness and probability as the
facts necessary to support a conviction.” United
States v. Dunn, 345 F.3d 1285, 1290 (11th Cir. 2003)
(quoting Lee, 284 at 1195 (11th Cir. 2002)).
“'Reasonable suspicion' for Fourth Amendment
purposes, requires more than mere fanciful conjecture; it
must be based upon a particularized and objective basis for
suspecting a particular person of criminal activity.”
Denson v. U.S., 574 F.3d 1318, 1341 (11th
Cir. 2009) (citing United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S.
411, 417-18 (1981)).
Huante alleges that Officer Andrews's initial stop of his
vehicle lacked probable cause and so any evidence obtained as
a result of the unlawful stop and subsequent search must be
suppressed. (See Doc 12 at ¶ 3). Mr. Huante
contends that because the only dash cam video shows him
driving within his lane, the government has not established
that he was committing or appeared to be committing a traffic
violation by swerving out of his lane. Accordingly, he says
Officer Andrews did not have reasonable grounds to believe he
was driving under the influence.
court finds that the stop in this case was justified both by
probable cause that Mr. Huante had committed a traffic
violation and by a reasonable suspicion that Mr. Huante was
engaged in criminal activity. The only evidence before the
court is Officer Andrews's testimony that he observed Mr.
Huante swerving out of his lane. In addition to his demeanor
while testifying, his testimony is consistent with the
incident report filed with the Huntsville Police Department.
Accordingly, the court finds Officer Andrews's testimony
credible and accepts his testimony about seeing Mr. Huante
swerving in the road at four in the morning. Probable cause
existed to believe that Mr. Huante had committed a traffic
violation, justifying the initial stop.
event, reasonable suspicion also existed to believe Mr.
Huante and his passenger were engaged in criminal activity.
Officer Andrews testified that after he turned on his lights,
he observed Mr. Huante's passenger making unusual
movements in the car. He believed that the passenger was
attempting to hide something. This, combined with the traffic
violation, gave him reasonable suspicion to believe that the
occupants of the vehicle were engaged in criminal activity.
court finds that both probable cause and reasonable suspicion
justified the stop. The court therefore
DENIES Mr. Huante's motion to suppress.