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United States v. Lancon

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama

June 20, 2019




         The Grand Jury for the Southern District of Alabama indicted the defendant, Linda Lancon (“Lancon” or “Defendant”) on January 31, 2019. The Indictment charged Lancon with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, and one count of possession with intent to distribute approximately 30 kilograms of cocaine. See Doc. 25. Pending before the Court is the Defendant's Motion to Suppress Statements and Evidence (Doc. 47, filed 2/22/19) and the Government's Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 51, filed 3/4/19).

         The Court held an evidentiary hearing on May 30, 2019. Based on the evidence presented to the Court, arguments of the parties, and for the reasons set forth herein and contained in the Government's Response, the Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 47) is DENIED.

         I. Background and Motion to Suppress

         The facts of the case are essentially not in dispute as the encounter was recorded and a copy of the video and audio was provided to the Court during the suppression hearing. The crux of the Defendant's argument is that the traffic stop was unreasonably lengthened beyond the scope of the original traffic stop.

         On or about January 15, 2019, Saraland Police Officer Austin Sullivan (“Officer Sullivan”) saw a tractor with no trailer travelling northbound on Interstate 65. The exterior of the truck was very clean and freshly painted; however, there was “ghosting” on the side of the tractor where two letters appeared to have been removed from the name of the trucking company. Additionally, other portions of the tractor were rusty from lack of use which contrasted with the clean and newly painted tractor. As Officer Sullivan passed the tractor, he observed that there was no tag displayed on the front of the tractor as required by Alabama law. Therefore he conducted a traffic stop for the tag violation. The tractor did not immediately stop, so Officer Sullivan followed it with his blue lights on until it finally pulled over.

         Officer Sullivan approached the vehicle on the passenger side, but Defendant Victor Estrada Rodriguez (“Co-Defendant” or “Estrada”) jumped out from the driver's side of the truck to the ground to meet him. Officer Sullivan requested Estrada's license, registration, and insurance. Estrada had trouble locating the relevant documents so Officer Sullivan continued to question him about those documents and explained that he stopped the vehicle for the tag violation. Ultimately, Estrada produced paperwork which showed several companies associated with the vehicle, including one which appeared on the side of the truck “Silient Trucking” and “Resilent Trucking.” Further, Estrada produced a document taped to the windshield of the truck that showed the vehicle registered “Lucky 5 Trucking.” Additionally, Officer Sullivan noticed a number of personal items in the truck including a house plant and a DVD player.

         Officer Sullivan and Estrada went to the patrol car where Officer Sullivan also began checking law enforcement databases on the vehicle, the companies, and Estrada. Eventually Officer Sullivan asked Estrada if he could search the truck to which Estrada agreed. Officer Sullivan also heard back on his inquiry that a person with the same name was wanted on criminal charges from another state with full extradition. Officer Sullivan asked for additional information to see if Defendant Estrada had the same physical characteristics as the wanted subject. Though Estrada had denied prior arrests in their earlier conversion, Officer Sullivan eventually determined from Estrada that he had been previously arrested. Officer Sullivan then requested, but never received, a portable fingerprint device to confirm whether Estrada was the wanted person.

         Around this time, Lt Culley responded as a back-up officer and arrived on the scene with his drug detecting dog. Lt Culley walked his dog around the outside of the truck and the dog gave a positive indication for the odor of narcotics on both sides of the truck near the doors. Officer Sullivan confronted Estrada with the drug dog's positive alert and Estrada admitted everything in the truck belonged to him. At this time, Lt Culley and Officer Sullivan conducted a full search of the truck and found cocaine bundles in a large box behind the passenger's seat. They advised Estrada of his Miranda rights and he admitted to his involvement in smuggling activity.

         In sum, the traffic stop lasted a little over one hour. Midway through the traffic stop, Officer Sullivan asked Lancon to get out of the truck to sit in a different police vehicle. She remained there for the rest of the stop.

         Lancon filed her motion to suppress and alleges the traffic stop was unreasonably prolonged and therefore ultimately not a constitutionally valid stop. See Doc. 47 generally. The Government filed its response on March 4, 2019. See Doc. 51. The Government argues the traffic stop was supported by probable cause as the officer witnessed a traffic infraction for the failure to display a tag. The Court convened an evidentiary hearing on the matter on May 30, 2019 and heard testimony from Saraland Police Officer Austin Sullivan. The Court also received several exhibits including the video from the dashcam and audio.

         II. Law and Discussion A. Standing

         It is well established that for a defendant to move to suppress evidence, he must have standing. United States v. Eyster, 948 F.2d 1196, 1208-09 (11th Cir. 1991). A defendant has the burden of showing standing under the Fourth Amendment. United States v. Brazel, 102 F.3d 1120, 1147 (11th Cir. 1997). To claim the protection of the Fourth Amendment, an individual must have a “reasonable expectation of privacy in the invaded place.” Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 143, 99 S.Ct. 421, 58 L.Ed.2d 387 (1978). A defendant's expectation of privacy must be “personal[]” and “reasonable, ” and it must have “a source outside of the Fourth Amendment, either by reference to concepts of real or personal property law or to understandings that are recognized and permitted by society.” Minnesota v. Carter, 525 U.S. 83, 88, 119 S.Ct. 469, 142 L.Ed.2d 373 (1998) (internal quotation marks omitted). That said, “[s]tanding does not require an ownership interest in the invaded area.” United States v. Hernandez, 647 F.3d 216, 219 (5th Cir. 2011) (noting that the Supreme Court has recognized that an overnight guest in a home has a legitimate expectation of privacy in that home).

         An individual has standing to challenge a search if “(1) he has a subjective expectation of privacy, and (2) society is prepared to recognize that expectation as objectively reasonable.” United States v. Harris, 526 F.3d 1334, 1338 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing United States v. Segura-Baltazar, 448 F.3d 1281, 1286 (11th Cir. 2006). Courts assess on a case-by-case basis the standing of a particular person to challenge an intrusion by government officials into an area over which that person lacked primary control. Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 191 n. 13, 104 S.Ct. 1735, 80 L.Ed.2d 214 (1984). Moreover, the Eleventh Circuit has held that where a defendant is neither the owner nor the lessee of the place searched, in order to contest a search, he must ...

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