FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW, AND ORDER RE: MOTION TO SUPPRESS
This matter came on for hearing on June 23 and 24, 2009, on defendant's motion to suppress statements. The court heard the testimony of witnesses and the arguments of counsel. Because the prosecuting attorney could not resist interrupting while the court was attempting to state its findings of fact and conclusions of law orally on the record, the proceedings were adjourned, the motion was taken under submission, and the court now makes its findings and conclusions in writing as follows.
On October 2, 2007, Forest Service Officer Gregory Knox was flown in by helicopter to assist in the eradication of a marijuana garden near California Highway 32 in the Lassen National Forest. After he was informed that several Hispanic males had run away from the garden, he was involved in the search for the suspects.
At about 6:30 that evening a passing motorist informed Knox that a Hispanic male was observed hitchhiking toward Chico on the side of the highway. Knox proceeded to the area and encountered defendant, Javier Garcia.
1. The Initial Stop of Defendant was Legal
Officer Knox had been information that there was a marijuana garden in the area. There is a question as to how far away it was from where he encountered defendant, but five to eight miles seems to be the testimony.
He had information that five Hispanic males were seen leaving the area the preceding day. He knew that some of them had fled to a creek. When he encountered defendant, defendant was wet, he was carrying a blanket, and he smelled of marijuana, not marijuana smoke, but the kind of smell that comes from growing marijuana plants. At that point, he was entitled to stop and ask defendant who he was, and he did that.
Defendant told one story about his car having broken down further up the road. Knox knew that was not true because he had just been up that road, and there was no car broken down. Defendant then changed his story and said that he was with somebody, and that he got abandoned and he wanted to get to Chico to make a telephone call.
At that point, in the court's view, there were not only reasonable grounds for detention, there would have been probable cause to arrest.
2. The Subsequent Detention was Legal
The court finds that the detention of approximately 20 minutes on the side of the road was not an unreasonable period of time. The court has had occasion to try to talk to defendant, and it is difficult to get information from him. It is difficult to communicate statements to defendant. Further, Knox had to get instructions from Forest Service Special Agent Anthony Magarrell as to what to do with defendant. The detention was reasonable.
3. Defendant was in Custody While in the Car
Special Agent Magarrell communicated with Knox by radio, through another officer, and advised him to transport defendant to Red Bluff. The court finds that after defendant was placed in Officer Knox's vehicle, he was in custody. The court frankly does not believe that under the circumstances these officers would have intended simply to take these men and give them a free ride an hour and a half away to Red Bluff when they knew exactly what Magarrell and Knox and apparently the other officers knew about this marijuana garden. They had been there, they had seen it.
They knew that five Hispanic males had fled, some of them were even part of that chase, and here they encountered Hispanic males wandering around in that area with no other explanation for why they should be there. They talked to them, and two or three of them admitted they were illegal aliens. The court cannot believe that law enforcement officers under those circumstances would say, "Do you want a ride? We'll take you back to Red Bluff, and then we'll drop you off so that you illegal aliens can go about your business and these other individuals, when we have probable cause to arrest, can go free."
Instead, the court finds it most probable that Agent Magarrell intended to have the suspects transported to Red Bluff in order to interrogate them, turn at least the illegal aliens over to ...