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United States v. $33

June 1, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
$33,020.00 IN U.S. CURRENCY, $3,520.00 IN U.S. CURRENCY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Roger T. Benitez United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING AMENDED MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE OF CLAIMANT CHRISTIAN VENEGAS [Dkt. No. 35]

I. INTRODUCTION

Now before the Court is Claimant Christian Venegas' Amended Motion to Suppress Evidence. Venegas moves to suppress evidence of forfeitability obtained from a police traffic stop.

II. PROCEDURE

The procedures to be used for a civil forfeiture action are set out in the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 ("CAFRA"), 18 U.S.C. §§981, et seq., Rules C, E, and G of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions, and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Under CAFRA, a challenge to the legality of an asset seizure based upon Fourth Amendment protections may be brought under Supplemental Rule G(8)(a). United States v. $50,040, slip op., Case No. C 06-4522 WHA, 2007 WL 1176631 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 20, 2007) ("Challenges to the legality of the seizure -- whether there is probable cause to believe the property is subject to forfeiture at time of seizure -- are brought pursuant to a motion to suppress under Rule G(8)(a), not a motion to dismiss."). Title 18 U.S.C. §981(b)(2) provides that "a seizure may be made without a warrant if ...(B) there is probable cause to believe that the property is subject to forfeiture and -- (i) the seizure is made pursuant to a lawful arrest or search; or (ii) another exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement would apply." Rule G(8)(a) provides, "[i]f the defendant property was seized, a party with standing to contest the lawfulness of the seizure may move to suppress use of the property as evidence." Although the Claimant does not specify the basis for his motion to suppress, his motion will be treated as one invoking Rule G(8)(a).

III. FACTS

On February 19, 2010, the Court held an evidentiary hearing. In this case, the Claimant was driving a motor vehicle. Law enforcement officers were following the Claimant. Officers were following the Claimant because he had been seen leaving a house where illegal narcotic activity was suspected. As the Claimant passed through an unusual, five-sided intersection (the intersection of Lisbon Street, Imperial Avenue, and 69th Street in San Diego, California), he did not use a turn signal.

Officers made a traffic stop based upon §22107 of the California Vehicle Code. That section requires the use of a turn signal when turning. Specifically, §22107 provides, "[n]o person shall turn a vehicle from a direct course or move right or left on a roadway until such movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after the giving of an appropriate signal..." As the Claimant entered the intersection, he was traveling from Lisbon Avenue, across 69th Street, and onto Imperial Avenue. To travel from Lisbon Avenue to Imperial Avenue required the Claimant to change the direction of his vehicle to the left approximately 25-30 degrees.

IV. ARGUMENT

The Claimant argues that his movement through the intersection was so close to a straight line that it did not qualify as a "turn." And if the movement did not qualify as a "turn," argues the Claimant, then no turn signal was required by §22107. The Claimant further argues that the law enforcement officer was mistaken as to the law since no turn signal is required where there is no "turn."

A. Traffic Stops

If the initial traffic stop is lawful, then the resulting search is lawful. On the other hand, if the initial traffic stop is unlawful, then the resulting search is unlawful. If the search is unlawful, then the defendant money and other evidence would be subject to suppression as fruit of an unlawful stop and search. United States v. $186,416.00 in U.S. Currency, 590 F.3d 942, ...


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