United States District Court, S.D. California
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO SUPPRESS
Janis L. Sammartino United States District Judge
pending before the Court are Defendants' motions to
suppress evidence challenging the stop and search of the
vehicle they were occupying at the time of their arrest (ECF
Nos. 43 and 44). The Government filed a response in
opposition to Defendants' motions and an evidentiary
hearing was held on July 12, 2017. At the conclusion of the
hearing, the Court requested additional briefing. Defendants
each filed a supplemental motion, the Government filed a
response in opposition, and Defendants each filed replies.
Having now fully considered the submissions of the parties as
well as the evidence and testimony presented at the hearing,
the Court will grant Defendants' motions.
January 19, 2017, Border Patrol Intelligence Agents were
conducting undercover surveillance on a suspected stash house
for undocumented aliens on G Street in Brawley, California.
Brawley is located north of El Centro, California,
approximately 30 miles from the U.S./Mexico border. According
to the testimony of Border Intelligence Agent Rachel
McCaslin, two highways in the Brawley area are commonly used
to smuggle aliens towards Los Angeles: Interstate 8 and the
S-2. ECF No. 60 at 14.
first began surveilling the G Street residence on January 4,
2017, after they followed the caretaker of a different
suspected stash house removing mattresses from that house and
delivering them to the G street house. On that day, 15 days
prior to the vehicle stop at issue in this case, agents
stopped Defendant Savellano with an undocumented alien.
Defendant Savellano was released, but told agents that the
S-2 highway was being used frequently to bring undocumented
aliens north to Los Angeles. Id. at 19. Defendant
Savellano told agents that the S-2 route had been used the
previous week, using a grey vehicle agents previously
observed during the investigation, to bring illegal aliens
north to Los Angeles and $20, 000 cash south. Id.
evening of January 19, 2017, agents observed a burgundy Ford
F-150 pickup truck arrive at the G Street house. Id.
at 42. By this time, agents had been conducting daily
surveillance of the residence for a two-and-a-half-week
period and had observed suspected undocumented aliens enter
the house, but never saw them exit. Id. at 24.
Intelligence Agent Widhalm was in an unmarked vehicle nearby
and began following the F-150 after it left the residence.
Id. at 44. Agent Widhalm followed the vehicle, at
varying distances, for close to an hour, for approximately 50
miles. Id. at 45. At one point, as Agent Widhalm got
close to the vehicle to look at the license plate, it
appeared to him that “there may have been the
silhouette of people sitting in the back
seat.” Id. at 45-46. This was
significant to Agent Widhalm because he thought he'd
overheard that only two people had showed up at the G Street
house in the vehicle, so any additional passengers in the
truck would have suggested that they picked somebody up
there. Id. at 46.
Widhalm did not recall if he conveyed the information about
the silhouettes in the back seat to anyone else. Id.
at 47. Agent Widhalm did not stop the vehicle, or ask for it
to be stopped, that decision was made Widhalm's
supervisor, Agent Alexander. Id. There was no radio
chatter from the agents following the truck indicating that
rear seat passengers were seen inside the truck. Id.
at 36. To the contrary, transcripts of the radio
transmissions during the surveillance reflect an observation
that only the driver and passenger were visible inside the
vehicle. ECF No. 69 at 26.
Patrol Agent Harwin was on duty in a marked vehicle on the
evening of January 19, 2017 when he received a call to
initiate a stop of the F-150. ECF No. 60 at 57-58.
Transcripts of the radio transmissions preceding the stop
indicate that agents were concerned that the F-150 might be
headed to Campo. ECF No. 69 at 33 (“I don't want to
follow this thing all the way to Campo like last
Agent Harwin initially received the call to stop the vehicle,
he was told the truck was travelling westbound on I-8. ECF
No. 60 at 59. However, when Agent Harwin caught up to it, the
truck had turned westbound onto the S-2. Id. at
59-60. During the time he followed the vehicle, Agent Harwin
observed only the silhouettes of two heads, the driver and
passenger. Id. at 61.
Patrol Agent Barrientos was also in the area in his marked
vehicle when he heard a request over the radio to stop a
vehicle “possibly loaded with illegal aliens that
loaded at the stash house.” Id. at 63. Agent
Barrientos encountered the F-150 approximately ten to fifteen
seconds after Agent Harwin pulled it over. Id. at
64. Agent Barrientos approached the driver's side of the
F-150 and asked the driver, Defendant Aguilera, for his proof
of citizenship. Id. Agent Barrientos asked Defendant
Aguilera to lower the back windows, because they were
dark-tinted. Id. Agent Barrientos then observed four
individuals seated in the back seat of the truck.
Id. Agent Barrientos was not able to see any of the
rear passengers before Defendant Aguilera rolled the rear
window down. Id. at 67.
four rear passengers were subsequently determined to lack
authorization to be in the United States. During depositions
following their arrest, the material witnesses testified
that, prior to being pulled over, they were laying down in
the rear seat area of the truck, two on the floor, and two on
the seat. ECF No. 43, Exs. B-D. Defendant Aguilera and
Defendant Savellano, the passenger, were arrested and charged
with four counts of illegal transportation of aliens in
violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii), (v)(II), and
Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable
searches and seizures extends to the investigatory stop of a
vehicle. United States v. Sigmond-Ballesteros, 285
F.3d 1117, 1121 (9th Cir. 2002), citing United
States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878 (1975). In
making a determination of reasonable suspicion, the court
must look to the totality of the circumstances of each case
to see whether the detaining officer has a particularized and
objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing. United
States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002). Although an
officer's reliance on a mere “hunch” is
insufficient to justify a stop, the ...