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United States v. Navarro

United States District Court, E.D. California

January 8, 2020

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Jose Manuel Navarro, Defendant.



         The matter before the Court is Defendant Jose Manuel Navarro's Motion to Suppress. Mot. to Suppress (“Mot.”), ECF No. 14. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Defendant's motion.


         In April 2019, the Tri-County Drug Enforcement Team (“TRIDENT”) began an undercover operation in Placer and Sacramento Counties. TRIDENT Report, ECF No. 15-1. Over the course of the investigation, an undercover member of the team (“UC”) communicated by phone with an unknown man suspected to be connected with a drug trafficking operation in Sinaloa, Mexico. Id. The man told UC he could supply up to 100 pounds of methamphetamines. Id. Ultimately, the man told UC he would send him 65 pounds of methamphetamines. Id. On the morning of May 20, 2019, Defendant and UC met in the parking lot of a Target in Sacramento. Id. UC asked to see the “product.” Id. Defendant told UC that all the product was in a hidden compartment in his vehicle, so he could not show it to him in the parking lot. Id. UC asked Defendant to follow him to a more secure location. Id. As UC drove past Defendant's Ford truck, he noticed the truck had Arizona plates that ended in “91.” Id. UC relayed that information to the surveillance team. Id.

         Around this time, Officer Sarabia, a California Highway Patrol (“CHP”) officer, saw Defendant make an unsafe lane change in violation of Vehicle Code § 26708(a). CHP Report, ECF No. 15-2. Following the lane change, Officer Sarabia also observed Defendant following the vehicle in front of him too closely in violation of Vehicle Code § 21703. Id. As Officer Sarabia approached Defendant's vehicle, he noticed Defendant moving onto the white lines in the road and that Defendant's front windows were tinted in violation of Vehicle Code § 26708(a). Id. Officer Sarabia pulled Defendant over for these violations. Id.

         Officer Sarabia approached Defendant's truck, requested his license, and asked him a series of traffic-related questions. Id. Officer Sarabia also asked Defendant where he was coming from and where he was going. Id. Defendant first said he was visiting his son on Madison Avenue, but then changed his answer, claiming he was going to visit family in Reno. Id. Based on these inconsistencies, Officer Sarabia asked Defendant to exit his truck and walk over to the patrol car. Id.

         As Defendant exited his truck, Sergeant Powell arrived at the scene. Id. Sergeant Powell ran a records check on Defendant while Officer Sarabia asked Defendant if he had anything illegal inside his vehicle. Id. After Defendant denied having any contraband, Officer Sarabia asked Defendant if he could search his truck. Id. Defendant signed the Spanish consent form Officer Sarabia provided. Id. Officer Sarabia and his narcotics-detection dog walked around Defendant's vehicle. Id. The dog alerted to several areas around and in the truck. Id. Officer Sarabia then searched the vehicle and discovered several cellophane-wrapped packages behind the rear seats. Id. Officer Sarabia placed Defendant in handcuffs and contacted the TRIDENT team for assistance. Id.

         Upon arrival, members of the team field tested one of the packages. Id. The package tested positive for methamphetamine. Id. Officers took the packages-68 in total-to the TRIDENT facility to be processed. Id. Defendant was placed under arrest. Id.

         II. OPINION

         Defendant moves to suppress evidence obtained as a result of Officer Sarabia's seizure and subsequent search. Defendant contends the search and seizure were unlawful because Officer Sarabia (1) did not have reasonable suspicion to pull him over and (2) impermissibly prolonged the traffic stop. Mot. at 2-3. The Government argues that the investigatory stop was supported by reasonable suspicion, the stop was not unreasonably prolonged, and Defendant consented to a search of his vehicle. USA's Opp'n to Mot. to Suppress (“Opp'n”) at 1, ECF No. 15. The Government further argues the TRIDENT investigation supplied probable cause for the stop. Id.

         A. The Traffic Stop

         1. Legal Standard

         The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures” by the Government. United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002). Those protections extend to an investigatory stop of a vehicle “because stopping an automobile and detaining its occupants constitutes a seizure . . . even though the purpose of the stop is limited and the resulting detention quite brief.” United States v. Choudhry, 461 F.3d 1097, 1100 (9th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). Investigatory traffic stops are akin to the on-the-street encounters addressed in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). Id. Accordingly, the same objective standard applies. Id. “[A] police officer may conduct an investigatory traffic stop if the officer has reasonable suspicion that a particular person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         A traffic violation alone is sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion.” Choudhry, 461 F.3d at 1100 (citations omitted). In other words, when an officer has probable cause to believe a traffic violation has occurred, a stop of the vehicle is ...

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