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United States v. Ayala

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 9, 2016

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Jesus Humberto Ayala, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Douglas L. Rayes United States District Judge.

         Defendant Jesus Ayala is charged with transportation of an illegal alien in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii) and (a)(1)(B)(ii) and aiding and abetting an alien to elude the examination and inspection of immigration officers of the United States in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a)(2). Defendant moved, under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, to suppress all evidence obtained during a traffic stop for driving too close to another vehicle in violation of A.R.S. § 28-730. (Doc. 25.) After an evidentiary hearing on July 28, 2016, and after viewing a video of the traffic stop, the Court concludes that the officer who initiated the stop did not have reasonable suspicion to believe that Defendant was driving too close to another vehicle. The motion is therefore granted.

         I. Background

         A. The Traffic Stop

         On February 12, 2016, while monitoring traffic from the I-10 median, Officer G.A. of the Arizona Department of Public Safety observed Defendant's vehicle pass and began to pursue it. Officer G.A. traveled at speeds up to 99 miles per hour (mph) to catch Defendant.

         During his pursuit, Officer G.A. observed Defendant's vehicle approach a white sedan, change lanes, and then pass the sedan. Officer G.A. estimated that Defendant was approximately three car lengths, or thirty-six to forty feet, behind the sedan before passing it at approximately 75 mph. Officer G.A. believed Defendant was following too close in violation of A.R.S. § 28-730.[1] Before deciding whether to stop Defendant, however, Officer G.A. wanted to view him in his vehicle, so he pulled alongside to view the occupants.[2] After viewing the occupants, Officer G.A. pulled Defendant over.

         When Officer G.A. approached Defendant's vehicle on the passenger side, he noticed the passenger was disheveled, which made him suspicious that Defendant was transporting an illegal alien. Officer G.A. ordered Defendant to exit the vehicle and began questioning him about his passenger, while simultaneously writing him a warning for following too close. Defendant admitted that the passenger was an illegal alien and that he was transporting him to Phoenix for $200. Defendant was eventually arrested and read his Miranda rights.

         B. Officer G.A.'s Testimony

         Officer G.A. testified he could not recall what first drew his attention to Defendant's vehicle:

THE COURT: So when the defendant's vehicle drove by something triggered in your mind I should follow that vehicle because something is going on here.
THE WITNESS: Yes.
THE COURT: But you can't tell me what you thought was going on.
THE WITNESS: I can't recall specifically what drew my attention to that vehicle.
THE COURT: When you left the median you were specifically targeting the defendant's vehicle to follow.
THE WITNESS: Yes.

(Hr'g Tr. at 33-34.) Officer G.A. observed the alleged driving violation as he caught up to Defendant's vehicle:

Q. Okay. If you could continue. What did you see?
A. The vehicle was ahead of me and I was catching it. As I caught up to it, it appeared to be approximately three car lengths behind the vehicle in front. That was the violation in question.

(Id. at 14-15.) Officer G.A.'s vehicle visually recorded the traffic stop beginning at thirty seconds before he activated his emergency lights.

THE COURT: Okay. So at what point did you determine that he was following too closely to the vehicle in front of him?
THE WITNESS: There was the video evidence that he was following too close. Again, I -- at the time I don't remember specifically if there was a violation before, so when I refer back to my memory I'm comfortable in looking ...

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