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United States v. Mize

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 25, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Andrew Paul Mize, et al. Defendants.


          Honorable Jennifer G. Zipps United States District Judge

         In an October 12, 2017 Report (“R&R”) (Doc. 226), Magistrate Judge Thomas Ferraro recommended denying: (1) Defendant Slayden's Motion for Reconsideration and Rehearing on Motion to Suppress (Doc. 133); (2) Slayden's Amended Motion to Suppress (Doc. 148); and (3) Defendant Mize's Motion to Suppress Illegal Checkpoint Search (Doc. 136). The Defendants filed timely Objections to the R&R (Docs. 230 & Doc. 232), [1] and the Government filed a response to the Objections. (Doc. 234.) A technical amendment was made to the R&R on December 22, 2017 to correct the caption. (Doc. 239.) Upon independent review of the record, the Court will adopt the Report and Recommendation (Doc. 239).


         The Court reviews de novo the objected-to portions of the R&R. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). The Court reviews for clear error the unobjected-to portions of the Report and Recommendation. Johnson v. Zema Systems Corp., 170 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir.1999); see also Conley v. Crabtree, 14 F.Supp.2d 1203, 1204 (D. Or. 1998).

         Credibility findings of a magistrate judge may be adopted without conducting further evidentiary review. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, if a district court rejects the credibility findings of the magistrate judge, a de novo hearing is required. United States v. Ridgway, 300 F.3d 1153, 1157 (9th Cir. 2002).


         The parties do not challenge the Magistrate Judge's factual findings-only the legal significance of those findings.[2] Accordingly, the Court will adopt the findings as set forth in the Factual Background section of the R&R. (Doc. 239.)


         Defendant Slayden argues that the Magistrate Judge erred by: (a) declining to evaluate whether the border patrol checkpoint was constitutional; (b) finding that Defendants' detention at the checkpoint was not an arrest without probable cause; (c) concluding Defendant was not subjected to custodial interrogation in violation of Miranda v. Arizona; (d) determining Agent Smith and Ranger Rinck's erroneous October 5, 2016 testimony was reasonably mistaken rather than recklessly false; (5) concluding the canine Anouk alerted to Defendants' vehicle, providing probable cause to search the vehicle; and (6) failing to address his claim that the warrantless search of the vehicle was unconstitutional. (Doc. 230, p. 1-2.)

         Defendant Mize raises two objections: (1) the Magistrate Judge failed to address the border checkpoint's constitutionality by analyzing its primary purpose, and (2) if the constitutionality of the border patrol checkpoint is not at issue, the Magistrate Judge incorrectly applied border-crossing law to find that Defendants were not arrested, but were merely detained, at the border checkpoint. (Doc. 232.)

         A. The Magistrate Judge did not err in failing to evaluate the constitutionality of the checkpoint.

         Defendants Slayden and Mize argue that stop of their vehicle was illegal because it occurred at a border patrol checkpoint that operates as a general crimes checkpoint. Defendants' argument misses the mark.

         General crimes checkpoints are unlawful. United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 556-64 (1976). Unlike immigration checkpoints, general crimes checkpoints cannot be used to stop vehicles and develop reasonable suspicion or probable cause for detention or arrest. Id.; cf. United States v. Soto-Zuniga, 837 F.3d 992, 998-99 (9th Cir. 2016) (immigration checkpoints provide an exception to the general rule that a search or seizure is unreasonable unless it rests on individualized suspicion; immigration control is a valid purpose for stopping cars and posing questions without individualized suspicion.) The checkpoint's legality is not relevant here because the authority of the checkpoint was not used as a basis for forming reasonable suspicion.

         Reasonable suspicion exists when the totality of the circumstances support a “particularized and objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing.” United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002). Here reasonable suspicion existed that Defendants were transporting marijuana in their vehicle before the Defendants arrived at the checkpoint. As set forth in the R&R, Border Patrol Agent Hughes observed eight individuals in camouflage cross through a hole in the International Boundary Fence carrying large packages consistent with marijuana bundles; the individuals entered an RV park located adjacent to the border. (Doc. 239, p. 2.) He observed the individuals cross back into Mexico, without the bundles (Doc. 111, 34:1-12), and saw a white utility truck leaving the RV park. (Doc. 239, p. 2.) Agent Hughes radioed the information to Ranger Rinck, who followed the vehicle toward the checkpoint. Ranger Rinck made additional observations about the vehicle that supported an objective, particularized belief that the truck was transporting marijuana. Rinck observed that the truck's bed appeared old and its reflector marks appeared new; the telephone number on the truck's exterior was not hyphenated and did not reach Rural Electric, the business name displayed on the truck; and the license plate was not registered to Rural Electric. (Doc. 239, pp. 2-3.)

         Defendants do not challenge the finding that reasonable suspicion existed prior to the checkpoint. Rather, they argue that law enforcement officers improperly use the checkpoint as a matter of “convenience” to stop vehicles when the agency develops reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. While it may be true that the agents use the checkpoint as a convenience, or, from the agents' perspective, as a safe and controlled environment in which to initiate a vehicle stop, the use of the checkpoint does not merit ignoring the fact that reasonable suspicion supported the detention of Defendants' vehicle. The reasonable suspicion did not become inert as the vehicle traversed the checkpoint regardless of the checkpoint's primary purpose.[3]

         B. The Magistrate Judge did not err in finding that Defendants' were detained, not arrested, at secondary inspection.

         Defendant Slayden objects to the Magistrate Judge's determination that Defendants were not under arrest until the marijuana was found. Defendant Slayden asserts that their stop and detention was not a “temporary detention occasioned by border crossing formalities” because the agents retained the Defendants' drivers licenses, Ranger Rinck pulled in behind Defendants' vehicle and provided security to make sure the Defendants could not leave, and Defendants were told they were detained and not free ...

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