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United States v. Medina-Rosas

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 21, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Hector Medina-Rosas, Defendant.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE JENNIFER G. ZIPPS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The pending motion to suppress (Doc. 41) challenges a pretextual traffic stop of Defendant Hector Medina-Rosas by Pima County Sheriff's Deputy Carlos Ruiz. Deputy Ruiz testified that on September 20, 2017, he was working as part of the Border Interdiction Unit. The primary purpose of this unit is to cooperate with federal agencies to stop vehicles that are believed to be involved in drug and weapons trafficking. Agent Ruiz testified that he was provided information about Defendant's vehicle in relation to a weapons violation investigation, and was asked to develop independent reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle and to attempt to search the vehicle.

         After an evidentiary hearing, at which Deputy Ruiz was the sole witness, Magistrate Judge Bernardo P. Velasco issued a Report recommending denial of the motion to suppress. (Doc. 60.) Judge Velasco concluded that Deputy Ruiz had reasonable suspicion to stop Defendant's vehicle for failure to yield by moving to the right-hand lane, which is a traffic violation. (Doc. 60.) In his Report and Recommendation (R&R), Judge Velasco found: “Ruiz, intended, if possible, to effect the stop. If he could not develop an appropriate reason to stop [the defendant's vehicle], he was not going to stop, but rather leave it alone and let it proceed wherever it was going.” (Doc. 60, p. 2). Judge Velasco concluded, “there is no doubt that Deputy Ruiz would not stop the vehicle if no such cause existed.” (Id. at 3.)

         Defendant filed his Objection to the R&R on October 5, 2018, and the Government filed a Response on October 16, 2018. (Docs. 68, 71.) Defendant challenges Magistrate Judge Velasco's legal conclusion that the traffic stop was supported by reasonable suspicion. Defendant argues that Judge Velasco erred by relying on Deputy Ruiz's testimony, which was not credible because: (1) Deputy Ruiz omitted material facts from his incident reports in order to obscure the actual motivation for the stop (Doc. 68 at 3); (2) Deputy Ruiz's testimony was inconsistent with his written report of the incident; and (3) the conditions on the night of the stop did not support Deputy Ruiz's claim that a violation of the traffic laws occurred. (Doc. 68.) Defendant asserts Deputy Ruiz's testimony should have been discounted in its entirety and concludes that Deputy Ruiz had no independent basis for making a traffic stop, and that he did so anyway, manufacturing a traffic violation in his incident report.

         Upon independent review of the record the Court will adopt the R&R (Doc. 60) and will deny Defendant's motion to suppress. (Doc. 41.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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 R&R. 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). If the Court rejects the credibility findings of the magistrate judge, a de novo hearing is required. United States v. Ridgeway, 300 F.3d 1153, 1157 (9th Cir. 2002).

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Judge Velasco found that Deputy Ruiz had reasonable suspicion to stop Defendant's vehicle. The R&R states:

[Deputy Ruiz] observed the vehicle traveling north through a construction zone. Deputy Ruiz drove up to a vehicle directly behind the Jetta. The two vehicles in front [of] Deputy Ruiz were traveling at about the same speed, although it appeared the vehicle behind the Jetta was traveling too close. At that time, Deputy Ruiz noticed at least two more vehicles came up behind the first three cars. Altogether five or more cars were on the inside passing lane. As Deputy Ruiz was pacing the Jetta to determine its speed, all vehicles passed at least one, if not two signs, stating that slower traffic must keep to the right. In the course of this pursuit, Deputy Ruiz could observe that there were no vehicles in front of the Jetta obstructing his ability to proceed at a speed of 55 m.p.h. or to move into the right lane. Based upon his observations, Deputy Ruiz concluded that the Jetta was delaying the orderly flow of traffic and violating the directive to move to the right.

         (Doc. 60, p. 2.)

         In concluding that Deputy Ruiz had reasonable suspicion to stop Defendant's vehicle, Judge Velasco reasoned that Defendant was required to move to the right lane because he and the four vehicles trailing him were traveling in the left lane of a two-lane road at 45 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour speed zone. As the lead vehicle, Defendant was required to yield the passing lane to the trailing vehicles. (Doc. 60 at 3.)

         ANALYSIS

         An officer may conduct a traffic stop without violating the Fourth Amendment if the stop is supported by reasonable suspicion that a crime is, has been, or will soon be committed. United States v. Choudhry, 461 F.3d 1097, 1100 (9th Cir. 2006). “[T]he decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic ...


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