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United States v. Martinez-Beltran

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 20, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Arturo Esteban Martinez-Beltran, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          HONORABLE LYNNETTE C. KIMMMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court are Defendant's Motion to Suppress Reasonable Suspicion of Stop and Defendant's Motion to Suppress Statements. (Docs. 20, 21.) The government filed responses on December 14, 2018. (Docs. 22, 23.) No. replies were filed. This matter was referred to the Court for a hearing and a report and recommendation, pursuant to LRCrim 57.6. Evidence and argument were heard on February 6, 2019.[1](Doc. 32.) This matter was submitted following oral argument at the conclusion of the hearing.

         Defendant argues that law enforcement did not have reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle; therefore, all evidence obtained after the stop, including the ammunition and Defendant's statements, should be suppressed. Having now considered the matter, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the District Court, after its independent review, grant Defendant's motion to suppress based on an illegal traffic stop. Because granting the motion based on the stop results in the suppression of all evidence obtained after the stop, including Defendant's statements, the Court need not reach Defendant's separate motion to suppress his statements.[2]

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Defendant Arturo Esteban Martinez-Beltran is charged with smuggling goods from the United States and possession of ammunition by a non-immigrant alien. (Doc. 8.) Trial is currently set for April 16, 2019. (Doc. 30.)

         On May 26, 2018, Arizona DPS Officer Barry Anderson received from another officer a “be on the lookout” advisory for a 2003 black Mercedes SUV with Mexican license plate number VTL596A. (RT at 8-9, 21-22, 33.) Officer Anderson spotted the identified vehicle heading eastbound on I-10 at milepost 228. (Id. at 9-10.) He observed the vehicle driving at 70 miles per hour in the middle lane of the three-lane highway. (Id. at 10.) The vehicle maintained its speed and lane-location for approximately two miles prior to the officer stopping it. (Id. at 10-11, 14, 24, 27.) Officer Anderson determined the SUV was in violation of A.R.S. § 28-721 because it was travelling below the 75-mile-per-hour speed limit outside of the right-hand lane. (Id. at 11.) Due to heavy traffic conditions on that Friday of Memorial Day weekend, the officer testified he was concerned that a vehicle driving below the speed limit in the center lane could impede traffic and cause a collision. (Id. at 12-13.)

         The Court admitted video recordings from Officer Anderson's two dashboard cameras, both of which begin approximately 30 seconds, or just over one-half mile, prior to Officer Anderson turning on his lights to effectuate a stop of the SUV. (Id. at 23, 24, 26-27; Exs. 25 (direct in-front view), 26 (wide-angle view).) At that time, the SUV was between mileposts 229 and 230. (RT at 18.)

         At the beginning of the video, the SUV is approaching a semi-truck in the right-hand lane and there is a sedan behind the truck that the SUV had passed prior to the video beginning. (Ex. 26; RT 28, 27.) The officer testified that the violation occurred prior to the SUV passing those vehicles, which was allowed from the center lane under the statute. (RT at 18, 27-28.) In the mile-and-a half prior to the video recording, Officer Anderson stated that there was space for the SUV to travel in the right-hand lane. (Id. at 34.) However, Officer Anderson also confirmed that prior to initiating his emergency lights for the stop, the SUV was overtaking the sedan and semi-truck. (Id.)

         In the first thirty seconds of the video, one vehicle is seen passing the SUV in the left-hand lane. (Ex. 26; RT 28.) Officer Anderson acknowledged that two vehicles passed the SUV on the left between milepost 228 and 230, and that the left-hand lane was clear for passing. (RT at 28.) However, the officer opined that the traffic seen driving by shortly after the stop revealed that traffic was backed-up by the SUV. (Id. at 18, 29.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         Defendant argues that Officer Anderson did not have reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle based on a traffic violation; therefore, all evidence flowing from the illegal stop should be suppressed based on the exclusionary rule.

         The Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures extends to the brief investigatory stop of a vehicle. See United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878 (1975). Therefore, an officer must have a “reasonable suspicion” that criminal activity may be afoot to stop a motorist. United States v. Diaz-Juarez, 299 F.3d 1138, 1141 (9th Cir. 2002). A stop is valid if the officer had reasonable suspicion to believe the driver violated a traffic law, regardless of the officer's intent in stopping the vehicle. See Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996) (holding that a pretextual stop is valid if supported by probable cause); United States v. Lopez-Soto, 205 F.3d 1101, 1104 (9th Cir. 2000) (clarifying that an investigatory traffic stop requires only reasonable suspicion).

         When the Court makes reasonable-suspicion determinations, it must look at the “totality of the circumstances” of each case to see whether the detaining officer has a “particularized and objective basis” for his or her suspicions about criminal activity. United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002). An investigatory stop must be based on facts, not the “mere subjective impressions of a particular officer, ” United States v. Hernandez-Alvarado, 891 F.2d 1414, 1416 (9th Cir. 1989), and the inferences drawn by the officer must be objective and reasonable, United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 418 (1981).

         Officer Anderson's stop of Defendant's SUV was based on a violation of ...


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