United States District Court, D. Arizona
G. Murray Snow Chief United States District Judge.
before the Court is the Motion to Suppress of Defendant
Joseph Minh McReynolds (Doc. 33). For the following reasons
the motion is denied.
19, 2018, Officer G. Varela of the Colorado River Indian
Tribes Police Department (“CRITPD”) pulled over a
car for speeding-he clocked the car traveling at 51 miles per
hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone-in Parker, Arizona. Officer
Varela, while an employee of the CRITPD, is also certified by
the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, and
so is authorized to enforce both tribal and state law.
Officer Varela was wearing a body camera during the incident
and recorded his interactions with the two individuals in the
car: Travis Malara, the driver, and Defendant, the passenger.
Varela approached the car and asked Malara if he was aware
how fast he had been driving. Officer Varela asked Malara for
his driver's license, and Malara stuttered as he
answered. Officer Varela interpreted this action as Malara
acting nervously. He therefore requested identification from
Defendant as well. Because Officer Varela believed Malara was
acting nervously, he asked the two men if they had any
weapons. Defendant informed Officer Varela that he had a
firearm in the front-right pants pocket.
Varela then informed Defendant that he would come around to
the passenger side of the vehicle and remove the weapon from
the vehicle. He told Defendant to not make any sudden moves
and keep his hands in view. Officer Varela approached
Defendant, asked if the gun had ammunition chambered (it
did), and removed it from Defendant's pocket. When asked
if he had any other weapons, Defendant said no.
Varela then called in Malara's and Defendant's names
to dispatch to conduct a records check. While the check was
being conducted, Officer Varela asked the two men if there
were any drugs in the car and if Defendant had anything else
on his person. Defendant said no. Officer Varela then called
in the firearm's serial number to dispatch. While the
records checks were being performed, Officer Varela and other
officers who had arrived removed Malara and Defendant from
records check revealed that Malara had a non-extraditable
warrant issued for him in California, and that there may also
have been a “mental health order” for Malara.
Dispatch also informed Officer Varela that Defendant had
“major priors in the last seven years” and that
he was currently on supervised release. Officer Varela
therefore decided to request a more in-depth check of
Defendant to determine if he was a prohibited possessor.
However, dispatch was unable to contact Defendant's
probation officer to confirm that he was a prohibited
possessor. The stop ended less than twenty minutes after it
began, but Officer Varela informed Defendant that CRITPD
would be keeping Defendant's firearm until it could
confirm that he was not a prohibited possessor. Officer
Varela did not issue a citation to Malara, but instead gave
him a verbal warning.
days later, Defendant's probation officer informed CRITPD
that Defendant was a prohibited possessor. CRITPD
communicated the information to the United States
Attorney's Office, which then filed this action against
Defendant, charging him with a single count of prohibited
possession. Defendant now moves to suppress all evidence
obtained during the traffic stop as well as any statements he
allegedly made while he was detained by Officer Varela during
the traffic stop.
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides
that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their
persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable
searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” U.S.
Const. amend. IV. Traffic stops by law enforcement implicate
the Fourth Amendment “because stopping an automobile
and detaining its occupants constitute a seizure . . . even
though the purpose of the stop is limited and the resulting
detention quite brief.” Delaware v. Prouse,
440 U.S. 648, 653 (1979); United States v. Choudhry,
461 F.3d 1097, 1100 (9th Cir. 2006). For a traffic stop to be
constitutional, law enforcement officers must have
“reasonable suspicion” that a person in the car
is breaking the law. Heien v. North Carolina, 574
U.S. 54, 135 S.Ct. 530, 536 (2014); Choudhry, 461
F.3d at 1100 (citing United States v. Lopez-Soto,
205 F.3d 1101, 1104 (9th Cir. 2000)). “Officers have
reasonable suspicion when specific, articulable facts[, ]
together with objective and reasonable inferences, form the
basis for suspecting that the particular person detained is
engaged in criminal activity.” Choudhry, 461
F.3d at 1100 (quoting United States v.
Montero-Camargo, 280 F.3d 1122, 1129 (9th Cir. 2000) (en
banc)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Officer Varela had authority to make the traffic
contends that Officer Varela, as a member of the CRITPD,
lacked authority to enforce the law against Malara and
Defendant because neither are tribal members or nonmember
Indians. “An Indian tribe's authority to enforce
criminal laws on tribal land is nuanced. On tribal land, a
tribe has inherent powers as a separate sovereign to enforce
criminal laws, but only as to its tribal members and
nonmember Indians.” United States v. Cooley,
919 F.3d 1135, 1141 (9th Cir. 2019) (citing United States
v. Lara, 541 U.S. 193, 197-99 (2004)). Tribes'
“authority over non-Indians is more limited. A tribe
has no power to enforce tribal criminal law as to
non-Indians, even when they are on tribal land.”
Id. But “[t]ribal officers are often delegated
authority by a ...