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United States v. Cornejo

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 9, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
RUDIS ALEXANDER CORNEJO, Defendant.

          ORDER SUPPRESSING EVIDENCE

          M. CHRISTINA ARMIJO CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence filed January 27, 2017. [Doc. 26] The Court has considered the written submissions of the parties, the evidence adduced at the April 26, 2017 evidentiary hearing, the record, and the applicable law, and is otherwise fully advised. Defendant's Motion is well taken, and shall be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         Defendant Rudis Alexander Cornejo is charged with nine counts of transporting an illegal alien, contrary to 8 U.S.C. §§ 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii) and (B)(i); and one count of conspiracy to transport an illegal alien, contrary to 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(v)(I). [Doc. 9] Defendant seeks to suppress the evidence against him on the ground that the traffic stop which ultimately led to the charges was not founded upon reasonable suspicion. [Doc. 26 p. 2] The Court held an evidentiary hearing on Defendant's Motion on April 26, 2017. A single witness, Leonard R. Armijo, Deputy First Class of the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department, testified at the hearing.

         DISCUSSION

         The Law Governing the Traffic Stop

         “The validity of a traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment turns on whether [the] particular officer had reasonable suspicion that [the] particular motorist violated any one of the multitude of applicable traffic and equipment regulations of the jurisdiction.” United States v. Valdez-Valdez, 525 F.3d 987, 991 (10th Cir. 2008). Although “[a]n officer's reasonable mistake of fact, as distinguished from a mistake of law, may support the probable cause or reasonable suspicion necessary to justify a traffic stop, an officer's failure to understand the plain and unambiguous law he is charged with enforcing is not objectively reasonable.” Id. (alterations omitted). “The dispositive inquiry is whether state law provided the officer with an objectively justifiable basis for the stop.” Id. at 991-92 (alterations omitted).

         Deputy Armijo initiated a traffic stop based on his suspicion that Defendant had violated New Mexico's “minimum speed regulation” statute. [Exhibit 1] That law provides that “[a] person shall not drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or to be in compliance with law.” NMSA 1978, § 66-7-305(A) (2003). Defendant argues that he was not driving in a manner that violated this statute. [Doc. 26 p. 2]

         Findings of Fact

         1. On June 3, 2016, Deputy Armijo was assigned to the Interstate Enforcement Team. The assignment entailed patrolling Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque.

         2. Deputy Armijo was travelling westbound near Mile Post 140 where there is a slight grade uphill.

         3. Deputy noticed two vehicles travelling in the right lane: a Chevy Tahoe (driven by Defendant) and a commercial motor vehicle.

         4. The right lane is considered the slow lane; the inside or left lane is considered the fast lane.

         5. Detective Armijo was travelling ahead of both vehicles, thus his observations ...


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