United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS'
MOTION TO SUPPRESS
MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant Jesus
Gomez-Arzate's Motion to Suppress Evidence, filed August
17, 2018 (Doc. 29), joined by his
co-Defendant Guillermo Martinez-Torres (Doc.
31). Having considered the parties' arguments
and applicable law, the Court finds that Defendants'
motion is not well-taken and, therefore, is
13, 2018, Defendant Martinez-Torre and Defendant Jesus
Gomez-Arzate were indicted with possession with intent to
distribute 500 grams and more of a mixture containing
methamphetamine, in violation of 21 USC §§
841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A), and 846. Doc. 15.
Court makes the following factual findings following an
evidentiary hearing. The Court finds the deputies' and
trooper's testimony to be credible.
Initial Traffic Stop.
17, 2018, Defendants were traveling eastbound on Interstate
40 in a 2012 white KIA Soul. After a line of cars passed him,
Deputy Mora pulled out from a median. Around mile marker 133
he spotted the Defendants' vehicle. He observed the Kia
Soul swerving within the right-hand lane, and also straddling
the right-hand white solid line twice. Deputy Mora also
observed that the front driver's side tire appeared to be
angled or out of alignment. Deputy Mora did not observe any
external explanation for why the Kia Soul was swerving, aside
from the front tire being “bent.” At around mile
marker 132, Deputy Mora pulled over the Kia Soul. He
approached the front passenger side window, and immediately
noticed an “overwhelming odor of air freshener”,
from multiple air fresheners. Based on his experience and
training, Deputy Mora knew that an air freshener can be used
to mask the smell of drugs or contraband. Defendant
Martinez-Torres was the driver, and the passenger, Defendant
Gomez-Arzate, purported to be the owner of the car.
Mora explained to the Defendants that he pulled them over
because they were swerving, and that the axle or wheel
appeared to be bent. Deputy Mora asked for and obtained
Defendant Martinez-Torres' driver's license,
registration, and proof of insurance. Defendant
Martinez-Torres produced a California driver's license.
The car had Texas plates, and was registered to an absent
Deputy Mora attempted to speak with Defendants, Defendant
Martinez-Torres stated he didn't understand him. At
approximately 3 minutes and 38 seconds into the stop, Deputy
Mora called for Deputy Mauricio, who spoke fluent Spanish, to
come and translate. Calling other deputies who are bilingual
and fluent in Spanish to translate is common practice within
the department. At around this time, Deputy Mora began
filling out a warning citation.
also clear that a Spanish translator was necessary.
Defendants - multiple times - expressed that they
couldn't understand Deputy Mora. Therefore, it was
reasonable and necessary for Deputy Mora to wait for a
translator to arrive. Without a translator, he could not even
explain the citation or the reason for the traffic stop.
tried to speak with Deputy Mora, while Deputy Mora suggested
they wait for Deputy Mauricio to arrive. Defendants asked
Deputy Mora whether he wanted to know their “motive of
the trip.” Gov. Ex. 3, p. 6. They also
asked about the speed limit. While waiting, Defendant
Martinez-Torres stated that he lived in Santa Ana, California
and that he would like to move to Texas because the rent is
cheaper and there is more work.
Deputy Mauricio arrives during traffic stop (Minute 10:00
to Minute 16:00).
Mauricio arrived at around ten minutes into the stop. It took
him approximately seven minutes to arrive after he was
called. After Deputy Mauricio began translating, there was no
indication that Defendants had any further difficulty in
understanding the deputies.
Mauricio asked for permission to search the VIN number of the
car and both Defendants consented. The deputies checked the
VIN on both the dashboard and the door. This process took a
same time, the deputies also asked permission to ask
questions about Defendants' travel plans. This took
approximately two minutes and fifteen seconds, but overlapped
with the VIN search. Defendant Gomez-Arzate said that they
were coming from California, and were going to Dalhart first,
then Dumas, Texas.
around 13 minutes and 17 seconds, the deputies asked who
owned the car, because neither Defendant was on the
registration. Defendant Gomez-Arzate said the car belonged to
a man in Texas who let them borrow it. They stated the owner
lives in Dumas, and they were going to his house to
“clean it up”, live there, and possibly raise
stated they were traveling to Texas, from California, to
clean up a house to make it habitable. They also stated they
were only staying for three or four days. Then, they were
going back to California for their family, to move to Texas.
around fifteen minutes into the traffic stop, Deputy Mora
explained to Defendant Martinez-Torres that he was giving him
all of his documents back and that he was giving him a
warning citation for hitting the solid white line twice. The
Deputies also explained this to Defendant Gomez-Arzate.
See Gov. Ex. 3, p. 23-24. In his
traffic citation, he noted that Defendant hit the shoulder
solid line twice, and that he violated the careless driving
statute (NMSA § 66-8-114). Gov. Ex. 1.
Deputy Mora gave the citation to Defendant Martinez-Torres,
who signed it.
Further Questioning (minute 16:00 to approximately minute
receiving his documents back and his warning citation,
Defendant Martinez-Torres began walking back to his car.
Deputy Mora said “Guillermo” and Defendant
Martinez-Torres walked back to the patrol car, a distance of
approximately 20 feet.
Mora explained to Defendant Martinez-Torres that he was free
to go, but that he had a couple more questions, “if
that's okay.” His response was inaudible on the
recording. The Deputies repeated a second time “do you
understand that you are free to go?” Defendant
Martinez-Torres responded “yes.” Defendant
Martinez-Torres did not object or indicate he wanted to
approximately twenty minutes into the encounter, the deputies
received consent from Defendant Gomez-Arzate. Deputy Mauricio
explained to Gomez-Arzate that they had only given a warning
to Martinez-Torres for crossing the white line, and that they
told him that he's free to go. They also told
Gomez-Arzate that he was free to go and asked for consent to
ask further questions. Defendant Gomez-Arzate consented.
Gomez-Arzate stated they were going to Dumas, Dalhart, and
Hartley, near Amarillo, to a ranch. They stated the ranch was
forty minutes from Amarillo. They stated they were going
there to clean a house, to work or live there.
deputies then asked where they got the car. They stated they
got the car from the ranch. He stated the previous time he
was there, his truck broke down and the owner lent the KIA
Soul to him. Defendant Gomez-Arzate said he then took the KIA
Soul with him back to California, and that he has had it for
Gomez-Arzate did not know the name of the owner of the car,
but that he knew the name of the owner's friend.
affirmed that they were responsible for everything inside the
car. Defendants denied having any large amounts of money,
drugs, or weapons. Defendants then consented to the search of
the car orally and in writing. They affirmed that they
understood the written consent form and could read Spanish.
The transcript reflects that they also understood Deputy
the Defendants consented to the search, the audio recording
Search of Car.
Deputy Mora was searching the vehicle, he saw tool marks on
the right rear quarter panel. He slightly pulled back the
rear quarter panel and saw a circular void. The rear quarter
panel was held in place with plastic rivets. He then pulled
off the rear quarter panel, and saw two round packages,
wrapped in black tape, which he knew was consistent with
contraband. The search lasted approximately one hour and 30
Court credits Deputy Mora's testimony that he only had to
pull back the quarter panel a slight degree before he saw a
circular void. Based on his experience and training, once he
saw that void, he had reasonable suspicion that the void
deputies apparently removed the air filter. A picture in
evidence shows a toolbox on the car, with the hood open.
There is no evidence in the record that anything else was
done to the engine. Moreover, the Deputies removed the fender
because it was not flush with the car, but also put it back
on. Items were taken out of the trunk and placed on the
ground. There is no evidence of any further
“dismantling” of the car.
argue that evidence resulting from the traffic stop should be
suppressed, because the traffic stop itself either (1) was
not initially valid, or alternatively (2) became invalid
because it was extended for too long. Even if the traffic
stop was valid, Defendants argue either that the resulting
consent to search the car was invalid or outside the scope of
traffic stop is reasonable if it is (1) justified at its
inception and (2) reasonably related in scope to the
circumstances which justified the interference in the first
place.” United States v. Moore, 795 F.3d 1224,
1228 (10th Cir. 2015 (quoting United States v.
Karam, 496 F.3d 1157, 1161 (10th Cir. 2007)).
Initial Traffic Stop was Valid.
argues that the initial traffic stop was not valid, because
it was not supported by reasonable suspicion. The Government
argues that there was reasonable suspicion to stop the car
either for careless driving or for failure to maintain the
vehicle in its lane. The Court agrees with the Government.
justify a traffic stop at its inception, “an officer
needs only reasonable suspicion-that is, a particularized and
objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped
of breaking the law. [T]he government bears the burden of
proving the reasonableness of the officer's
suspicion.” United States v. Vance, 893 F.3d
763, 773 (10th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks and
citations omitted). “For reasonable suspicion to exist,
an officer need not rule out the possibility of innocent
conduct; he or she simply must possess some minimal level of
objective justification for making the stop.”
United States v. Winder, 557 F.3d 1129, 1134 (10th
Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).