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United States v. Maestas

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 20, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Raymond Maestas’ Motion to Suppress Tangible Evidence and Statements (ECF No. 20). The Court held a hearing on the motion on August 20, 2019. Having considered the motion, briefs, evidence, arguments, and being otherwise fully advised, the Court concludes that the motion should be denied.


         The Court makes the following findings of fact, as supported by the record, in accordance with Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

         Around 7:00 p.m. on the evening of February 14, 2017, Albuquerque Police Department Officer Christopher Luthi was in a Dion’s Restaurant near Gibson and University Boulevards in Albuquerque when a loud car crash drew his attention. See Motion Hearing Transcript 13:16-17; 14:12-25-15:1-7 (“Mot. Hr’g. Tr.”). He arrived on the scene and saw that a red pickup truck had rear-ended a silver one and that both trucks were blocking the roadways. Id. 16:7-8; 16:17. Defendant was the driver of the red truck, which sustained heavy front-end damage and had an airbag deployed. Id. 17:7-9; 23:23-25. Officer Luthi went to obtain a driver’s license, registration, and insurance from both Defendant and the driver of the silver truck. Id. 17:21-22. Defendant was able to produce a Social Security card, but was otherwise unable to produce a driver’s license or proof of vehicle registration. Id. 18:8-11. Using Defendant’s Social Security card, full name, and date of birth, Officer Luthi ran that information through a computer program that linked to Defendant’s driver’s license history. Id. 26:10-13. That query revealed that Defendant’s driver’s license was suspended. Id. 18:17-21.

         Within minutes, two other APD officers, Stella Candelaria and Coty Maxwell, arrived on the scene in a police car. Id. 20:12-13. Officer Candelaria had recently returned to working for APD from another law enforcement agency, so Officer Maxwell’s role was to provide Officer Candelaria refresher training. Id. 117:10-19. But for all purposes Officer Candelaria was the primary investigating officer that night. Id. 118:14. Officer Luthi briefed Officer Candelaria about the information concerning Defendant, and told her that Defendant kept trying to inch towards his vehicle as Officer Luthi spoke to him. Id. 20:18-21; 52:15-18. Both Officer Candelaria and Officer Luthi noticed a bag of brown colored liquid in the vehicle Defendant was driving, and the officers discussed between themselves whether it was urine or possibly liquid heroin. Id. 21:1-12. Additionally, a back-up University of New Mexico police officer who had earlier arrived on the scene told Officer Candelaria that he had frisked Defendant and that drugs may be involved because Defendant had a large amount of cash in his pocket. Id. 49:19-25.

         Footage from Officer Candelaria’s lapel camera shows the vehicles on the public roadways and impeding traffic. See DVD: Lapel Camera Video of Officer Stella Candelaria, Govt.’s Ex. 1 (“Candelaria Lapel Camera”). Defendant is seen standing on the scene, unhandcuffed and not close to his truck. Officer Candelaria asked Defendant whether his driver’s license was valid, and Defendant answered that it was suspended. See Mot. Hr’g Tr. 53:1-7. The officer asked Defendant if he was on probation, and he answered that he was on parole for drug trafficking, which Officer Candelaria later confirmed using a computer system. Id. 68:20-23; 69:1-2. Officer Candelaria told Defendant the truck would be towed because its airbags were deployed, and asked Defendant if any drugs or weapons were in the vehicle. See Transcript of Lapel Camera Video of Officer Stella Candelaria, Govt.’s Ex. 1A, 6:2-8 (“Candelaria Lapel Camera Tr.”). She told Defendant to not go inside his vehicle until she searched it to confirm that no weapons or drugs were within. Id. 6:10-12.

         The officer asked Defendant for the vehicle’s registration and insurance paperwork. See Mot. Hr’g. Tr. 50:18-24. Defendant responded that the insurance paperwork was in the glove compartment. Id. 53:12. Before going to the vehicle’s glove box to look for the insurance paperwork, Officer Candelaria briefed Officer Maxwell, telling him that she would likely cite Defendant for lack of insurance and for having a suspended driver’s license and that she would tow the truck Defendant drove. Id. 53:15-24.

         When Officer Candelaria searched the glove compartment, she was unable to find insurance paperwork, so she moved to the rear portion of truck, opened the door, and looked if the paperwork was stored in a pocket behind the passenger seat. Id. 55:5-14. Lapel footage shows her shining her flashlight in the rear portion of the cabin. See Candelaria Lapel Camera. She shined her flashlight onto a backpack on the rear floorboard and briefly nudged the backpack away as she continued looking for Defendant’s proof of insurance. Id. Officer Candelaria observed that the backpack’s zipper was widened about six to eight inches, but otherwise there was nothing about the backpack that made her “look twice.” Mot. Hr’g. Tr. 55:15-17; 56:2-10; 108:25-109:1-10.

         Officer Candelaria called in the wrecker to tow the pickup truck because the airbags rendered it inoperable and because Defendant’s license was suspended. Id. 57:3-8. This decision was made roughly eight minutes into the investigation. Id. 158:7-11. Albuquerque Police Department policy mandates that a vehicle will be towed under two circumstances. First, when “[t]he driver has been incapacitated, hospitalized, arrested, or when the vehicle cannot be released to a responsible party.” Albuquerque Police Department Procedural Orders, Towing and Wrecker Services, § 2-48-2(B)(1), ECF No. 56-1 (“SOP” or “SOPs”).[1] Second, a vehicle must be towed when the vehicle is “involved in an accident to the extent that it is inoperable … and documented attempts to contact the owner have failed.” Id. § 2-48-2(B)(2). Aside from these two circumstances, the same policy gives officers discretion to summarily impound a vehicle when, among other things, the driver’s license is suspended, or the driver fails to produce proof that the vehicle is insured. See id. § 2-48-2(C)(1)(a), (c). When it becomes necessary to tow a vehicle, offices must inventory the entire vehicle, including “all sealed and locked containers within, ” see id. § 2-48-2(D)(3)(a), and police must conduct the inventory “at or near the time the vehicle was lawfully placed within police custody.” Albuquerque Police Department Procedural Orders, Addition to the Manual, § 2-17-14(D), ECF No. 37-2.

         Defendant agreed to wait inside the officers’ patrol car to keep out of the winter cold, and Defendant permitted officers to handcuff him while he waited in the car. See Mot. Hr’g. Tr. 60:17-25 – 61:1-7. Defendant asked Officer Maxwell to retrieve his cigarettes and cell phone from within the truck. Id. 125:15-18. As Officer Maxwell went to get those items from the vehicle, Officer Candelaria filled-out APD’s Tow-In Report, the form on which officers are required to list inventoried property. See SOP § 2-48-2(D)(3). Defendant sat in the backseat directly behind Officer Candelaria as she filled out the report. See Mot. Hr’g. Tr. 63:22-25. Although Officer Candelaria testified that she was familiar with the purpose of APD’s inventory policy – namely, to protect the suspect’s property, to protect officers and the public, and to safeguard APD from lawsuits – she did not complete the inventory report because she believed there was “nothing of value … so [she] did not write anything on that space.” Id. 58:22-25 – 59:16; 63:9-21; Govt.’s Ex. 7. Nor did officers list small black speakers in the truck that presumably were of value. Id. 145:1-11.

         Meanwhile, as Officer Maxwell went to the truck to get Defendant’s cigarettes and cell phone, he began inventory searching the vehicle. See Mot. Hr’g. Tr. 126:21-25. He spent about two-and-a-half minutes inventorying the truck. Id. 147:22-24. Seeing the partially opened backpack on the truck’s floorboard, Officer Maxwell shined his flashlight within the zipper’s opening and saw a gun within. Id. 129:10-12; 129:19-25 – 130:1-3.

         Officer Maxwell came back to the police vehicle that Officer Candelaria and Defendant were in, and whispered to Officer Candelaria that he found a gun in the backpack in the truck. Id. 65:13; 65:22-25 – 66:1-6. Officer Candelaria then went to the truck and shined her flashlight within the backpack’s opening, revealing the gun. Id. 66:16-17. She widened the backpack’s zipper further, revealing a brown tar substance inside. Id. 68:11-13. Once she observed the gun and substance, she stopped inventory searching the truck and seized the backpack. Id. 70:11-13. Once again, both Officer Candelaria and Officer Maxwell failed to make a written inventory of the backpack, gun, and drugs. Id. 70:11-14; 110:21-25.

         Officer Candelaria then called Defendant’s parole officer and explain what she found. Id. 69:2-5. The parole officer revoked Defendant’s parole and authorized Officer Candelaria to arrest Defendant for parole violation, which Officer Candelaria immediately did. Id. 69:3-5; Def.’s Ex. A at 2. The officer then asked Defendant what he knew about the backpack and if it belonged to him. See Mot. Hr’g. Tr. 70:20-21. He responded that it possibly belonged to a friend. Id. 70:24.

         In the course of the investigation, Officer Candelaria also learned from running the truck’s license plate that it belonged to Jessica Martinez. Id. 64:7-15. Defendant acknowledged to the officer that Ms. Martinez was his girlfriend and Defendant told her that he had been driving Ms. Martinez’s car for about three weeks. Id. 64:18-25 – 65:1-3; Def.’s Ex. A at 2. Defendant would not, however, provide Ms. Martinez’s phone number. See Def.’s Ex. A at 2.

         In her post-accident report, Officer Candelaria wrote that she “searched the vehicle pursuant to being towed located the [] backpack” and “seized the [backpack] and its contents and … tagged [it] into evidence.” Def.’s Ex. A at 2. Officer Maxwell wrote in a supplemental report that “while completing an inventory search pursuant to tow a black 9mm Ruger LC9 was located.” Govt.’s Ex. 8 at 3. According to Defendant’s motion and the Government’s response brief, about one week after the car crash, while in custody at the jailhouse, Defendant waived his Miranda[2]rights and gave a recorded statement ...

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