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State v. Martinez

Supreme Court of New Mexico

January 2, 2020

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Petitioner,
v.
MIKEL A. MARTINEZ, Defendant-Respondent.

          ORIGINAL PROCEEDING ON CERTIORARI Fred T. Van Soelen, District Judge

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Maris Veidemanis, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Petitioner

          Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender MJ Edge, Assistant Appellate Defender Santa Fe, NM for Respondent

          OPINION

          JUDITH K. NAKAMURA, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         {¶1} Defendant Mikel Martinez moved to suppress all evidence obtained as the fruits of a Terry stop that he alleges was unlawful and led to the discovery that he possessed drugs and drug paraphernalia. The district court determined that the stop was lawful as it was predicated on reasonable, articulable suspicion. The Court of Appeals reversed and held that the officer's suspicion amounted to nothing more than an "unparticularized hunch." State v. Martinez, No. 35, 402, mem. op. ¶¶ 1, 15 (N.M. Ct. App. June 5, 2017) (non-precedential). This case requires us to evaluate what, precisely, the difference is between reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminality and a mere hunch. We conclude that the officer who stopped Martinez was not operating upon a hunch but had "a particularized and objective basis" to suspect that Martinez was engaged in criminal activity. Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 696 (1996) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). We affirm the district court. The Court of Appeals is reversed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         {¶2} Martinez's charges included drug trafficking and possession. Prior to trial, he moved to suppress all evidence the State had to support these charges. At the suppression hearing on the motion, New Mexico State Police Officer Donald Garrison provided the following testimony.

         {¶3} At the time of the hearing, Officer Garrison had been with the New Mexico State Police for twenty years and had significant training and experience in narcotics investigations. On the date he encountered Martinez, Officer Garrison was conducting surveillance of an Allsup's gas station and convenience store, a location at which he knew drugs were purchased and sold with frequency. He had personally purchased drugs at the Allsup's in an undercover capacity "probably 15 to 20 times," and used confidential informants to make "[a]nother probably 20, 30" drug purchases there.

         {¶4} While watching the Allsup's, he saw two men-later identified as Martinez and Don Crespin-drive up to one of the gas pumps at the Allsup's. Martinez was driving. Crespin exited the vehicle, started the gas pump, and then got back in. Martinez also exited and walked towards the convenience store. Before entering the store, he passed a large man. After passing Martinez, the large man walked to Martinez's vehicle; got in the left, rear seat; interacted with Crespin for about two to three minutes; and then exited the vehicle. Martinez left the store and returned to the vehicle. Officer Garrison believed he had just witnessed a "possible narcotics transaction."

         {¶5} Martinez then drove to the side of the Allsup's and parked. After "a few minutes," an SUV appeared and parked next to Martinez and Crespin. A woman exited the SUV; entered Martinez's vehicle again on the left, rear side; stayed in the vehicle for a few minutes; exited; and then reentered the SUV, which drove away. Officer Garrison suspected he had just witnessed a second "illegal narcotics transaction."

         {¶6} Officer Garrison decided to investigate to determine "exactly what was going on." He suspected that Martinez and Crespin were engaged in drug sales, but was "open-minded" and wanted to see if they had "a legitimate reason" for their activity. When asked why he suspected Martinez and Crespin were engaged in drug sales, Officer Garrison explained that "I've done them before, personally done [them], go in and sit inside [the] back of [the] vehicle, right front passenger side, somewhere inside a vehicle, do the drug transaction, and then exit the vehicle. It's just-it was consistent with what I've done and seen."

         {¶7} Officer Garrison pulled his car behind Martinez and Crespin's vehicle, activated his emergency equipment, and made contact with the men. The remainder of the events are established by evidence in the record other than Officer Garrison's testimony.

         {¶8} Crespin would not, despite Officer Garrison's request, keep his hands on the dashboard while they spoke, so Officer Garrison directed Crespin to exit the vehicle and then put him in handcuffs. After Crespin was handcuffed, Officer Garrison discovered a clear, plastic bag containing a white powdery substance he was sure was methamphetamine near the right, rear tire of the vehicle. Martinez was then also detained.

         {¶9} Martinez and Crespin denied throwing the methamphetamine on the ground. Officer Garrison then asked for their consent to search the vehicle. His request was denied, so Officer Garrison summoned a K-9 unit and the dog alerted on the right, rear side of the vehicle. Officer Garrison informed the men that he would obtain a warrant to search the vehicle and that they were free to leave but that the vehicle would remain with him. Once the search warrant was obtained, methamphetamine, marijuana, a scale, cash, and other drug paraphernalia were discovered inside the vehicle.

         {¶10} In his suppression motion, Martinez argued that Officer Garrison did not have reasonable suspicion "at the inception of the seizure" and, therefore, the seizure was unlawful and any fruits of that seizure must be suppressed. Martinez specifically asserted that Officer Garrison's suspicion that he was engaged in drug transactions "did not amount to anything more than an inarticulate hunch that falls short of the reasonable, articulable, and particularized suspicion required to justify a seizure." The district court rejected Martinez's arguments.

         {¶11} The court found that Officer Garrison had knowledge that the Allsup's was a place where drugs were sold and saw Martinez undertake precisely the type of conduct in which those selling drugs engage. Officer Garrison's training, experience, and observations produced, in the court's view, far more than a mere "hunch." He had, the court concluded, reasonable, articulable suspicion of possible criminality to perform a Terry stop. We think it worthwhile to reproduce the district court's own words.

[Y]ou have the suspicious behavior of the car pulling up to a pump, two people in the vehicle, one goes in the store while the other one pumps. While they're pumping, a male approaches the vehicle . . . .
So you go and you sit in the car for two or three minutes, get out, then the car-the people get back in the car, they take off from there. Do they leave? No, they pull to the south side of the same building, sit there four or five minutes without getting out, which I think it is key here, until another vehicle pulls up next to them and basically the same thing happens. A person gets out, gets into the vehicle for a few minutes, gets back out, and takes off.
I think the training and experience of the officers says that is a drug transaction ...

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