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United States v. Reyes-Gomez

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

August 12, 2013



ROBERT E. WIER, Magistrate Judge.

The Court assesses a motion to suppress filed by Defendant, Marcos Reyes-Gomez. DE #17 (Motion). Reyes faces an aggravated methamphetamine trafficking charge related to alleged conduct in Scott County on March 26, 2013. DE #6 (Indictment). The suppression motion challenges the validity of a traffic stop performed by Kentucky State Police (KSP) Trooper Jeremy Devasher. Movant complains that adequate cause did not support the stop. He also challenges the propriety of the ensuing warrantless search of the vehicle. The United States responded in opposition, DE #19 (Response), and Defendant replied. DE #21 (Reply). On June 17, 2013, the Court conducted an evidentiary hearing attended and participated in by all concerned.

The case requires the Court to evaluate the propriety of Trooper Devasher's traffic stop of Reyes's Escalade after the Trooper allegedly viewed Reyes operating the vehicle without a seat belt and whether subsequent events justified a warrantless search of the vehicle. Here, based on the hearing record, Devasher plainly had probable cause to conduct a traffic stop of the vehicle. Further, the later positive drug dog alert established probable cause for the search. As such, under recognized Fourth Amendment warrantexception principles from the Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit, the search of the vehicle was proper. The Court thus recommends denial of the motion to suppress.

I. Hearing and Arguments

The Court encounters and has fully analyzed an extensive record. The record includes the parties' briefing, DE ##17, 19, 21, as well as the hearing and exhibits. The hearing featured testimony from KSP Trooper Devasher and Scott County Sheriff Deputy, and handler of "Hugo, " Jeremy Nettles.

The March 26, 2013 events themselves are not significantly disputed. Trooper Devasher, during the normal course of his duties, was in Scott County preparing to turn onto Lisle Road from the Spindletop Trailer Park when he observed an individual not wearing a seatbelt drive past him in a blue Escalade. Devasher later identified the driver as Defendant, Marcos Reyes-Gomez. It was approximately mid-day (around lunch time) and sunny when Devasher saw Reyes operating the Escalade. Devasher turned and followed the Escalade until he reached a safe location to conduct a traffic stop, approximately half a mile farther. Devasher activated his emergency lights, and Reyes pulled over.

Devasher approached the vehicle on the driver's side and requested Reyes's driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. Devasher visually confirmed that the driver was not wearing a seatbelt.[1] Reyes-Gomez apologized when told of the reason for the stop. Defendant provided proof of registration, which indicated that the car was registered to his sister, Priscilla Reyes, as well as an insurance card and an international driver's license document. Government's Ex. No. 1. Devasher advised Reyes that the tendered driving document was not a legitimate international driver's license. Defendant protested and opened up his wallet, generally indicating the document was all he had. At that point, Devasher asked Reyes to exit the vehicle, in order to investigate/confirm his identity. When questioned by Devasher, Reyes stated that one of the cell phones observable in the car belonged to him and the other to his sister.

Reyes followed Devasher to the cruiser, where the Trooper patted Reyes down and found no weapons. Devasher then sat in the driver's seat while Reyes stood outside on the passenger side of the vehicle. Devasher testified that, at this point, Reyes was cooperative, and he intended only to cite Defendant for the traffic violations, although he also would arrest Reyes if he could not confirm identity. Defendant identified himself as Marco Reyes and provided a date of birth of July 29, 1985. Devasher ran the identifiers Defendant provided through a law enforcement database, and an active Jessamine County warrant surfaced for a "Marcos Reyes" with a date of birth of July 29, 1984. Devasher suspected that Defendant might be the individual named on the warrant, so he exited his vehicle, opened the back passenger door, and advised Reyes that he intended to detain him while he confirmed the validity of the warrant. At that point, Defendant fled the scene on foot. Devasher pursued Reyes, yelling his name and calling out for him to stop. Devasher indicated that, at times, Reyes stopped out of exhaustion, but that Reyes managed to stay ahead of him.

After approximately half a mile, Defendant entered a trailer, into which Devasher then forced entry. Reyes fled to the back of the trailer, causing Devasher to twice utilize his Taser (once with the prongs and once without). Defendant fought through the tasings, and Devasher used closed-fist physical force to finally subdue Defendant. Devasher arrested Reyes, handcuffed him, and walked him back to the scene. Devasher then searched Reyes's person, finding under $1, 000 in cash and 4 Oxycodone 30 mg tablets in a small, unmarked manila envelope in his wallet. Upon discovering the drugs, Trooper Devasher called a canine unit, and Scott County Sheriff Deputy Jeremy Nettles and his dog, Hugo, a German Shepherd, responded.

Per Deputy Nettles and the exhibits, Nettles and Hugo are certified through the North American Police Work Dog Association. The pair was originally certified in a seven-week training course in Elkhart, Indiana, in August 2011, and they return to Elkhart yearly for a two-week recertification. As of November 2012, Hugo is certified in narcotics detection, including marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin; area search; building search; article search; tracking; aggression control; and obedience. Government's Ex. No. 3. Nettles conducts ongoing, controlled-environment training simulations (approximating real-life situations) for Hugo approximately every two weeks. See generally Government's Ex. No 4 (training records from April 30, 2012 to May 21, 2013). Nettles confirmed that Hugo has never alerted in a false positive manner and has been deployed in the field between approximately 27 and 30 times. Defendant offered no proof to undercut Hugo's credentials or reliability.

On the date in question, Nettles was off-duty but close and responded to the call immediately. Per Nettles, he was at home with Hugo when he received the call, and they arrived at the Lisle Road scene within 5-10 minutes. Upon arrival, Trooper Devasher debriefed Nettles, and Nettles guided Hugo around the Escalade. Hugo did not alert on the first pass around the vehicle. Per Nettles, it is not unusual for Hugo not to alert on the first pass. Nettles testified that (as is typical) he guided Hugo very low to the ground during the first pass, raising the guide to door level during the second pass. Hugo alerted to the area between the front and back doors on the driver's side of the vehicle on the second pass. Nettles advised Devasher of the positive alert and stood-by as Devasher and KSP Trooper Hawkins searched the vehicle. Under the front driver's seat, accessible from the rear, Hawkins found a Tupperware container, wrapped in clear cellophane, and overwrapped in a black bag, containing suspected crystal meth. Government's Ex. Nos. 2B-2D. Hawkins field-tested the substance, which tested positive for methamphetamine. Government's Ex. No. 2E.

Devasher then took Reyes to the Drug Enforcement Agency, where agents processed him and filed a criminal Complaint. Defendant appeared before the Court pursuant to the Complaint on March 27, 2013. See No. 5:13-MJ-5103-REW. The grand jury indicted Defendant on April 5, 2013, and District Judge Forester arraigned him on

Per Movant, the traffic stop was invalid and the warrantless search of the Escalade was improper under the Fourth Amendment. Reyes also critiques the lapse of time between the initial stop and the arrival of the canine unit. He claims constitutional violations and seeks suppression as the proper remedy. The United States argues that the initial traffic stop was proper and contends that Reyes lacks standing, via abandonment, to challenge the search of the vehicle. Alternatively, the Government argues that the "automobile exception" to the warrant requirement, premised on Hugo's positive alert, validates the warrantless search of the ...

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