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United States v. Morales

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

June 4, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JULIAN TRUJILLO MORALES, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CLAIRE V, EAGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Now before the Court is defendant Julian Trujillo Morales's motion to suppress evidence (Dkt. # 31). Defendant is charged by indictment with drug conspiracy in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(A)(viii) (count one), and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A)(viii) (count two). Dkt. # 23. Defendant moves to suppress approximately four (4) kilograms of methamphetamine recovered by Pryor Police Department (PPD) officers in connection with a traffic stop conducted on March 9, 2019. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion to suppress (Dkt. # 34), and attached as an exhibit to the response a compact disc (CD) containing officer body-cam footage (Dkt. # 35). A pretrial conference/suppression hearing was held on May 28, 2019, at which PPD Officer Mitchell Phillips testified. See Dkt. # 45. Pursuant to the Court's request during the hearing, the parties filed notices of supplemental authority (Dkt. ## 46, 47).

         I.

         Officer Phillips's testimony as to the events of the early morning of March 9, 2019 is summarized below and, where appropriate, is supplemented by reference to the body-cam footage. See Dkt. # 35.

         At approximately 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 9, 2019, Phillips observed a silver Toyota RAV-4 SUV, with a Texas paper tag, traveling northbound on Route 69 in Pryor, Oklahoma, and operating fog lights in violation of Oklahoma state law. Phillips signaled for the driver of the Toyota to pull over, and proceeded to conduct a traffic stop in the parking lot of a business located at 715 North Mill Street, Pryor, Oklahoma. Phillips was accompanied by Pryor Police Reserve Officer Steven Dill. Phillips approached the Toyota from the passenger side, and asked the driver and passenger for their licenses and proof of insurance. The driver and the passenger provided their licenses to Phillips. The driver of the vehicle was identified as defendant Morales, and the passenger was identified as Victor Ybarra Robles, Jr.[1] Robles looked for the proof of insurance, but he was unable to find it. Phillips suggested that he might be able to find the vehicle's proof of insurance using his cruiser's in-car computer system.

         Phillips asked defendant to exit the Toyota. While waiting for defendant to exit the Toyota, Phillips shined a flashlight onto the exterior of the Toyota to see what was in plain view through the windows. Phillips performed a brief pat-down of defendant and then placed him into the passenger seat of the patrol car. Phillips testified that defendant showed signs of nervousness when he first entered the patrol car. Specifically, defendant was breathing heavily and his carotid artery was pulsating rapidly. Phillips testified that motorists are generally nervous to some degree when he stops them, but they are usually not as nervous as defendant seemed to be.

         Inside the patrol car, Phillips asked defendant where he and his passenger were headed, and defendant responded that they were headed to work. Phillips asked defendant where they work, what they do, and how long they would be there. Defendant explained that they were going to Springfield, Missouri, that they own a company that cleans Walmarts, and that he was “thinking it'll maybe take ten hours” to clean the Walmart in Springfield. Phillips then asked where he and his passenger were coming from, and defendant stated that they were coming from Dallas, Texas.

         Phillips then turned the conversation to defendant's criminal history. Phillips asked defendant whether he had ever been in trouble and, if so, for what. Defendant responded that he had been in trouble for “possession” and for “automotive burglary.” Phillips asked defendant what he had possessed, and how much of it he had possessed. Defendant responded that he had possessed approximately 116 kilograms of marijuana. Phillips asked defendant where he was arrested for possession, and defendant stated that he was arrested in El Paso, Texas. Phillips asked defendant when he had last crossed the border, and defendant stated that he has not crossed the border.

         Approximately four minutes into the traffic stop, Phillips asked defendant for the name of the passenger. Defendant responded, “I just know him by Vic.” Phillips asked defendant how long he has known “Vic.” Defendant responded that he had started working for him approximately one-and-a-half to two years prior. Phillips asked who owned the Toyota, and defendant responded that he did not know, and that he was just helping to drive.

         Phillips testified that, at this point, which was approximately four minutes and thirty seconds into the traffic stop, he had acquired reasonable suspicion of drug trafficking. Further, Phillips testified that, based on his training, once an officer has reasonable suspicion, the officer's options are to ask for consent to search the vehicle or to request a drug detection canine. In response to the Court's questioning, Phillips testified that he could not request a drug detection canine because there would not have been one available at that time. Moreover, Phillips testified that he did not ask for consent to search at that time, because he had not yet completed the traffic stop. Phillips testified that he wanted to complete the traffic stop, so that he could then address the possible criminal activity.

         Phillips asked defendant how big the Walmart in Springfield is, and defendant responded that it was his first time going to Springfield. Phillips asked which Walmarts defendant usually cleans. Defendant explained that “it is regional, so it could be Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, New Mexico.” Phillips returned to the topic of defendant's criminal history. Phillips asked, “What else have you been in trouble for?” Defendant responded, “That's it.” Phillips asked defendant whether he served time in prison, how much time, and whether he was in state or federal prison. Phillips then asked defendant, once again, for specific details about his possession conviction, such as how many kilograms he had possessed at the time of his arrest, whether he had possessed them in a tractor trailer or car, and whether the crime was related to a drug conspiracy. Phillips then asked whether defendant had anything illegal in the Toyota, and defendant responded that he did not.

         Phillips asked defendant how well he knows the passenger, and defendant again stated that they work together. Phillips asked for which company he works, and defendant stated that it is the passenger's company, and that it is called “Victor Robles, Incorporated.” Phillips then asked defendant for how long they would be in Springfield, and defendant responded, “Approximately a day, but you never know.” Phillips asked defendant how many workers they have, where they were, and what their tasks are. Defendant explained that, other than himself, there are two more people. Approximately nine minutes into the stop, defendant asked Phillips, “So fog lights are illegal here?” Phillips briefly explained that they are illegal whenever you are in traffic and there is not inclement weather. Phillips then exited the patrol car.

         During the entirety of his conversation with defendant, which lasted approximately six minutes (from about minute three to minute nine of the traffic stop), Phillips was simultaneously using his in-car computer system, the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (OLETS), to run the tag number, to find the vehicle identification number, to determine the name of the vehicle's buyer, and to run defendant's and Robles's drivers licenses. Phillips found that the tag was valid, that the vehicle is registered to Yolanda Robles, and that defendant had a valid driver's license and no warrants. Phillips was not able to pull up the vehicle's insurance information using OLETS.

         In response to the Court's questioning, Phillips confirmed that, by the time he exited the patrol car at the end of his conversation with defendant (about minute nine of the stop), he believed his only option with respect to his reasonable suspicion of drug trafficking was to ask for consent to search. As a matter of fact, he did not ask for consent to search until about 32 minutes into the traffic stop.

         Approximately nine minutes into the traffic stop, after speaking to defendant in the patrol car, Phillips approached the Toyota to speak to Robles. Phillips asked Robles where they were headed and for what. Robles responded that they were headed to Joplin, Missouri to clean Walmarts. Phillips asked how long they would be there, and Robles responded “until Sunday, maybe before Sunday.”

         Phillips then asked Robles whether the Toyota is his vehicle, and Robles responded that it is his wife's vehicle. Phillips asked Robles how long they have had the car. Robles responded that they have had the Toyota for a while, but explained that it was his mother-in-law's car, and that she passed away and so it was transferred into his wife's name.

         Phillips then began to ask Robles about his criminal history. Phillips asked Robles whether he had ever been in trouble, and for what. Robles responded that he had been in trouble for dealing drugs. Phillips asked Robles for specific details about his prior drug charges, such as whether he was charged with drug trafficking, with which drugs he was caught, whether it was a conspiracy case, the amount of drugs charged, and whether he served any prison time.

         Phillips asked Robles where they were coming from, and Robles responded that they were coming from Dallas. Phillips once again asked Robles how long they would be in Joplin. Robles responded that it depended, but maybe until Sunday. Phillips then asked Robles for details as to what they do, and who owns the company. Robles stated that they strip and wax floors for Walmart and that he owns the company. Phillips asked for the name of the company, and Robles responded that it is “V and Y Cleaning Services.” Phillips then asked for the name of the driver of the Toyota, and Robles responded that his name is Julian. Phillips asked Robles how long he has known Julian, and Robles responded that he has known him for about two years. Phillips asked how long Julian has been working for him, and Robles responded about three or four months. Phillips asked Robles how long it takes to clean a Walmart. Robles responded ...


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