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People v. Chavez-Barragan

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

February 29, 2016

the People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellant:
v.
Amadeo Chavez-Barragan, Defendant-Appellee:

Interlocutory Appeal from the District Court. Morgan County District Court Case No. 14CR245. Honorable Douglas R. Vannoy, Judge.

SYLLABUS

The supreme court holds that an assessment of whether a motorist's driving gave rise to a reasonable suspicion of a violation of section 42-4-1007(1)(a), C.R.S. (2015), which requires a vehicle to be driven entirely within a single lane " as nearly as practicable," requires consideration of the totality of the circumstances. The supreme court reverses the trial court's suppression order, which concluded the officer lacked an objectively reasonable basis to stop the defendant. The defendant's semi-truck crossed the line separating the right lane from the shoulder twice, and the supreme court concludes that, under the circumstances, the defendant's driving gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that the statute had been violated. Therefore, the initial stop was reasonable.

Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant: Brittny B. Lewton, District Attorney, Thirteenth Judicial District, Robert C. James, Deputy District Attorney, Fort Morgan, Colorado.

Attorney for Defendant-Appellee: Frank E. Moya, Denver, Colorado.

OPINION

Page 982

HOOD, JUSTICE.

[¶1] Amadeo Chavez-Barragan is charged with possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute. After the trial court granted his suppression motion, the People filed this interlocutory appeal. Because we conclude reasonable suspicion supported the initial stop, we reverse the trial court's order and remand for further proceedings.

I. Facts and Procedural History[1]

[¶2] In October 2014, Colorado and federal law enforcement officials were investigating an individual they suspected of distributing drugs. Chavez-Barragan's ties to this target brought him similar scrutiny. Agents observed them together over a morning and early afternoon, but the two split up later in the day at a service station in Denver. Chavez-Barragan left the service station driving a semi-truck, and law enforcement followed him as he headed east on I-76.

[¶3] Around 2:30 a.m., Drug Enforcement Administration agent Sara McCaslin radioed Morgan County Deputy Shawna Ponce, who was on patrol in nearby Brush. McCaslin described the rig she was following and explained she thought it might contain drugs or maybe cash. However, in her own estimation, she did not have " probable cause" to stop Chavez-Barragan to investigate her drug suspicions, so she asked Officer Ponce to follow the truck and try to develop a basis for a traffic stop.

[¶4] In her marked patrol car, Officer Ponce merged onto the highway behind the truck. Construction on this section of the interstate had closed certain lanes. A row of pylons formed a makeshift center line, and a row of barrels stood along the shoulder.

[¶5] Almost immediately after merging, Officer Ponce observed the trailer " riding" the white fog line that separates the right lane from the shoulder. She then saw the tires of the trailer cross over the line by less than a foot. This happened twice. Officer Ponce believed she had observed a lane violation under section 42-4-1007(1)(a), C.R.S. (2015), but she did not immediately stop the truck. Instead, she followed it another five or six miles through the rest of the construction zone until reaching a place where it was safe to stop. Over that span, she did not witness any other infractions.

[¶6] When the vehicles cleared the construction zone, Officer Ponce switched on her overhead lights. Chavez-Barragan pulled over, and a subsequent search of the truck's engine compartment revealed methamphetamine. ...


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