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People v. Chavez-Barragan

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

September 26, 2016

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellant
Amadeo Chavez-Barragan, Defendant-Appellee

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

          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 Moya Denver, Colorado


          HOOD, JUSTICE

         ¶1 This is the second of two interlocutory appeals in this case. Both resulted from orders of the Morgan County District Court suppressing methamphetamine found in the defendant's truck and the defendant's incriminating statements to police after they discovered the drugs.

         ¶2 In the first appeal, we reversed the trial court's order suppressing this evidence because we concluded that police lawfully stopped the defendant, Amadeo Chavez-Barragan, for failure to drive within a single lane (commonly known as weaving). Because the trial court had not ruled on other issues raised in the suppression motion, such as the voluntariness of Chavez-Barragan's alleged consent to the search that revealed the drugs, our ruling was limited: We determined only that the initial stop was constitutional.

         ¶3 On remand, the trial court again suppressed the evidence. It concluded that the seizure that followed the initial stop was unreasonable. It also concluded that Chavez-Barragan's consent to the search was involuntary because he was seized when he consented and coercive police conduct overbore his will. Because it determined the consent to search was invalid, the trial court suppressed the methamphetamine. And because Chavez-Barragan's incriminating statements came on the heels of what it perceived as an invalid search, the trial court decided the statements were tainted and suppressed them as well. The People appealed a second time.

         ¶4 We again reverse the trial court's suppression order. We conclude on the facts presented here that the investigatory detention following the traffic stop was reasonable and that Chavez-Barragan's consent to the search was voluntary. Thus, the drugs found in the truck should not have been suppressed. And because no illegal police conduct preceded Chavez-Barragan's statements, the trial court erred in suppressing them as fruit of the poisonous tree.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶5 Just before 3:00 a.m. on October 11, 2014, Morgan County Sheriff's Deputy Shawna Ponce pulled over Chavez-Barragan, who was driving a semi-truck on Interstate 76. As set forth in People v. Chavez-Barragan, 2016 CO 16, ¶ 2, 365 P.3d 981, 982, members of a federal drug task force began following Chavez-Barragan after seeing him in the company of an individual under investigation. After a task force member asked Deputy Ponce to develop a basis for a traffic stop, she pulled the defendant over for weaving in violation of section 42-4-1007(1)(a), C.R.S. (2016). Chavez-Barragan, ¶¶ 3-6, 365 P.3d at 982. The People did not assert that suspicion of drug activity justified the stop. Id. at ¶ 7, 365 P.3d at 982. We upheld the stop on the basis of the suspected traffic offense. Id. at ¶ 23, 365 P.3d at 986. This case picks up factually where that one left off.[1]

         ¶6 After the truck pulled over, Deputy Ponce motioned for the driver to step out of the truck. Chavez-Barragan, the truck's only occupant, complied. The two had a brief conversation near the back of the truck during which Deputy Ponce explained the reason for the stop and asked Chavez-Barragan whether he had any weapons on him. The defendant said no but agreed to a pat down; Deputy Ponce found no weapons. The two then walked to the front of the truck and soon returned with Chavez-Barragan carrying what the trial court described as a "log book." About this time, Deputy Ponce took possession of Chavez-Barragan's driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance.[2]

         ¶7 Deputy Ponce asked Chavez-Barragan whether the truck contained any drugs, weapons, or large quantities of cash. After Chavez-Barragan responded no, she asked if it would be okay for her to search the truck. He said yes. This conversation took place in the first three minutes of the traffic stop.

         ¶8 Feeling it was "pretty cold outside, " and noticing that Chavez-Barragan was dressed less warmly than she was, Deputy Ponce asked Chavez-Barragan whether he wanted to sit in her patrol car. She testified that she simply wanted the two of them to be warm while Chavez-Barragan completed a written consent-to-search form. She did not testify whether Chavez-Barragan embraced her invitation to sit in the car, and she could not recall who opened the car's front door. The trial court found that Deputy Ponce "directed" Chavez-Barragan to sit in the vehicle's front seat. While he was in the patrol car, Chavez-Barragan was unrestrained and the door was unlocked. Once he sat down, Deputy Ponce conferred outside the car with other officers who had arrived.

         ¶9 At 3:04 a.m., about eight minutes after the initial stop, Deputy Ponce re-entered her car and explained to the defendant that no search had begun and that her partner, Deputy Campbell, would remain with Chavez-Barragan in the patrol car while Deputy Ponce searched the truck. She told the defendant he could tell Deputy Campbell to terminate the search at any time. She asked, "You okay with that?" Chavez-Barragan said, "Sounds good."

         ¶10 Deputy Ponce then handed Chavez-Barragan an English-language consent form, but he said he could read English only "a little." Because he stated he could read Spanish, Deputy Ponce provided him with a Spanish-language form. That form stated that the defendant could refuse to consent to the search. Deputy Ponce completed the vehicle description portion, and Chavez-Barragan signed the form.

         ¶11 Deputy Ponce asked Chavez-Barragan if he had any questions, and when he did not respond, she reiterated that he could tell Deputy Campbell to stop the search and that she would abide by his decision. She then asked what Chavez-Barragan was hauling. He said the trailer contained plastic. Asked if there was anything illegal in the trailer or the cab, Chavez-Barragan said there was not. She asked, "So, it's okay that I search the cab of the truck?" Chavez-Barragan replied, "Sure." And when Deputy Ponce explained that meant she was "going to look in there, " he said, "Check, no problem."

         ¶12 Officers began searching the truck around 3:10 a.m., about fourteen minutes after the initial stop. Chavez-Barragan and Deputy Campbell observed from the patrol car and made small talk. About twenty minutes into the search, plain-clothes officers attempted to search the truck's trailer; Chavez-Barragan made no objection. On the contrary, he offered to retrieve the trailer keys. A few minutes after 4:00 a.m., the search moved to the truck's engine compartment, where deputies discovered a package containing methamphetamine.[3]

         ¶13 Officers confronted Chavez-Barragan with this discovery, and he made incriminating statements. After the search, Deputy Ponce called Chavez-Barragan's ID into dispatch; she returned his driving documents sometime after 4:30 a.m.

         ¶14 The People charged Chavez-Barragan with possession with intent to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance (more than 112 grams). See § 18-18-405(1), (2)(a)(I)(B), C.R.S. (2016). He moved to suppress the drugs and his statements, and the trial court granted these motions because it concluded the initial stop was illegal. The People filed an interlocutory appeal, and we reversed. Chavez-Barragan, ¶ 24, 365 P.3d at 986.

         ¶15 On remand, the trial court concluded that the traffic seizure was unreasonable and thus unconstitutional. The trial court also concluded that the People failed to prove the defendant's consent was voluntary. It therefore suppressed the methamphetamine and likewise suppressed the statements as fruit of the illegal search.

         ¶16 The People again sought interlocutory review pursuant to section 16-12-102(2), C.R.S. (2016), and C.A.R. 4.1.

         II. Analysis

         ¶17 We begin by considering the circumstances surrounding the investigatory detention following the initial traffic stop. Because the duration of the detention resulted from the search of the truck that Chavez-Barragan purportedly authorized, we then assess whether he voluntarily consented to the search. Under the totality of the circumstances presented here, we conclude his consent was voluntary. The search, therefore, was lawful. Finally, we address Chavez-Barragan's statements and determine they should not have been suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. The seizure and search that preceded his admissions were both reasonable, and thus no prior illegality tainted the statements. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's suppression order.

         A. Scope and Duration of Traffic Stop 1. ...

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