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Arguello v. Rubio-Sepulveda

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 21, 2017

Judge Christine M. Arguello UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
PAUL RUBIO-SEPULVEDA, a/k/a Pelon, No.-5



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motions to Suppress Evidence, filed on September 19 and 20, 2016. (Doc. ## 1419, 1420, 1421.) The Government filed Responses challenging the Motions on October 3, 2016, (Doc. ## 1430, 1431), and the Court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the Motions on January 5, 2017. Following the hearing, the parties filed supplemental briefing on the suppression issues. (Doc. ## 1582, 1587.) Having reviewed the parties' written and oral arguments, as well as the evidence presented at the hearing, the Court denies the Motions for the following reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are derived from Defendant's motions, the Government's responses, and the evidentiary hearing on the issue.

         Defendant has been charged with numerous criminal counts in connection with his alleged involvement in a drug trafficking organization that has purportedly distributed and sold significant quantities of heroin and cocaine to street-level drug dealers in the Denver, Colorado area. Since at least August 2013, the Drug Enforcement Administration Front Range Task Force (FRTF) had been monitoring Defendant in connection with this alleged activity. At the start, FRTF Investigators only knew Defendant by the name “Pelon.” On January 3, 2013, FRTF investigators were tracking his vehicle, believed that Defendant was in the midst of dealing narcotics, and requested that the Denver Police Department (DPD) conduct a traffic stop of the vehicle so that they might obtain his identity. DPD Officers Randy Yoder and Danny Perez effectuated the stop and requested Defendant's identification. Defendant obliged and was released minutes later.

         On January 14, 2014, FRTF investigators were again tracking Defendant. Based again on their belief that he was in the midst of distributing drugs, the investigators requested that local law enforcement conduct a traffic stop. Officer Michael Jelen of the Westminster Police Department conducted the stop and requested Defendant's driver's license. Defendant could not produce a valid Colorado driver's license and Officer Jelen placed him under arrest. Officer Jelen then conducted a pat-down search of Defendant, uncovering over $4000 in his pockets, and called for a K-9 unit to search Defendant's vehicle. The dog alerted the driver's seat, but no drugs were uncovered. Law enforcement seized four cell phones from the car.

         Thereafter, Officer Jelen transported Defendant to the Westminster police station. Before advising Defendant of his Miranda[1]rights, Officer Karin Marquez, at the request of Officer Jelen, asked Defendant if he had any drugs on him, to which Defendant replied affirmatively. Defendant then removed a baggie, later confirmed as containing heroin and cocaine, from his pants and gave it to the officers.

         The Government subsequently charged Defendant in connection with this, and other, conduct. Claiming violations of his Fourth Amendment rights, Defendant moves to suppress any evidence obtained during the traffic stops and search of his person and car. (Doc. ## 1419, 1420.) Defendant also moves to suppress the drugs uncovered at the police station as having derived from an illegal interrogation. (Doc. # 1421.)


         The Court first addresses Defendant's challenges to the January 3 and 14, 2014, traffic stops. The Court finds that the stops were justified.

         A. LAW

         The Fourth Amendment safeguards “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318, 326 (2001). In consideration of the Fourth Amendment's protections, “a traffic stop is justified at its inception if an officer has (1) probable cause to believe a traffic violation has occurred, or (2) a reasonable articulable suspicion that a particular motorist has violated any of the traffic or equipment regulations of the jurisdiction.” United States v. Winder, 557 F.3d 1129, 1134 (10th Cir.2009). It is irrelevant that the officer may have had other subjective motives for stopping the vehicle. Id.

         Even apart from a traffic violation, a traffic stop may be justified if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. United States v. Cortez-Galaviz, 495 F.3d 1203, 1205-06 (10th Cir. 2007). In particular, the police may stop a car if they have probable cause or a reasonable articulable suspicion to believe the car is carrying contraband. United States v. Chavez, 534 F.3d 1338, 1343-44 (10th Cir. 2008). To determine whether reasonable suspicion exists, the court considers “the totality of the circumstances” and ask whether the officer had “a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.” United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-18 (1981).

         Under the collective knowledge doctrine, the particular officer who makes the stop need not have reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. Instead, the knowledge and reasonable suspicions of another officer can be imputed to him. United States v. Whitley, 680 F.3d 1227, 1235 (10th Cir. 2012); Chavez, 534 F.3d at, 1345-46. The collective knowledge doctrine has two categories-horizontal and vertical. See Whitley, 680 F.3d at 1234. The vertical category applies in this case. “Under the vertical collective knowledge doctrine, a . . . stop is justified when an officer having probable cause or reasonable suspicion instructs another officer to act, even without communicating all of the information necessary to justify the action.” Id.

         Defendant argues that for the collective knowledge doctrine to apply, the officer with reasonable suspicion or probable cause must communicate his reasons to the officer conducting the stop; otherwise the stop is improper. This Court's reading of the applicable case law, however, suggests a different conclusion-namely that a suspecting officer may instruct another officer to effectuate stop without communicating the basis for the stop, so long as the communicating officer would be justified in making the stop himself. Id. For example, in Chavez, 534 F.3d at 1347-48, the Tenth Circuit upheld the validity of a traffic stop where a federal agent with probable cause requested that a state officer stop a suspect without communicating to the state officer the reasons for the stop or the nature of the federal investigation. The panel noted, citing multiple courts in agreement, “a police officer may rely on the instructions of the DEA (or other law enforcement agencies) in stopping a car, even if that officer himself or herself is not privy to all the facts amounting to probable cause.” Id. at 1347. Numerous cases in other jurisdictions support this application of the vertical collective knowledge doctrine. See United States v. Ramirez, 473 F.3d 1026, 1037 (9th Cir. 2007) (“We are satisfied that the collective knowledge doctrine includes no requirement regarding the content of the communication that one officer must make to another. Where one officer knows facts constituting reasonable suspicion . . . and he communicates an appropriate order or request, another officer may conduct a warrantless stop . . . without violating the Fourth Amendment.”); United States v. Williams, 429 F.3d 767, 771-72 (8th Cir. 2005) (“[W]e also hold that the collective knowledge of the DEA team was sufficient to provide reasonable suspicion to stop [the co-defendant's] vehicle, and such knowledge was imputed to the officer at the scene when he received [another officer's] radioed request.”); United States v. Burton, 288 F.3d 91, 99 (3d Cir. 2002) (“[T]he arresting officer need not possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the facts supporting probable cause, but can instead rely on an instruction to arrest delivered by other officers possessing probable cause.”); United States v. Ibarra-Sanchez, 199 F.3d 753, 758-59 (5th Cir. 1999); United States v. Celio, 945 F.2d 180, 183 (7th Cir. 1991).

         Thus, where the collective knowledge doctrine applies, the Court need only consider whether the officer requesting the stop had reasonable suspicion or probable cause and need not consider whether the officer making the stop had independent justification for doing so. Whitley, 680 F.3d at 1235; Winder, 557 F.3d at 1134.

         B. ...

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