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United States v. Garcia

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

January 24, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
AARON GARCIA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ROBERT F. ROSSITER, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Findings and Recommendations and Order (Filing Nos. 25, 27) of the magistrate judge[1] recommending that the Court deny defendant Aaron Garcia's (“Garcia”) Motion to Suppress (Filing No. 17). Garcia seeks to suppress the evidence derived from the search of a vehicle in which Garcia was a passenger on July 12, 2016. Garcia objects to the Finding and Recommendation (Filing No. 28), arguing the magistrate judge erred in concluding Douglas County, Nebraska, Sheriff's Deputy Andrew Woodward (“Deputy Woodward”) had “reasonable suspicion to detain Aaron Garcia for the purpose of deploying his drug dog after the traffic stop had ended.” Garcia's objection is overruled and his Motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The relevant facts of this case are not in dispute. On July 12, 2016, at approximately 11:30 p.m., Garcia was a passenger in a sport utility vehicle driven by his sister, Karina Garcia (“Karina”). They were traveling east on Interstate 80 in Douglas County, Nebraska, with two friends. The group of friends had visited Las Vegas, Nevada, for a couple of days and was returning home to Chicago, Illinois, when Deputy Woodward, a member of the K-9 interdiction unit, stopped Karina for speeding. As he approached Karina's vehicle, Deputy Woodward noticed a blanket covering items in the cargo area. When Karina rolled her window down, Deputy Woodward “noticed a very heavy odor of air-freshener” from multiple air fresheners and “observed two individuals lighting up cigarettes.”

         Deputy Woodward asked Karina to exit the vehicle and placed her in the front seat of his cruiser to interview her. Deputy Woodward asked Karina about her itinerary and how she knew her passengers. Deputy Woodward thought Karina “seemed overly nervous” and was uncertain in her answers. He thought the group's itinerary was suspicious because they travelled four days “to stay two nights and one day” in “a city so far away.”

         Deputy Woodward then briefly interviewed the passengers and obtained their identification so he could “run a wants and warrants on all four of the occupants.” When his records checks returned nothing significant, Deputy Woodward returned all of the paperwork to Karina and gave her a verbal warning for speeding. After asking Karina some questions about whether she had drugs, stolen property, or cash in the vehicle, Deputy Woodward asked for consent to search, which Karina denied. Karina told him she wanted to leave so she could use the restroom.

         Deputy Woodward advised Karina she was not free to leave and that he was going to deploy his narcotic-sniffing dog, Loki, around the vehicle. Loki indicated to the presence of narcotics at the driver's side rear wheel well. A search of the back of the vehicle revealed three pounds of methamphetamine. All four occupants were arrested. Garcia-though advised of his rights-made some incriminating statements.

         On November 10, 2016, Garcia moved to suppress the evidence derived from the search of Karina's vehicle. The magistrate judge held an evidentiary hearing at which only Deputy Woodward testified. Deputy Woodward explained his reasons for detaining Garcia and deploying Loki. The magistrate judge admitted in evidence a video and audio recording of the stop taken from a camera in Deputy Woodward's cruiser. At the close of the hearing, the magistrate judge found Deputy Woodward credible and concluded he had reasonable suspicion to detain Garcia after completing the traffic stop. The magistrate judge recommends this Court deny Garcia's Motion to Suppress. Garcia challenges the magistrate judge's conclusion and recommendation.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court may designate a magistrate judge to conduct an evidentiary hearing and submit “proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition” of a motion to suppress. The Court then must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” Id. “The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommendation, receive further evidence, or resubmit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b)(3).

         B. Reasonable Suspicion

         Garcia does not question the validity or length of the traffic stop itself. Nor does he challenge the magistrate judge's factual findings and credibility determination. The sole question before the Court is whether “Deputy Woodward possessed the requisite reasonable suspicion to detain Aaron Garcia for the purpose of deploying his drug dog after the traffic stop had ended.” The Court concludes that he did.

         The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures” by the government. U.S. Const. amend. IV. “[I]ts protections extend to brief investigatory stops of persons or vehicles that fall short of traditional arrest.” United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002). “[I]n such cases, the Fourth Amendment is satisfied if the officer's action is supported by reasonable suspicion ...


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