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United States v. Nunez-Mejia

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

October 19, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ABRAHAM NUNEZ-MEJIA, Defendant.

          FINDINGS, RECOMMENDATION, AND ORDER

          Cheryl R. Zwart United States Magistrate Judge.

         Defendant Abraham Nunez-Mejia (“Defendant”) has moved to suppress all evidence obtained during a vehicle search conducted on October 1, 2016, as well as all evidence and statements obtained as fruit of the alleged unconstitutional search. Defendant has further moved to suppress statements made during the traffic stop based on alleged violations of his Fifth Amendment rights. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion should be denied.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         After hearing testimony and reviewing the documentary and video evidence, the undersigned magistrate judge finds the following facts are credible.

         At approximately 8:25 a.m. on October 1, 2016, Nebraska State Patrol Trooper Dale Fahnholz (“Trooper Fahnholz”) stopped a northbound vehicle for speeding on Highway 10 in Kearney County, Nebraska. Defendant was the sole occupant of the vehicle. As Trooper Fahnholz approached the vehicle, he noted the presence of a long-barreled pellet gun on the front passenger seat. He immediately asked Defendant if he had any other weapons. Defendant responded that there were no other weapons in the vehicle.

         During the course of the stop, the trooper learned that Defendant did not have a valid operator's license and had been cited for operating a vehicle without a valid license on multiple occasions. Trooper Fahnholz cited Defendant for driving without a valid license and issued a written warning for his speed.

         After issuing and explaining the citation and warning, Trooper Fahnholz informed Defendant that the vehicle would be towed from the scene. Defendant was not its title owner, and there were no other licensed drivers present. The trooper indicated that Defendant was free to ride to the tow site in the tow company's vehicle and could retrieve his personal belongings from the car at that time.

         Trooper Fahnholz then told Defendant that prior to tow, the trooper needed to take an inventory of the items in the vehicle. He informed Defendant that he was not under arrest but asked Defendant to sit in the back of the police vehicle during the inventory. The trooper told Defendant that this was a precaution to “control [Defendant's] movement” during the search. (Filing No. 22 ¶ 2 at CM/ECF p. 2). Defendant complied with the trooper's request and entered the backseat of the police vehicle. Trooper Fahnholz lowered the police vehicle's rear passenger window to allow air flow, but bars blocked the window's opening. All doors to the police vehicle were closed and locked.

         During the inventory search that followed, the trooper located a loaded .22 caliber revolver in a fishing tackle box. Trooper Fahnholz then radioed his dispatcher with the gun's serial number. He also relayed to a supervising officer that he needed no assistance and that Defendant was not under arrest at that time. The trooper then approached his police vehicle on the passenger side and began speaking to Defendant through the open rear window. Defendant remained locked within the police vehicle.

         The trooper asked Defendant about the tackle box and the weapon inside. Defendant indicated that he did not own the tackle box but admitted he owned the pellet gun and some fishing poles in the vehicle. Trooper Fahnholz asked Defendant if he remembered the trooper asking about other weapons. Defendant said he did remember. The trooper asked if Defendant had lied about the presence of weapons other than the pellet gun. Defendant ultimately admitted he knew the gun was in the tackle box.

         The trooper then read Defendant his Miranda rights and requested that he sign a waiver form. Defendant signed the English-language form, and the trooper resumed questioning. Defendant again indicated that he had been using the fishing tackle box and knew the gun was inside. He told the trooper the weapon was owned by a friend and provided the trooper with that friend's contact information. The trooper then ceased questioning the Defendant to resume the inventory search of the vehicle prior to tow.

         After completing the search, Trooper Fahnholz handcuffed Defendant, informed him that he was under arrest, and transported him to the Kearney County Sheriff's office.

         ANALYSIS

         I. ...


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