16 F.3d 714 (7th Cir. 1994), 93-2356, United States v. Ornelas-Ledesma

Docket Nº:93-2356, 93-2405.
Citation:16 F.3d 714
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Ismael ORNELAS-LEDESMA and Saul Ornelas, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:February 10, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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16 F.3d 714 (7th Cir. 1994)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Ismael ORNELAS-LEDESMA and Saul Ornelas, Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 93-2356, 93-2405.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 10, 1994

Argued Dec. 10, 1993.

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Penelope C. Fleming (argued), Office of U.S. Atty., Milwaukee, WI, for plaintiff-appellee U.S.

Brian W. Gleason (argued), Milwaukee, WI, for defendant-appellant Ismael Ornelas-Ledesma.

Robert G. LeBell (argued), Styler, Kostich, LeBell & Dobroski, Milwaukee, WI, for defendant-appellant Saul Ornelas.

Before POSNER, Chief Judge, and FLAUM and MANION, Circuit Judges.

POSNER, Chief Judge.

Ismael Ornelas-Ledesma and Saul Ornelas were convicted of illegal possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute it and were sentenced to 60 and 63 months in prison, respectively. The appeal challenges the denial of their motion to exclude from evidence the cocaine seized from "their" 1981 Oldsmobile. We say "their" Oldsmobile, although it was registered to someone else, because the government does not question their right, akin to that of a tenant, bailee, borrower, or other lawful occupier or possessor, to object to the seizure. The cases are quicker to draw the analogy in the case of the driver of a vehicle, United States v. Garcia, 897 F.2d 1413, 1418-19 (7th Cir.1990); United States v. Soto, 988 F.2d 1548, 1553 (10th Cir.1993); United States v. Miller, 821 F.2d 546, 548-49 (11th Cir.1987), than in the case of a passenger, Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 148-49, 99 S.Ct. 421, 433, 58 L.Ed.2d 387 (1978); United States v. Lechuga, 925 F.2d 1035, 1037, 1041 n. 3 (7th Cir.1991); United States v. Roberson, 6 F.3d 1088, 1091 (5th Cir.1993), but the government does not ask us to make that distinction here.

The defendants argue that the stop which led to their consenting to the search of the car violated the Fourth Amendment, invalidating the consent and hence the search; and that independently of this the seizure of the drugs, which was from the inside of the door of the car, violated the Fourth Amendment because, even if a superficial search of the car was proper as an incident of the stop, the officers needed and lacked probable cause to open the compartment and seize its contents.

Police officers in Milwaukee keep a regular watch on motels, looking for drug runners. Cruising through a motel parking lot one day in 1992, a detective named Pautz, a two-year veteran of the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Drug Enforcement Unit, spotted a 1981 two-door Oldsmobile with a California license plate. Pautz was interested. Two-door General Motors cars of that vintage are believed by law enforcement authorities to be drug traffickers' favorites (though not their only favorites, United States v. Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675, 682 n. 3, 105 S.Ct. 1568, 1573 n. 3, 84 L.Ed.2d 605 (1985); United States v. Ocampo, 890 F.2d 1363, 1366 (7th Cir.1989)) because it is easy to conceal drugs in them. And California, like other states on the eastern, western, and southern borders of the United States, is a state from which drugs are shipped to other states, a "source" state. So Pautz called up his dispatcher on his car radio and asked him to find out whom the car was registered to. Now in fact it was registered to "Ornelas, Miguel Ledesma," of San Jose, California, who may or may not be related to one of the defendants. But we do not know what exactly the dispatcher told Pautz or what exactly Pautz understood--whether it was "Miguel Ledesma Ornelas" or "Miguel Ornelas Ledesma." Confusion on this score is understandable, though not justifiable. Spanish naming conventions are confusing to non-Hispanic Americans. When a Hispanic has two surnames, such as Ornelas Ledesma or Ledesma Ornelas, the first is his father's last name and the second his mother's maiden name. The first is primary, and the second subordinate--exactly the reverse of the middle and last names of non-Hispanics. To a Hispanic, therefore, "Ornelas, Miguel Ledesma," would denote Miguel Ornelas Ledesma rather than, as a non-Hispanic would expect, Miguel Ledesma Ornelas. But if the motor vehicle authorities, the dispatcher, or Pautz were unfamiliar with Spanish naming conventions (and Pautz testified that he was unfamiliar with them), "Ledesma"

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and "Ornelas" could easily get reversed.

Pautz, believing that he had the name of the car's registered owner, entered the motel and checked the registry, which showed that an Ismael (not Miguel) Ornelas had registered at 4:00 a.m. and had been accompanied by another man. Pautz then called his partner, Detective Hurrle, to join him. When Hurrle arrived, the two officers called the Milwaukee office of the Drug Enforcement Administration and asked it to run a NADDIS check on Miguel Ledesma Ornelas from San Jose and on Ismael Ornelas. NADDIS (Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Information System) is a computerized compilation of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's information on known and suspected drug traffickers. NADDIS reported two "hits." One was on Miguel Ledesma Ornelas, also known as Miguel Lemus-Ledesma, identified by NADDIS as a heroin dealer in El Centro, California, which is hundreds of miles from San Jose, the residence of the registered owner of the car. The other "hit" was on Ismael Ornelas, Jr., of Tucson, Arizona, reported by the computer to be a 1000-kilogram-per-month cocaine dealer, although no "wants" or warrants were outstanding against him. The officers did not attempt to obtain descriptions of the two suspected dealers, neither of whom in fact is one of or, as far as we know, related to the defendants.

Because the car was an older GM two-door, because its occupants had checked in at the motel at 4:00 a.m. without having made reservations in advance, because there were two persons rather than just one and at least one of them was Hispanic, and because they apparently had come from a "source state"--and of course because of the "hits" on similar or identical names--the officers decided to stop and question the men when they left the motel. At this point a third officer arrived, Luedke, bringing with him a drug-sniffing dog; and Pautz left. After a time, two men emerged from the motel and entered the Oldsmobile. The officers parked their cars on either side of it. Hurrle tapped the window on the driver's side, identified himself as a police officer, and asked both men for identification. Saul Ornelas, who was in the driver's seat, produced a driver's license in that name; Ismael Ornelas-Ledesma, who was in the front passenger's seat, produced a driver's license in the name of Ismael Ornelas, residing in Martinez, California. Hurrle asked whether there were any drugs in the car. The occupants said "no." Hurrle asked them for permission to search the car, and they gave their permission. The two men were not placed under arrest but the government concedes that a reasonable person in their position would not have felt free to leave. So the encounter was a so-called "Terry stop" (after Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968)), Michigan v. Chesternut, 486 U.S. 567, 573, 108 S.Ct. 1975, 1979, 100 L.Ed.2d 565 (1988); INS v. Delgado, 466 U.S. 210, 216, 104 S.Ct. 1758, 1762, 80 L.Ed.2d 247 (1984); United States v. Adebayo, 985 F.2d 1333, 1338-39 (7th Cir.1993), a semi-arrest that is lawful under the Fourth Amendment if but only if the officers had a "reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts" that the persons stopped were engaged in criminal activity. United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7, 109 S.Ct. 1581, 1585, 104 L.Ed.2d 1 (1989).

Officer Luedke inspected the interior without canine assistance and noticed a loose panel on the passenger's door. One of the screws by which the panel was fastened to the door was--Luedke testified--rusty. To him this meant that it had been removed recently. He didn't explain why, but maybe the idea is that the removal of the screw would have scraped off its chrome coating, which protected it from rusting. Suspecting that drugs were concealed behind the panel, Luedke pried it open. His hunch was correct; there was a package containing two kilograms of cocaine wrapped in aluminum foil and paper. Ornelas and Ornelas-Ledesma were then arrested.

Clearly, were it not for the NADDIS hits, the officers would not have had grounds for reasonable suspicion that the defendants were drug traffickers. Not only is every circumstance on which the officers relied other than the hits innocent taken by itself--many Americans (approximately one in eight) are Californians, many Californians are Hispanic, many Americans drive two-door General

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Motors cars, many people check into motels very late at night (or early in the morning), many travel in pairs rather than alone, and many do not make advance reservations--but the confluence of these circumstances is pretty innocuous as well, especially since many of the circumstances are correlated rather than independent. Hispanics are disproportionately concentrated in California, and having on average lower incomes than non-Hispanic Americans are doubtless more likely than other Americans to drive two-door rather than four-door cars, older rather than newer cars, and American rather than foreign cars. They are more likely to drive than to fly and, we imagine, less likely to make reservations in advance at motels, since cheap motels don't advertise much or have 800 numbers. Nothing is more common than for people taking long trips to drive until they're tired and then--often at very odd hours--to check in at the nearest motel, of course without a reservation. And people who drive long distances late at night prefer to have someone with them. Because the "suspicious" circumstances (other than the NADDIS hits) are so...

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