53 F.3d 1177 (10th Cir. 1995), 94-4043, United States v. Angulo-Fernandez

Docket Nº:94-4043.
Citation:53 F.3d 1177
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Juan Alberto ANGULO-FERNANDEZ, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:May 03, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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53 F.3d 1177 (10th Cir. 1995)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Juan Alberto ANGULO-FERNANDEZ, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 94-4043.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

May 3, 1995

Bruce C. Lubeck, Asst. U.S. Atty., Salt Lake City, Utah (Scott M. Matheson, Jr., U.S. Atty., with him on the brief), for plaintiff-appellee.

Robert L. Booker, Booker & Associates, Salt Lake City, UT (David V. Finlayson, Booker & Associates, with him on the briefs), for defendant-appellant.

Before KELLY and McWILLIAMS, Circuit Judges, and VRATIL, District Judge d.

PAUL J. KELLY, Jr., Circuit Judge.

Defendant-Appellant Juan Alberto Angulo-Fernandez was convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. Sec. 841(a)(1). He appeals his conviction, having entered a conditional plea of guilty and seeks review of the denial of his motion to suppress. See Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(a)(2). Our jurisdiction arises under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1291. We vacate the district court's order denying the motion and remand for further proceedings.


On June 15, 1993, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper was travelling along Interstate 15 when he spotted Mr. Angulo-Fernandez

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standing next to an automobile parked in the emergency lane with the hood raised. The officer pulled over to render assistance.

The officer and Mr. Angulo-Fernandez dispute how effectively they were able to communicate during their subsequent encounter. According to the officer, who does not speak Spanish, the Defendant spoke broken English, communicating first in Spanish and then puzzling it out into English with the officer's help. Mr. Angulo-Fernandez characterizes the language barrier between the two as much greater; he claims that he did not understand the officer's English, and that the two communicated largely by sign language.

The officer asked the Defendant if his car had broken down. Mr. Angulo-Fernandez motioned to the radiator, which appeared to have overheated. The officer next inquired whether a wrecker was needed. The Defendant's response was equivocal: he asked which town was closer, Cedar City or St. George. He indicated that the vehicle had just been repaired in St. George by producing a repair receipt bearing the date June 15, 1993 and the name "Alberto Angola." Together, the officer and the Defendant added antifreeze to the radiator, started the car, and moved it out of the emergency lane and onto a median.

The officer asked Mr. Angulo-Fernandez where he was going and where he had been. The Defendant replied that he was on his way back to Chicago after spending a couple of days in Las Vegas. Next, the officer inquired whether the car belonged to the Defendant, who in turn responded that he had borrowed the car from a friend. When asked the name of the owner of the car, Mr. Angulo-Fernandez hesitated, whether out of nervousness or inability to understand the officer's question, and finally responded that the vehicle belonged to Manuel Lucero. Unable to understand the owner's last name, the officer offered the Defendant pencil and paper and had him write it down.

The officer then requested the Defendant's license and the vehicle registration. Mr. Angulo-Fernandez claims to have understood this request, both because it has been his experience that police always ask for such documentation, and because the words for "license" and "registration" are similar in Spanish. The officer's suspicions were aroused by the seemingly unusual loan of a car for a cross-country trip, the difference between the spelling of the name on the repair order and Mr. Angulo-Fernandez's license, and the Defendant's apparent hesitancy in revealing the vehicle owner's name. The officer therefore called dispatch and requested a driver's license check, a license plate and registration check, and a warrant check.

The license and warrant checks came back indicating no problem, but dispatch encountered difficulty in the registration check. Eventually dispatch discovered that it had been checking registration for the wrong year, and when it ran the check under the correct year, the registration was found to be valid. In spite of all three checks ultimately revealing no problems, the officer asked dispatch to contact the registered owner to make sure that the Defendant was in lawful possession of the car. Dispatch called the number of Manuel Lucero, but the person on the other end of the line denied ownership of the car.

The officer informed Mr. Angulo-Fernandez that there was a problem with the registration and then inquired whether he was in possession of either drugs or weapons. According to the officer, the Defendant understood the question and responded in the negative. The officer asked to search the car. He testified that Mr. Angulo-Fernandez walked over to the trunk, opened it, reached in and slid a duffel bag toward the officer. The Defendant, on the other hand, claims that he had no idea what the officer was saying and that he did not open the trunk for the officer, but rather had opened the trunk earlier to get out a container of antifreeze and had never closed it. The officer searched the car and discovered thirty bundles of cocaine in a concealed compartment hidden between the trunk and the passenger compartment.


In reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress, we accept the district court's findings

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of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. United States v. Nielsen, 9 F.3d 1487, 1489 (10th Cir.1993). In the context of a hearing on a motion to suppress, we are mindful that "the credibility of the witnesses and the weight given to the evidence, as well as inferences and conclusions drawn therefrom, are matters for the trial judge." United States v. Fernandez, 18 F.3d 874, 876 (10th Cir.1994). Of course, the ultimate question of the reasonableness of a search or seizure is a question of law that we review de novo. United States v. Horn, 970 F.2d 728, 730 (10th Cir.1992).

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