87 F.3d 712 (5th Cir. 1996), 94-60587, United States v. Ramirez-Gonzalez

Docket Nº:94-60587.
Citation:87 F.3d 712
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Pablo RAMIREZ-GONZALEZ, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:June 28, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 712

87 F.3d 712 (5th Cir. 1996)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Pablo RAMIREZ-GONZALEZ, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 94-60587.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

June 28, 1996

Alice Ann Burns, Paula C. Offenhauser, Asst. U.S. Attys., Gaynelle Griffin Jones, U.S. Atty., Houston, TX, for appellant.

H. Michael Sokolow, Asst. Federal Public Defender, Roland E. Dahlin, II, Federal Public Defender, Houston, TX, Noe D. Garza, Jr., Brownsville, TX, John L. Carrington, Harlingen, TX, for appellee.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before KING, DeMOSS, and STEWART, Circuit Judges.

STEWART, Circuit Judge:

The United States appeals the granting of Ramirez-Gonzalez's motion to suppress evidence seized at a temporary motor vehicle checkpoint. Because we conclude that the record is insufficiently developed for our review of the constitutional question raised, we VACATE and REMAND to the district court for further proceedings.

FACTS

"Operation Gauntlet" was a multi-agency law enforcement effort planned in three or four meetings by several law enforcement agencies. Apparently, the Customs Service was under the impression that this was a drug-interdiction effort, but some of the local agencies involved believed that it was a multi-purpose effort. In any case, as a result of these meetings, the Nueces County Precinct Two Constable's office operated two criminal

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law enforcement checkpoints near Corpus Christi, Texas, for three days in January 1994. The checkpoints were identified by large traffic signs posted over 100 yards away which read "Drug Interdiction Checkpoint." They were operated only at night, between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Marked police cars were present at the checkpoints and had their emergency lights on. Vehicles traveling in all directions through the intersections were stopped and the drivers were asked to produce their driver's licenses and proofs of insurance. The officers usually asked for permission to search the vehicles; but if no consent was given, the vehicle was allowed to proceed unless the officers believed they had reasonable suspicion to search the vehicle. During the three days the constable's office operated the two checkpoints, the officers stopped 817 vehicles, searched 103 vehicles, issued 33 traffic citations, arrested 150 undocumented aliens, and arrested 7 people for possession of controlled substances.

On January 29, 1994, around 1:30 a.m., a red Chevrolet pickup truck with a camper and a Chevrolet Blazer together approached one of the checkpoints and were stopped. Ramirez-Gonzalez was a passenger in, and the owner of, the Blazer. Deputy Constable Robert Smith requested driver's licenses and other documents from both drivers. He then noticed several people in the bed of the pickup. 1 No one in either vehicle spoke English, and the law enforcement officers at the checkpoint did not speak Spanish. Smith was not sure whether he had been given consent to search, so Border Patrol agents were sent for to help with translation and identification.

Both vehicles were detained between 10 and 25 minutes before the Border Patrol arrived and determined that five passengers in the Blazer and fifteen passengers in the pickup were illegal aliens. As a result, Ramirez-Gonzalez was charged with several illegal immigrations charges. Ramirez-Gonzalez filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained when he was stopped at the checkpoint, alleging that the stop was an illegal seizure without reasonable suspicion in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

The district court preliminarily denied the motion at the suppression hearing, but agreed to consider the parties' supplemental briefs on the issue. Ramirez-Gonzalez pled guilty to one of the counts, and the government dismissed the others. At the sentencing hearing held after the parties had filed their supplemental briefs, the court again denied Ramirez-Gonzalez's motion, but ruled that it would permit him to reopen the issue. Subsequently, Ramirez-Gonzalez filed a motion to postpone entry of the judgement, a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, and a motion for rehearing of the suppression issue. The district court granted the motions and reversed its earlier ruling, suppressed the evidence obtained from the checkpoint stop. 2 The government appealed the new ruling, the trial was ordered stayed pending resolution of the appeal, and Ramirez-Gonzalez was released on bond pending appeal.

DISCUSSION

Because this is an appeal by the United States from a decision suppressing evidence before the verdict and before the defendant has been put in jeopardy, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to 18...

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