996 F.2d 1058 (10th Cir. 1993), 92-3352, United States v. Seslar

Docket Nº:92-3352.
Citation:996 F.2d 1058
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Gregory Douglas SESLAR and Meredit Tarcisio Mayorga, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:June 22, 1993
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Page 1058

996 F.2d 1058 (10th Cir. 1993)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Gregory Douglas SESLAR and Meredit Tarcisio Mayorga,


No. 92-3352.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

June 22, 1993

Page 1059

Richard L. Hathaway (Lee Thompson, U.S. Atty., with him on the brief), Asst. U.S. Atty., Topeka, KS, for plaintiff-appellant.

Stephen W. Kessler and Marilyn M. Trubey, Topeka, KS, for defendants-appellees.

Before SEYMOUR, ANDERSON and TACHA, Circuit Judges.

TACHA, Circuit Judge.

The government appeals a district court order granting the defendants' motions to suppress physical evidence and oral statements as the fruit of an illegal stop of defendants' rental truck. We affirm.


On February 7, 1992, at 9:10 a.m., Kansas Highway Patrol ("KHP") Trooper Dennis Gassman stopped a Ryder rental truck driven by defendant Gregory Seslar. Defendant Meredit Mayorga had rented the truck and was a passenger when it was stopped. Trooper Gassman stopped the truck to determine whether it was hauling a commercial load and, if so, whether the defendants possessed all permits required by the Kansas Corporation Commission. He conceded that he had no reason to believe that the truck was carrying a commercial load or that the defendants did not possess the proper permits.

Trooper Gassman examined the truck's rental papers, which showed that the truck had been rented in California for commercial purposes. After returning to his patrol car, he called in for a check on Mr. Seslar's driver's license. He also asked for a criminal history check because the defendants and the truck were from California, a drug source state. Transmission difficulties extended the time of these checks beyond the usual ten minutes.

While awaiting the results of the checks, Trooper Gassman began to fill out a truck inspection form. Seslar told him that Mr. Mayorga was moving to Atlanta, Georgia, and that the truck contained Mayorga's personal goods, including some furniture and some masonry sand. On the basis of this conversation, Trooper Gassman indicated on the inspection form that the load was noncommercial.

Because the rental papers stated that the load was commercial, Trooper Gassman directed the defendants to open the cargo area so that he could make sure that the load was not commercial. After Mayorga opened the cargo door, Trooper Gassman observed several items of furniture and some sealed boxes and determined that the load was not commercial. During this course of events, however, Mayorga told Trooper Gassman that he was moving his sister's belongings to Atlanta.

Page 1060

When Mayorga said this, Trooper Gassman saw Seslar open his eyes wide in surprise. After the door was closed again, Trooper Gassman told Seslar to return to the truck and took Mayorga to the patrol car to perform a driver's license and criminal history check.

At 9:36 a.m., KHP Trooper Michael Weigel arrived to meet Trooper Gassman on unrelated business. Trooper Gassman told Weigel that he was suspicious of the defendants because of their conflicting stories and Seslar's look of surprise, and because it was odd to transport sand across the country. Trooper Weigel asked Mayorga if the truck was carrying any drugs. After Mayorga answered no, Trooper Weigel asked for consent to search the truck for contraband. Mayorga responded, "Sure you can," and opened the cargo hold. Trooper Weigel noticed a strong smell of fabric softener and saw a small "baggie" of vegetation which appeared to be marijuana. He began opening some of the boxes and ultimately found approximately 248 pounds of marijuana. After arresting the defendants, the troopers read them their Miranda warnings. Seslar later made several incriminating statements.

The defendants sought to suppress the marijuana and Seslar's incriminating statements on the ground that they were obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. After hearing evidence and reviewing the parties' arguments, the district court agreed. The court held that the initial stop of the truck was unconstitutional under the rationale of Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979), because it was not supported by a warrant, probable cause, or reasonable suspicion. The court rejected the government's argument that the search was a valid "regulatory search" under the Supreme Court's "closely regulated industry" line of cases, concluding that the Kansas statutes cited by the government did not sufficiently circumscribe Trooper Gassman's discretion. The court held further that, even if the stop were legal, the continued detention of the defendants after Trooper Gassman could have determined that no permit requirements had been violated was unconstitutional. Because the court concluded that the subsequent search and the resulting statements were tainted by either the illegal stop or the illegal continued detention, it granted the defendants' motions to suppress. The government appealed.


The government makes three contentions on appeal: (1) the initial stop of the truck was constitutionally valid under Kansas statutes that authorize random stops of "motor carriers"; (2) the...

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