U.S. v. Beltran-Palafox

Decision Date03 June 2010
Docket NumberCase No. 09-40022-01/02-JAR
Citation731 F.Supp.2d 1126
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. Luis BELTRAN-PALAFOX, and Raymundo Elenes-Mombela, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Kansas

Jared S. Maag, Office of United States Attorney, Topeka, KS, for Plaintiff.

Marilyn M. Trubey, Office of Federal Public Defender, Topeka, KS, B. Kay Huff, Lawrence, KS, for Defendants.


JULIE A. ROBINSON, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on defendant Raymundo Elenes-Mombela's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 33), and Motion to Join (Doc. 41), and defendant Luis Beltran-Palafox's Motion to Suppress (Doc.38). On November 10, 2009, the Court was notified that the parties sought to submit their pretrial motions on the briefs without any additional hearing. After both parties delivered exhibits and expert reports, the Court reviewed the arguments and the evidence and determined that the record was factually and legally insufficient to rule on the issues raised by defendants in their pending motions. At a status conference January 6, 2010, the parties agreed to a half-day evidentiary hearing on March 29, 2010. At the close of the day March 29, the parties requested a second, full-day hearing on April 13, 2010. By the end of the day April 13, the parties requested leave to supplement their briefing before the Court took the pending motions under advisement.

The matter was fully briefed on April 29, 2010, and the Court took the motions under advisement at that time. Because no evidence was presented regarding the voluntariness of defendants' statements to law enforcement officers, the parties asked the Court to limit its ruling to defendants' motions to suppress evidence obtained in the traffic stop. The Court will not rule on defendants' motions to suppress their statements until the time of trial.

Having reviewed the evidence and arguments presented by the parties regarding the suppression of evidence in this case, the Court is now prepared to rule. For the reasons explained in detail below, Beltran-Palafox's Motion to Suppress Evidence (Doc. 38), joined by co-defendant Raymundo Elenes-Mombela (Doc. 41), and Elenes-Mombela's Motion to Suppress Evidence (Doc. 33), are denied.

I. Factual Background

On December 15, 2008, officers of the Saline County Police Department were conducting surveillance on a residence in New Cambria, Saline County, Kansas in relation to an on-going narcotics investigation. During surveillance, officers noticed a 1991 Lincoln Town Car, bearing Kansas license plate number 130BHW, parked in the driveway and occupied by three individuals later identified as the defendant, Luis Beltran-Palafox, the co-defendant, Elenes-Mombela, and an individual by the name of Garrett Greer.

During the surveillance, Beltran-Palafox and Elenes-Mombela were seen entering and exiting the residence, returning to the Lincoln Town Car, and placing unknown items inside the vehicle. At one point during the surveillance, automatic gunfire was heard from the property, although none of the three individuals was observed with a firearm.

Approximately one hour later, Beltran-Palafox and Elenes-Mombela left the property in the Lincoln Town Car. Officers followed the vehicle.

At approximately 16:37 hours, Investigator McCary contacted Officer Ricardo Garcia, who was on regular patrol in the Salina area, to inform him that he was to stop the Lincoln Town Car. Investigator McCary gave a description of the vehicle and its location near Ohio Street, namely that the car's window tinting appeared to be darker than allowed by law and that the car was occupied by two subjects. Officer Garcia was further informed that the car was registered to a Luis Beltran and that the subjects were possibly armed. At the suppression hearing, Officer Garcia testified that someone on the drug task force informed him that the individuals were observed firing a handgun.

Shortly thereafter, Officer Garcia spotted the Lincoln Town Car, observed its window tinting to be "substantially dark." Officer Garcia testified that he has stopped cars for window tinting violations on previous occasions. He was unable to see the movement in the car because it was so dark. Based on his experience, he suspecteddefendants' windows were below the 35% minimum set under Kansas law, and activated his emergency lights to stop the vehicle. The traffic stop was videotaped, and part of the conversation was in Spanish. Officer Garcia testified that he is fluent in Spanish. Before approaching the car, he asked the sheriff's department to send a canine unit to assist him at the stop location.1

When Officer Garcia approached the driver (Beltran-Palafox), he informed him of the reason for the stop (dark window tinting) and asked for the driver's license and current proof of insurance. Officer Garcia noticed that the driver (Beltran-Palafox) and passenger (Elenes-Mombela) both appeared nervous; the passenger's hands were shaking and he began smoking. Beltran-Palafox informed Officer Garcia that he only had a Mexican driver's license and provided it to him. The license identified the driver as "Oscar Daniel Villa-Hurtado" and appeared to have been issued by the Mexican State of Durango. Officer Garcia testified that he has seen such licenses on previous occasions. He had no idea whether "Oscar Villa-Hurtado" was the driver's real name, but he suspected the Mexican license was not valid.

Officer Garcia returned to his patrol car to speak with other officers over the radio. At one point in the conversation, Officer Garcia can be heard on the police video responding that there was "a DL issue anyway with the Mexican driver's license," explaining that he did not believe it was valid in Kansas. However, he was uncertain whether a citation or a "15" was appropriate. Officer Garcia also conducted a license check and a check for warrants on the name "Villa-Hurtado" and likely derivatives of that name. Officer Garcia stated he did not know the identity of the passenger. Dispatch was unable to locate a Kansas DL for "Villa-Hurtado" and found no warrants for "Villa-Hurtado." Officer Garcia testified at the suppression hearing that the City of Salina informed its officers that a Mexican driver's license was not valid, and driving without a valid license is an arrestable offense. He explained that there was no question in his mind the driver would be arrested. However, on cross-examination, he noted that it is not an offense for someone traveling through the state to use a Mexican driver's license, and he had never before seen this particular car or these defendants.

Officer Garcia again made contact with the driver and at the same time checked the tint on the driver's side window using a tint meter. Although Officer Garcia could not remember the last time the tint meter had been tested, on this occasion, the tint came back at 15%, well below the allowable limit of 35%. 2 Officer Garcia informed Beltran-Palafox that dispatch was unable to find a valid driver's license under the name given. Officer Garcia then asked the passenger, Elenes-Mombela, for identification. Elenes-Mombela gave Officer Garcia a Mexican identification card, which identified him as Raymundo Elenes-Mombela. The ID appeared to be from Mexico City.

Officer Garcia returned to his vehicle and spoke, via radio, with Lt. Norton who advised that Beltran-Palafox should be placed under arrest for failing to possess a valid driver's license. Lt. Norton further stressed that both subjects should be consideredarmed. Officer Garcia stated over the radio that he would wait to perform the arrest until a second officer arrived.

While waiting, Officer Garcia asked dispatch to do a check on Elenes-Mombela's identification. Dispatch eventually responded to report Elenes-Mombela had a "system generated license," which Officer Garcia indicated was "not valid." On the video, dispatch made final contact with Officer Garcia at 16:53:40 to tell Officer Garcia that he found Elenes-Mombela "locally" as well.3 At the hearing, Officer Garcia testified that Elenes-Mombela had a suspended license and would not be able to drive the vehicle.

After this, Officer Garcia no longer communicated with dispatch, but waited in the patrol car for the other officer to arrive. At 16:54:00, Officer Garcia called another officer and asked, "How far out are you?" At 16:56:13, the video records the sound of a dog. When Canine Officer Deputy James Hughes arrived on the scene with Rony, the drug detection dog, Officer Garcia exited the patrol car. Officer Garcia explained that he intended to "15" the driver and do a search-incident-to-arrest.

Officer Garcia made contact with Beltran-Palafox, asked him to step out of the vehicle, performed a patdown search, and placed him under arrest. Officer Garcia closed the front driver's side door. After Beltran-Palafox was placed in the patrol car, Officer Garcia explained to the other officer that he intended to do a patdown of the passenger for weapons, but stated that he "might be released." Some discussion was had about "holding" him. At this point, Officer Garcia contacted Elenes-Mombela and asked him to step out of the vehicle during the sniff by the canine. Officers performed a patdown search of Elenes-Mombela. The officers discussed the possibility of someone coming to pick up the car. On the video recording, the officers also discussed Elenes-Mombela's request to have his girlfriend pick up the car. At some point, Elenes-Mombela's phone was taken from him and his wallet was turned over to officers on the drug task force.

On the video, Deputy Hughes is seen with the canine, Rony, circling the vehicle multiple times (approximately three times). The front passenger door remained open after Elenes-Mombela exited the vehicle. Hughes and Rony passed the front passenger door, but Hughes pulled the dog away and the team circled the vehicle one full time. Upon returning to the front passenger door a second...

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