United States v. Gomez, 120517 FED2, 16-181-cr

Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Attorney:Geoffrey M. Stone (Marc H. Silverman, of counsel), Assistant United States Attorneys, for Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, New Haven, CT, for Appellee. Matthew W. Brissenden, Garden City, NY, for Defendant-Appellant.
Judge Panel:Before: Parker, Wesley, and Droney, Circuit Judges.
Opinion Judge:Droney, Circuit Judge
Party Name:United States of America, Appellee, v. Brayan Gomez, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:December 05, 2017
Docket Nº:16-181-cr
 
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United States of America, Appellee,

v.

Brayan Gomez, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 16-181-cr

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

December 5, 2017

          Argued: May 16, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. No. 14-cr-63 - Janet C. Hall, Chief Judge.

         This appeal arises out of a traffic stop of Defendant-Appellant Brayan Gomez and his resulting judgment of conviction for heroin- trafficking in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Hall, C.J.). During the five-minute traffic stop prompted by multiple traffic violations, the officers prolonged Gomez's seizure by asking him narcotics-related questions. Gomez then consented to the search of a bag in the car's trunk, which contained heroin. The district court denied Gomez's motion to suppress. We hold that the traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment because the officers extended the stop for reasons unrelated to Gomez's traffic violations. Nevertheless, we conclude that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies because, at the time of the stop, the officers reasonably relied on our binding precedent, which we conclude is abrogated by Rodriguez v. United States, ___U.S.___, 135 S.Ct. 1609 (2015). Accordingly, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

          Geoffrey M. Stone (Marc H. Silverman, of counsel), Assistant United States Attorneys, for Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, New Haven, CT, for Appellee.

          Matthew W. Brissenden, Garden City, NY, for Defendant-Appellant.

          Before: Parker, Wesley, and Droney, Circuit Judges.

          Droney, Circuit Judge

         This appeal arises out of a traffic stop of Defendant-Appellant Brayan Gomez. During surveillance in connection with a heroin- trafficking investigation in Hartford, Connecticut, officers observed Gomez commit several traffic violations and stopped his car. During the five-minute traffic stop, the officers prolonged the seizure by asking Gomez narcotics-related questions not pertinent to the traffic violations. After the questioning, Gomez consented to the search of a closed bag in the car's trunk, which contained nearly a half-kilogram of heroin and drug-packaging materials.

         Gomez moved to suppress this evidence, arguing that, inter alia, his seizure violated the Fourth Amendment because the officers measurably extended the stop for investigatory reasons unrelated to the traffic violations. Applying this Court's holding in United States v. Harrison, 606 F.3d 42, 45 (2d Cir. 2010) (per curiam)--that questioning unrelated to traffic violations during a five-to-six minute stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment--the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Hall, C.J.) denied Gomez's suppression motion. Shortly before the district court's suppression ruling, however, the Supreme Court held that "a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution's shield against unreasonable seizures, " indicating that the critical question is whether the unrelated investigation "prolongs--i.e., adds time to-- the stop." Rodriguez v. United States, --- U.S. ---, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1612, 1616 (2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the Supreme Court's decision in Rodriguez abrogates our holding in Harrison.1 We also conclude that Gomez's seizure, albeit only five minutes in length, contravenes Rodriguez's holding and therefore violates the Fourth Amendment. Nevertheless, we conclude that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies because, at the time of the stop, the officers reasonably relied on our precedent in Harrison. As to Gomez's other arguments, we conclude that the district court did not clearly err in concluding that (i) the initial stop was based on valid probable cause or reasonable suspicion to believe he committed a traffic violation, and (ii) he consented to the searches of the car, its trunk, and the closed bag in the trunk. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

         BACKGROUND

         I. The Heroin-Trafficking Investigation

         In March 2014, Hartford police detective James Campbell and Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") special agent Michael Schatz--members of a DEA task force--were investigating a large- scale heroin-trafficking organization operating out of Hartford. 2

          Based on information from a wiretap and cooperating sources, Campbell and Schatz suspected that the organization, led by Alex Ortiz-Gomez, was in the process of packaging several kilograms of heroin for street-level sale. In addition to this information, Campbell and Schatz knew that law enforcement officers in New Jersey stopped Ortiz-Gomez and his cousin, Defendant-Appellant Brayan Gomez, in a black Honda Accord the previous year, and during a search of the car the officers discovered nearly $80, 000 in cash, which the DEA seized.3

         On March 19, Campbell and Schatz began surveillance of two addresses associated with Alex Ortiz-Gomez--one in Hartford and another in East Hartford. The following morning, Campbell observed Brayan Gomez exit the Hartford address and drive away in a white Acura.4 Schatz followed Gomez to the East Hartford address, where Gomez briefly entered and exited the residence, switched cars, and again drove away. Gomez left the East Hartford address in a black Honda Accord--the same car involved in the $80, 000 New Jersey cash seizure a year earlier.

         With Campbell and Schatz (in separate vehicles) covertly following, Gomez drove to a nearby Ramada Inn hotel in East Hartford and parked the black Honda. Although Campbell and Schatz did not arrive in time to see Gomez enter the hotel, Campbell saw him exit the Ramada Inn a few minutes later carrying a "weighted" black duffel bag. After placing the bag in the Honda's trunk, Gomez drove away again, this time towards the highway; Campbell and Schatz continued to follow.

         When Campbell saw Gomez place the duffel bag in the car's trunk and drive away, he notified Schatz and other nearby officers via radio transmissions that he planned to execute a pretextual stop of the Honda if Gomez committed a traffic violation. Gomez then drove through a red light before entering the highway. After Gomez merged on to the highway, Campbell and Schatz observed him speeding and changing lanes without using a directional signal.

         Gomez did not travel on the highway for long; he slowed to exit via an off-ramp in East Hartford, allowing Campbell and Schatz to catch up. According to Campbell, Gomez committed a third traffic violation at the end of the off-ramp by making a right turn at a red light without stopping.[5]

         II. The Traffic Stop

         Shortly after Gomez exited the highway, Campbell used his unmarked car's lights and siren to pull Gomez over. Schatz arrived at the scene shortly thereafter and parked his car in front of the black Honda, which was on the road's shoulder. While Schatz remained in his car, Campbell approached the Honda on the driver's side and noticed, through the open driver-side window, that Gomez "appeared to be nervous as far as what [is] typical in a normal traffic stop"--keeping his hands on the steering wheel, visibly shaking, and maintaining his gaze forward through the windshield. Campbell asked Gomez to turn off the car's engine. When Gomez, without complying, asked why he was stopped, Campbell again directed Gomez to turn off the engine for "safety purposes."

         Shortly after Gomez turned off the engine, Campbell's questioning detoured from traffic violations to the subject of heroin: Question: After [Gomez] shut the car off, what interaction did you have with him at [that] point?

Campbell: Once he complied and shut the vehicle off, he again asked me why he had been stopped. I told him that we were conducting an investigation into bad heroin as well as firearms within the city of Hartford. Then I also told him that, you know, I observed him travel[l]ing at a high rate of speed as well as travel[l]ing through the red lights.

App'x 248 (emphasis added).6

         At Campbell's request, Gomez provided him with the car's registration, which listed Joan Sanchez as the owner. At that time, Campbell did not also ask for Gomez's license. Campbell then asked Gomez where he was coming from, and Gomez responded, untruthfully, that he had come from home. After Campbell inquired where he was travelling, Gomez replied that he was going to the home of his sister-in-law Joan Sanchez--the owner of the black Honda--but he did not know her exact address. Then, Campbell asked for the name of Joan Sanchez's spouse; Gomez responded that she was married to Alex Ortiz-Gomez.7

         After this initial questioning with Gomez in the driver's seat, Campbell...

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