United States v. Santistevan, 3:19-CR-30017-RAL

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. District of South Dakota
Docket Number3:19-CR-30017-RAL
Decision Date15 April 2019




April 15, 2019


After first being stopped for speeding, Aaron Santistevan - a non-Indian with a prior felony conviction - led tribal officers on a high-speed chase. Officers eventually stopped and questioned Santistevan, searched he and his car on-site, and then conducted a warrant search of the vehicle later on at a garage. He seeks to suppress (1) all evidence seized and derived from the stops and searches and (2) his statements to two officers. Because federal law does not require exclusion of the physical evidence seized from Santistevan's person and his car but forbids the use of his statements except for impeachment, the Court recommends that the suppression motion (as amended) be granted in part and denied in part.


Shortly after 9:00 p.m. on December 28, 2018, Rosebud Sioux Tribe Law Enforcement Services (RSTLES) Officer Joshua Antman stopped Santistevan driving a

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beige Lincoln MKZ with Colorado license plates. Officer Antman initially gauged Santistevan's speed at 65 miles-per-hour (mph), in a 45 mph zone, but then "froze" the speed at 59 mph.

Santistevan, the sole occupant of the vehicle, claimed "there was no way" he was speeding. Officer Antman refused to argue the point and asked Santistevan for his driver's license. Santistevan appeared nervous and his right hand trembled as he gave the license to the officer. When asked, Santistevan said he was not a tribal member. Officer Antman observed a Corona bottle in the vehicle's center console and requested the bottle. Santistevan complied. The officer looked at the beer bottle and went back to his patrol truck to check on Santistevan's status.

Upon closer inspection, Officer Antman could see a plastic baggie inside the bottle that appeared to contain marijuana residue (stems, seeds, and crumbs). He called for a K-9 officer through dispatch. At some point, the dispatcher advised Officer Antman that Santistevan's driver's license was suspended. Because Santistevan was a non-tribal member and had a suspended license, Officer Antman radioed for assistance from the Todd County Sheriff's Office.

He then returned to the car and noticed Santistevan's hand was on the gear shift lever, the vehicle was in drive, and the front passenger door was locked. Officer Antman inquired whether Santistevan was going to take off. In response, Santistevan unlocked the car and Officer Antman opened the passenger side door. The officer inquired again whether Santistevan planned to take off. Santistevan answered in the

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negative. "[W]hy don't you put it in park then?" Officer Antman replied, but moments later, Santistevan sped away with the car door still open.

RSTLES officers pursued Santistevan at speeds of over 100 mph in an attempt to apprehend him. One of the officers, Jim Scott, observed an unknown object strike the top of his patrol car while trailing Santistevan. Officers though were unable to locate anything of significance in the area where the reported hit occurred.

Gerald Dillon, another RSTLES officer, deployed road spikes on the highway ahead of Santistevan. The spikes succeeded in disrupting Santistevan's car and it eventually came to a stop.

When officers caught up to the car, its interior was on fire. Officer Antman grabbed some papers and a toy ball from inside the vehicle and placed them into the snow. Meanwhile, officers extinguished the fire, put Santistevan in one of their patrol cars, and held him there until a state officer could take custody of him. The field test done on the toy - for cocaine and methamphetamine - yielded a negative result. How the fire started is unknown.

Todd County Deputy Sheriff Andrew Red Bear arrived in just over an hour and arrested Santistevan on state charges. After the fire was out, Officers Antman and Dillon searched Santistevan's vehicle. In the trunk, which Officer Dillon opened with a key, he and Officer Antman found a plastic Scheels bag. Officer Dillon cut open the bag and in it were two 20-round boxes of .50 ammunition. Officer Antman seized the ammunition because Santistevan was a convicted felon and could not possess it.

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Deputy Red Bear and Officer Antman also found, and seized, $16,145 in cash from Santistevan's person during a search incident to his state arrest. Santistevan made statements about the cash and chase in response to questions from both officers.

A wrecker towed Santistevan's car to a tribal law enforcement building. Six days later, Ben Estes, a RSTLS agent and drug task force member, obtained a federal warrant to search the car. During the execution of the warrant, Agent Estes and accompanying officers discovered, and seized, other evidence from inside the vehicle.

Ultimately, a federal grand jury indicted Santistevan (1) charging him with being a prohibited person in possession of ammunition and (2) seeking to forfeit the ammunition taken from his car. He moved to suppress from use at trial, on Fourth Amendment and Miranda grounds, (1) the evidence seized from him and the vehicle and (2) his statements to Deputy Red Bear and Officer Antman. At a hearing held to address the motion, the Court heard testimony from five witnesses and received seven exhibits into evidence.


A. Stop

Santistevan first claims that his traffic stop - for speeding - was an unreasonable and pretextual seizure. He denies he was speeding and insists the stop was merely an attempt, on the part of Officer Antman, to discover or obtain evidence of an unrelated crime.

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The stop of a motor vehicle is a "seizure" of its occupants that must be conducted in accordance with the Fourth Amendment.1 A traffic stop is legal and comports with this Amendment if it is supported by probable cause or reasonable suspicion.2 Probable cause for such a stop exists "[a]s long as an officer objectively has a reasonable basis for believing that the driver has breached a traffic law."3 This is true even if the traffic violation is a minor one and the stop is simply "a pretext for other investigation."4 The less onerous standard of reasonable suspicion "exists when an 'officer is aware of particularized, objective facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant suspicion that a crime is being committed.'"5

Santistevan's traffic stop was lawful. Using his radar, Officer Antman first clocked Santistevan's vehicle speed to be 65 mph. The officer then locked in the speed,

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on his radar, at 59 mph. Both speeds were well above the 45 mph posted limit in the area Santistevan was traveling. The excessive speed - a minor traffic violation - gave Officer Antman probable cause and a basis to stop Santistevan.6

Santistevan nevertheless disputes he was speeding. The Court found Officer Antman, and his explanation for the stop, to be credible. The officer did not target Santistevan or know, until after the stop, that Santistevan was driving the car.7 Instead, Officer Antman observed the vehicle traveling faster than it should and stopped it for a speeding violation.8 But even if Officer Antman had an ulterior motive for stopping Santistevan, it did not serve to invalidate the stop because there was probable cause to believe that a crime - although a minor traffic offense - had just been committed.9

B. Vehicle Search

Santistevan next claims that since he is not Indian, tribal officers had no legal authority to search his car. He also contends that officers were not justified in searching his car, incident-to-arrest, because he was no longer in or near the vehicle when they combed through it.10 He maintains as well that the extent of the search - entering the

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trunk and opening a closed plastic bag - was unreasonable and requires suppression of the ammunition in the bag. And in any event, he declares, Officer Antman's observations and the beer bottle taken at the time of the original stop could not support a probable cause search of the vehicle for drugs.

1. Detention

The Supreme Court has consistently reaffirmed that tribal police officers have the authority to arrest an offender within Indian country and to detain him until he can be turned over to the proper authorities, even if the tribe itself lacks jurisdiction.11 Federal and state courts (including the Eighth Circuit and courts in this District) have likewise regularly upheld tribal police actions, including stopping, investigating, and detaining non-Indians suspected of criminal conduct.12

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RSTLES officers detained Santistevan - because he was not a tribal member (or likely an Indian at all) and was driving with a suspended driver's license - until a state officer from Todd County showed up to take custody of him. Santistevan's detention was not lengthy or prolonged by an exploratory interview13 and was not otherwise unreasonable under the circumstances.14 Nor did officers act outside their power to detain Santistevan pending Deputy Red Bear's arrival at the locale15 or flout their responsibilities and infringe on Santistevan's Fourth Amendment rights.16

2. Automobile Exception and Probable Cause

Having determined that tribal officers had authority to seize Santistevan, the Court now turns to his threefold argument that officers acted unreasonably in searching his car. The Court concludes that the search of the vehicle was proper under the "automobile exception" to the warrant requirement.

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Probable cause to believe that a vehicle contains contraband or evidence of criminal activity has long been held to justify a warrantless search of the vehicle and seizure of contraband in it.17 Of course, "[p]robable cause exists where there is a 'fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.'"18 And probable cause for the search of the...

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