US v. Santiago

Decision Date07 March 1994
Docket NumberNo. 94-CR-0002-B.,94-CR-0002-B.
Citation846 F. Supp. 1486
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. Miguel A. SANTIAGO, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Wyoming

John R. Green, Asst. U.S. Atty., Cheyenne, WY, Captain Jeffrey J. Sweeney, Sp. Asst. U.S. Atty., Francis E. Warren AFB, Cheyenne, WY, for plaintiff.

Ronald G. Pretty, Cheyenne, WY, for defendant.


BRIMMER, District Judge.

The above-entitled matter having come before the Court on the Defendant's Motion to Suppress, and the Court having reviewed the materials on file herein, having heard oral argument from the parties, and being fully advised in the premises, hereby FINDS and ORDERS as follows:

Factual Background

Defendant Santiago was arrested on December 15, 1993, for driving while under the influence of an intoxicant, specifically, alcohol, on Warren Air Force base in violation of Wyo.Stat. § 31-5-233 (1989).1 He filed the present motion to suppress, claiming that the detaining officer lacked probable cause to stop his car, and further, that the officer lacked probable cause to administer a breathalyzer test. With respect to this latter claim, the defendant also asserted that the officer who administered the breathalyzer test was not a "peace officer" as required by the Wyoming Implied Consent Act, Wyo. Stat. § 31-6-102(a)(i)(C) (1989).

The facts relating to this case are straightforward. The government's sole witness at the hearing on this motion was Airman First Class Duke Hernandez. Hernandez initially testified that he was sworn in as a federal agent and at no time did he act under color of state law. He then testified that on the evening of December 15, 1993, he was working at the entry gate to the base. Pursuant to authorization from the chain of command, Airman Hernandez was instructed to conduct a "random vehicle inspection," also known as a "base entry point check." The purpose of this inspection was to check vehicles to see if they contained either government property, contraband and/or classified information; the check was not intended as a random sobriety checkpoint. Airman Hernandez was instructed to check every third car in accordance with standard procedure.

At approximately 1:40 a.m., Airman Hernandez testified that he first saw the defendant's vehicle approximately 50 feet from the base, and that the car was "weaving" from side to side, although it never left its lane. The defendant's car was the third one and was therefore subject to the random check. When the car approached the checkpoint, the window had already been rolled down. Hernandez testified that he explained to the driver and sole occupant of the car, the defendant, that his car was subject to this random check. During the course of his explanation to the defendant regarding the check, Hernandez testified that he noticed a "slight" odor of alcohol from the car and that the defendant's eyes were "glassy and blood-shot." In spite of these indicia of possible drunk driving, Hernandez testified that he did not, at this time, think that the defendant was intoxicated. Hernandez also indicated that the defendant "consented" to the vehicle inspection.

Hernandez then testified that in order to effectuate the random vehicle inspection without impeding the flow of traffic into and out of the base, he directed the defendant to pull his car forward onto the base and then to move over to a lane on the right hand side. In the process of moving the car to that spot, Hernandez testified that the defendant "almost" hit some of the cones and "almost" ran onto the sidewalk. Hernandez then approached the vehicle and told the defendant to turn off his engine. Hernandez then asked the defendant to produce his driver's license, registration and proof of insurance. He testified that the defendant did in fact produce those documents without any difficulty. While the defendant was collecting these documents, Hernandez testified that he sensed a "strong" odor of alcohol emanating from the car. It was at this point that Hernandez believed that the defendant was potentially driving while under the influence of alcohol. He further testified that in his opinion, if the defendant had said that he wanted to leave at that time, Hernandez would have used reasonable force to detain him because of the possibility of him being a drunk driver.

Hernandez detained the defendant and proceeded to conduct three separate field sobriety tests which were designed to determine whether the defendant was in fact intoxicated. The tests were: (1) an horizontal eye gaze test; (2) a walk-turn test; and (3) a one-leg stand test. Hernandez testified that the defendant's "score" on the first two tests was such that, according to a chart that he carried with him, the defendant fell within the "shaded area," which indicated possible intoxication. As for the third test, Hernandez testified that the defendant started to take the test but then exclaimed "I cannot do this."

Based on the results of these field sobriety tests, Hernandez concluded that the defendant was intoxicated. The defendant was then transported by Hernandez and two other officers to another building on the base in order to administer a breathalyzer test. Hernandez testified that the defendant again consented to take this test, and that at 2:20 a.m., the defendant's blood-alcohol level was 0.167%, and that at 2:22 a.m., his blood-alcohol level was 0.159%. The defendant was subsequently advised of his Miranda rights and arrested on a charge of driving while under the influence of alcohol.

As noted, the defendant has filed a motion to suppress the breathalyzer results, claiming that there was no probable cause to stop the vehicle ab initio. He also argues that there was no probable cause to administer the breathalyzer test and that even if there was probable cause, Hernandez was not empowered under the statute to give the test since he was not a "peace officer." The Court will address these arguments in turn.

A. The Initial Stop
1. Was it a "Seizure" Under the Fourth Amendment?

The defendant's first argument is that the officers lacked "probable cause" to make the initial stop of the defendant's car at the checkpoint gate of the base, and in so doing, effectuated an unconstitutional "seizure." See United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 556, 96 S.Ct. 3074, 3082, 49 L.Ed.2d 1116 (1976) (noting that checkpoint stops are "seizures" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment); see also California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 624-26, 111 S.Ct. 1547, 1549-51, 113 L.Ed.2d 690 (1991); Brower v. County of Inyo, 489 U.S. 593, 597, 109 S.Ct. 1378, 1381, 103 L.Ed.2d 628 (1989). He argues that because this seizure was unconstitutional, any evidence that resulted from the seizure, including the breathalyzer results, was tainted and must be suppressed under the "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine. See Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 487-88, 83 S.Ct. 407, 417-18, 9 L.Ed.2d 441 (1963).

It is important to understand that the legal analysis of this claim is completely unrelated to, and independent of, the issue of whether the defendant was intoxicated and whether it was proper to subject him to a breathalyzer test. This motion is grounded in the question of whether a random vehicle inspection conducted on a military base, presumably in furtherance of the government's interest in security, is consistent with the dictates of the Fourth Amendment.2 After careful consideration of this issue, the Court is of the opinion that although the government did not possess any cause or suspicion when it initially stopped the defendant's car at the checkpoint,3 the seizure was nonetheless "reasonable" under the circumstances and therefore it did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment states that:

the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or Affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

U.S. CONST. amend. IV (emphasis added). The Supreme Court's early interpretations of the Fourth Amendment recognized the tension between the so-called "warrant" clause4 and the "reasonableness" clause.5 This tension resulted in inconsistent judicial decisions. Compare Harris v. United States, 331 U.S. 145, 150, 67 S.Ct. 1098, 1101, 91 L.Ed. 1399 (1947) (stressing that a warrantless search may be constitutional if it satisfies the "test of reasonableness") with Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 15-17, 68 S.Ct. 367, 369-71, 92 L.Ed. 436 (1948) (emphasizing that searches must be conducted under the authority of a search warrant).

By the late 1960's, "the preference for a warrant had won out, at least rhetorically." California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565, 581, 111 S.Ct. 1982, 1992, 114 L.Ed.2d 619 (1991) (Scalia, J., concurring). In Acevedo, Justice Scalia wrote:

the Fourth Amendment does not by its terms require a prior warrant for searches and seizures; it merely prohibits searches and seizures that are `unreasonable.' What it explicitly states regarding warrants is by way of limitation upon their issuance rather than requirement of their use. See Wakely v. Hart, 6 Binney 316, 318 (Pa.1814).

Id. Noting that the Court's own cases "lurched back and forth between imposing a categorical warrant requirement and looking to reasonableness alone," which resulted in an "inconsistent jurisprudence," id. at 582-83, 111 S.Ct. at 1992-93, Justice Scalia advocated that "the path out of this confusion should be sought by returning to the first principle that the `reasonableness' requirement of the Fourth Amendment" is sufficient. Id. at 583, 111 S.Ct. at 1993.

Although Justice Scalia's concurrence in Acevedo was not joined by any other justices, the Court's most recent cases...

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