United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
L. Mariani United States District Judge
before the Court is Defendant's Amended Motion to
Suppress Physical Evidence and Incrimination Statements,
(Doc. 66). Defendant, Angel Prado, is charged with a single
count of possession of heroin with intent to distribute in
violation of 21 U.S.C. 841(a). The present motion-which has
had the benefit of two separate evidentiary hearings and
multiple briefings-seeks to suppress physical evidence
obtained as a result of a roadside car search and
Defendant's subsequent statements to police. For the
reasons that follow, the Court will grant in part and deny in
part Defendant's Motion to Suppress.
December 19, 2013, Pennsylvania State Trooper Paul Lindsay
was patrolling a section of Interstate 80 in Monroe County,
Pennsylvania. (Doc. 74, 6/9/16 Tr., at 7; Doc. 84, 12/13/16
Tr., at 22-23). At the time, Trooper Lindsay was assigned to
the Safe Highway Initiative through Effective Law Enforcement
Detection unit, or SHIELD unit. (Doc. 74, 6/9/16 Tr., at 5).
In that role, Trooper Lindsay was "trained to look
beyond the traffic stop for indicators of criminal activity,
" including drug interdiction activities.
(Id.). Slightly before 10:00 a.m.. Trooper Lindsay
noticed Defendant driving in the lane next to his.
(Id. at 7, 25).
to the Trooper:
As I was traveling the left lane, the Defendant ... was
driving a Honda Odyssey. I saw him veering over into the
shoulder of the road over into the fog line. It raised my
suspicions. I don't know if he was falling asleep, or he
was under the influence of something, or he was having a
medical issue, and I took action.
(Id. at 7). Thereafter, at approximately 9:58 a.m.,
Trooper Lindsay initiated a traffic stop for violation of 75
Pa. C.S. § 3309, driving on roadways laned for traffic.
(Id. at 25-26; Doc. 84, 12/13/16 Tr., at
both vehicles stopped, Trooper Lindsey contacted, via radio,
the nearest State Police Barracks and relayed the car's
license plate numbers. (Doc. 84, 12/13/16 Tr., at 33- 34).
Trooper Lindsey then approached Defendant's car and asked
Defendant some questions regarding where he was coming from,
who owned the car, and whether Defendant had a criminal
history. (Doc. 74, 6/9/16 Tr., at 8-11). Defendant indicated
that he had never been arrested before. (Id. at 11).
The Trooper later testified that, although Defendant seemed
to understand everything the Trooper was asking, English did
not appear to be his first language. (Id. at 10-11).
Trooper Lindsey asked for Defendant's credentials and
noted that Defendant's hand was shaking as he handed his
license to the Trooper. (Id..at11).
Trooper Lindsey returned to his car and used the on-board
computer to verify some of Defendant's information, (Doc.
84, 12/13/16 Tr., at 37). After inputting some of
Defendant's data, Trooper Lindsey found that Defendant
appeared to have two prior arrests for drug offenses under an
alias name of Raul Garcia, (Id. at 37-38; Doc. 74,
6/9/16 Tr., at 12). Because the alias had a Social Security
number associated with it, Trooper Lindsey returned to
Defendant's car and asked Defendant for his Social
Security number. (Doc. 84, 12/13/16 Tr, at 38-39; Doc. 74,
6/9/16 Tr, at 12). The Trooper then returned to his car and
determined that the two Social Security numbers matched.
(Doc. 84, 12/13/16 Tr, at 39). It was at this time that
Trooper Lindsey placed a call to request a canine unit on
Lindsey then decided to issue Defendant a warning for the
traffic offense and began the process of inputting
Defendant's information into the on-board police computer
in order to print out a written warning. (Id. at
40-41). Sometime during this process, a second State Trooper
arrived with a canine unit. (Gov't Ex. 7). After
completing the warning, Trooper Lindsey went back to
Defendant's car and asked him to exit the car. (Doc. 84,
12/13/16 Tr, at 41; Doc. 74, 6/9/16 Tr, at 14-15). Trooper
Lindsey then explained the warning and gave Defendant the
warning and his credentials. (Doc. 84, 12/13/16 Tr, at 41;
Doc. 74, 6/9/16 Tr, at 15-16). Immediately thereafter,
Trooper Lindsey asked a series of questions with respect to
where Defendant was coming from and whether the car contained
anything illegal. (Doc. 74, 6/9/16 Tr., at 15-16; Gov't
Ex. 7). After less than two minutes of questioning, Defendant
told Trooper Lindsey that, if the Trooper wanted to, he could
check the car. (Gov't Ex. 7).
afterward, Defendant signed a Spanish language version of the
"Pennsylvania State Police Waiver of Rights and Consent
to Search" form. (Doc. 74, 6/9/16 Tr., at 16; Doc. 84,
12/13/16 Tr., at 43; Gov't Exs. 2, 12). Trooper Lindsey
also orally informed Defendant that Defendant could revoke
his consent at any time during the search. (Doc. 74, 6/9/16
Tr., at 16-17). A subsequent search of the car uncovered six
kilograms of heroin. (Id. at 22). Defendant was
arrested and Trooper Lindsey advised him of his
Miranda rights in English. (Doc. 74, 6/9/16 Tr., at
23-24). Defendant was questioned and made several
incriminating statements. (Gov't Ex. 7). He was then
taken to a police station where Trooper Francis Carito
advised Defendant, in Spanish, of his Miranda
rights. (Id. at 63). Defendant then answered some
more questions and provided a written statement. (Gov't
was eventually charged with a single count of possession of
heroin with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C.
841(a). On November 30, 2015, Defendant filed the motion
presently before the Court which seeks to suppress (1) the
physical evidence obtained from the search of the car, and
(2) Defendant's incriminating statements to police. (Doc.
66). A suppression hearing was held on June 9, 2016.
Thereafter, the case was transferred to the undersigned and
Defendant requested a new evidentiary hearing. (Doc. 77). A
second hearing was held on December 13, 2016. At that time,
the parties requested that the Court consider evidence
produced at both hearings when ruling on the motion. (Doc.
84, 12/13/16 Tr., at 3).
the second hearing, the parties submitted briefs with their
arguments. (Docs. 85, 87). On February 15, 2017, the Court
issued an Opinion in which it expressed its concerns with
whether the initial traffic stop was proper in light of the
video evidence before the Court. (Doc. 91 at 2). The Court,
however, noted that Defendant's brief stated that
Defendant "does not contest the propriety of the initial
stop." (Id:, Doc. 85 at 4 n.2). Therefore, the
Court directed the parties to file additional briefs
concerning whether Defendant's waiver of the issue
precludes the Court from considering the propriety of the
initial traffic stop and whether the initial stop was indeed
lawful. (Doc. 91 at 7-8). The parties have submitted their
supplemental briefs, (Docs. 93, 94), and Defendant's
Motion is ripe for review. For the reasons that follow, the
Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendant's
Motion to Suppress.
addition to the basis for which the Court directed the
parties to brief, Defendant raises three other grounds for
suppressing evidence in this case. The Court will address
each in turn.
Initial Traffic Stop
discussed above, the Court directed the parties to brief the
issues of (1) whether the Court may address the propriety of
the initial traffic stop in light of what appears to be a
waiver of this issue by Defendant's counsel, and (2)
whether the initial traffic stop was valid. (Doc. 91 at 7-8).
Both parties agree that the Court, despite Defendant's
counsel's apparent waiver of the issue, may address the
question of whether the initial traffic stop was valid. (Doc.
93 at 4-5; Doc. 94 at 2-3). The parties diverge, however, on
the second question of whether the initial stop was valid.
Specifically, Defendant argues that because the video shows
that the car Defendant was driving did not cross the fog
line, the stop was invalid. (Doc. 94 at 4). The Government
argues that, even though the car never crossed the fog line,
Trooper Lindsey's perception that it did was a reasonable
mistake of fact, and therefore the stop is still valid. (Doc.
93 at 6-12).
Fourth Amendment provides that individuals shall not be
subject to "unreasonable searches and seizures."
U.S. Const, amend. IV. "[A] defendant who challenges a
search or seizure typically bears the burden of proving that
it was illegal." United States v, Headen, 264
F.App'x 244, 246 (3d Cir. 2008). "However, once the
defendant has established a basis for his motion, i.e., the
search or seizure was conducted without a warrant, the burden
shifts to the government to show that the search or seizure
was reasonable." United States v. Johnson, 63
F.3d 242, 245 (3d Cir. 1995).
United States Supreme Court has held that stopping a car and
detaining its occupants is a seizure under the Fourth
Amendment." id. "Generally, for a seizure
to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, it must be
effectuated with a warrant based on probable cause."
United States v. Robertson, 305 F.3d 164, 167 (3d
Cir. 2002). "A well-established exception to the Fourth
Amendment's warrant requirement permits an officer to
'conduct a brief, investigatory stop when the officer has
a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is
afoot.'" United States v. Lewis, 672 F.3d
232, 237 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Illinois v.
Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123, 120 S.Ct. 673, 145 L.Ed.2d
570 (2000)). Accordingly, "[a] routine traffic stop is
constitutional when it is supported by reasonable
suspicion." United States v. Gooch, 915
F.Supp.2d 690, 702 (W.D. Pa. 2012); see also United
States v. Delfm-Colina, 464 F.3d 392, 397 (3d Cir. 2006)
(holding that the "reasonable suspicion standard applies
to routine traffic stops"). "Where reasonable
suspicion for the traffic stop is lacking, the evidentiary
fruits of the traffic stop must be suppressed."
Lewis, 672 F.3d at 237.
articulable suspicion is a less demanding standard than
probable cause and requires a showing considerably less than
preponderance of the evidence."'
Delfin-Colina, 464 F.3d at 396 (quoting Illinois
v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123, 120 S.Ct. 673, 145
L.Ed.2d 570 (2000)). "In forming a reasonable suspicion,
officers may rely on their own experience and
knowledge." United States v. Jones, 506
F.App'x 128, 131 (3d Cir. 2012). "When determining
whether an officer possessed reasonable suspicion to conduct
a traffic stop, [a court] must consider the totality of the
circumstances." Lewis, 672 F.3d at 237.
Further, "an officer need not be factually accurate in
her belief that a traffic law had been violated but, instead,
need only produce facts establishing that she reasonably
believed that a violation had taken place. Consequently, a
reasonable mistake of fact 'does not violate the Fourth
Amendment.'" Delfin-Colina, 464 F.3d at 398
(quoting United States v. Chanthasouxat, 342 F.3d
1271, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003)); see also United States v.
Fleetwood, 235 F.App'x 892, 895 (3d Cir. 2007)
(noting that the standard for a traffic stop "is not
particularly rigorous, as no traffic law need actually have
been broken, nor does the stopping officer have to be correct
regarding the facts").
case at hand, Trooper Lindsey testified that he pulled
Defendant over for a violation of 75 Pa. C.S. § 3309(1).
(Doc. 84, 12/13/16 Tr., at 23). That statute provides, in
pertinent part, that "[a] vehicle shall be driven as
nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall
not be moved from the lane until the driver has first
ascertained that the movement can be made with safety."
75 Pa. C.S. § 3309(1). This statutory language-
specifically the use of the phrase "as nearly as
practicable"-"does not foreclose minor
deviations" from marked lanes. Commonwealth v.
Enick, 70 A.3d 843, 847 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2013). The
statute does, however, prohibit drivers from "mov[ing]
from the lane until the driver has first ascertained that the
movement can be made with safety." Therefore, a
violation of section 3309(1) occurs when a driver's
"deviations from his lane of travel create[s] a
significant safety hazard on the roadway."
Feczko, 10 A.3d at 1292; see also Commonwealth
v. Thrower, 2013 WL11276824, at *5 (Pa. Super Ct. 2013)
('Thus, whether an officer possesses probable cause to
stop a vehicle for a violation of section 3309(1) depends
largely upon whether a driver's movement from his lane is
because the seizure of Defendant occurred without a warrant,
the Government bears the burden of showing that the seizure
was reasonable. As the Court previously noted, the
"clear video evidence... shows that Defendant Prado did
not cross over the white fog line at any time."
United States v. Prado, 2017 WL 630854, at *4 (M.D.
Pa. 2017). Defendant argues that, for this reason alone, the
Court should find that the stop was invalid. (Doc. 94 at 4).
The Government, in contrast, argues that Trooper Lindsey made
a mistake of fact with respect to whether or not Defendant
crossed the fog line. The Government further argues that the
mistake was a reasonable one, and, therefore, Trooper Lindsey
still possessed the requisite reasonable suspicion that the
traffic code was violated. (Doc. 93 at 6-12). For the ...