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United States v. Segovia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 2, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MIGUEL GONZALEZ SEGOVIA

         Defendants' Pretrial Motion to Suppress, ECF No. 18-Denied

          OPINION

          JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The government charged Defendant Miguel Gonzalez Segovia with one count of possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and 400 grams or more of fentanyl in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A), and aiding and abetting in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2. In preparation for trial, Defendant filed a motion to suppress any and all evidence obtained by the government or statements he made during the traffic stop on November 13, 2018, arguing that the statements were obtained in violation of his rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Defendant moves to suppress on four grounds: (1) he claims that Pennsylvania State Police Trooper John Stepanski lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him for a motor vehicle violation; (2) he argues that Trooper Stepanski had no reasonable suspicion to continue to detain and question Defendant after the initial stop; (3) he argues that his Miranda[1] rights were violated by his interaction with Trooper Stepanski; and (4) he argues that the consent he gave to search his vehicle is invalid.[2]

         The Court heard testimony and received evidence during a hearing on the motion on May 15, 2019.[3] The defendant did not testify. For the reasons set forth below, [4] the motion to suppress is denied.

         II. FINDINGS OF FACT[5]

         1. John Stepanski has been a Trooper with the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) since 2009. See Suppression Hearing Transcript 17, ECF No. 28. In that time, he was assigned primarily to patrol units and also was assigned to the Canine Unit for several months. Tr. 17, Gov't Ex. 1 (Stepanski Résumé).

         2. During his time with the PSP, Trooper Stepanski received specialized training in subjects related to his duties as a patrol officer. Tr. 18-19, 49, Gov't Ex. 1. He has attended hundreds of hours of drug trafficking-related enforcement and interdiction training. Tr. 18-19, Gov't Ex. 1. This training included the PSP's Safe Highway Initiative through Effective Law Enforcement Detection (“SHIELD”) training, which teaches troopers to identify drug trafficking as it relates to car stops and highway interdiction. Tr. 18. Trooper Stepanski described it in his testimony as the “A to Z on what you're looking for on the road for interdiction as far as traffic stops and furthering the investigation.” Tr. 18. In addition to that training, Trooper Stepanski also attended a weeklong National Interdiction Conference in 2017 where he was informed of nationwide trends in interdiction and learned from top drug interdiction officers other techniques they use and indicators for which they look. Tr. 18.

         3. Since September 2016, Trooper Stepanski has been assigned to the Patrol Unit. Gov't Ex. 1. As a patrol officer doing interdiction work, there are three types of traffic stops he conducts: (1) stops for minor traffic infractions that result in a verbal warning, a written warning, or a traffic ticket; (2) stops that lead to the direct arrest of a person because there is probable cause to effect the arrest immediately (e.g., contraband in plain view or the motorist is a fugitive); and (3) stops where, after having reasonable suspicion to make the stop, during the course of routine questioning of the motorist he develops reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. Tr. 20. In the third category of traffic stops, after developing reasonable suspicion, Trooper Stepanski will either request consent to search the vehicle or, if consent is denied, take other investigatory steps consistent with the law. Tr. 21.

         4. Trooper Stepanski was working in that capacity as a patrol officer on November 13, 2018, patrolling Interstate 78 in Northampton County, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Tr. 21. The stretch of Interstate 78 he was patrolling is well known as a drug corridor. Tr. 19-20.

         5. On that day, while in a marked patrol vehicle parked in the center median of the interstate, Trooper Stepanski observed a black Ford Expedition bearing Ohio registration traveling eastbound as it approached his location. Tr. 21-23.

         6. The driver of the vehicle, later identified as Defendant Miguel Gonzalez Segovia, shifted his body in a way that caught Trooper Stepanski's attention. Tr. 22. Trooper Stepanski pulled out of the median to follow Defendant's vehicle. Tr. 23, Gov't Ex. 2 (dash camera video and audio of the traffic stop).[6]

         7. Typically, the glare from the sun off of a vehicle's windows or windshield would prevent observation of the motorist. Tr. 71. Trooper Stepanski was able to observe Defendant shift his body, however, because the weather was “kind of gloomy out, ” and he could see into the vehicle quite well. Tr. 71.

         8. Trooper Stepanski testified that he could not see that the defendant was Hispanic as he drove by. Tr. 74.

         9. After catching up with Defendant's vehicle, Trooper Stepanski clocked the vehicle for 3/10 of a mile travelling at a speed of 68 miles per hour in a 65 miles per hour zone. Tr. 23.[7]

         10. Before effecting the stop, Trooper Stepanski testified that he observed a bar code in the lower left-hand corner of the Defendant's vehicle. Tr. 23. This bar code indicated to Trooper Stepanski that the vehicle was a rental. Tr. 23. He ran the vehicle registration through Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Law Enforcement Assistance Network (CLEAN) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system which revealed that the vehicle was owned by Enterprise Rental. Tr. 23-24.

         11. While following Defendant, Trooper Stepanski observed Defendant, while passing another vehicle, merge in too closely behind a maroon pickup truck. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 24. This caught his attention because had the pickup truck stopped abruptly, the distance at which Defendant followed could result in a crash. Tr. 24.

         12. Trooper Stepanski further observed Defendant catch up with a large commercial vehicle. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 25. As Defendant drove behind the commercial vehicle, Trooper Stepanski observed Defendant following it at such a distance that Defendant would not be able to see around it. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 25.

         13. After clocking Defendant's vehicle travel above the speed limit for 3/10 of a mile and observing Defendant follow the large commercial vehicle too closely, Trooper Stepanski activated his overhead emergency lights to effectuate a traffic stop. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 28-29.[8]

         14. Defendant pulled over to the right shoulder near mile marker 72, Northampton County in Williams Township. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 29, 90-92. Trooper Stepanski parked his patrol vehicle behind Defendant's vehicle. Gov't Ex. 2.

         15. After pulling Defendant over, Trooper Stepanski approached the passenger side of the vehicle. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 29.

         16. Trooper Stepanski testified that as he approached, Defendant was waiting with his arm extended out into the passenger seat area and had his license in hand ready to pass to the trooper. Tr. 30. Although Defendant had his license out, Trooper Stepanski did not immediately take it. Tr. 29-30.

         17. Trooper Stepanski identified himself as state police, requested Defendant's driver's license, registration, and insurance, and notified Defendant that he was being recorded by video and audio. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 29-31. He further explained one reason for the stop, stating that when Defendant followed too closely behind the large commercial vehicle. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 30.

         18. Trooper Stepanski then asked where Defendant was coming from-to which Defendant responded that he was coming from Ohio-and where Defendant was headed-to which Defendant responded that he was headed to Brooklyn, New Jersey. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 31-32. Trooper Stepanski clarified with Defendant that Brooklyn is in New York, not New Jersey. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 31-32.

         19. Trooper Stepanski asked Defendant additional questions about his travel. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 31-32. Trooper Stepanski asked what the purpose of his travel was, who he was visiting, and where in Brooklyn he was headed. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 31-32. Defendant replied that he was visiting his cousin in Brooklyn but did not have the right address. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 31-32.

         20. Trooper Stepanski testified that during this questioning he noticed Defendant's hand visibly shaking in a nervous manner and, at one point, Defendant dropped his elbow onto the center console to control the shaking. Tr. 30.

         21. Trooper Stepanski then asked for Defendant's license and whether the vehicle was a rental. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 31-32. Defendant provided his license and responded that it was a rental. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 31-32. The license identified Defendant and stated that he was from California. Gov't Ex. 6 (Defendant's license), Tr. 30-31.

         22. After confirming that the vehicle was a rental and learning that Defendant was from California, Trooper Stepanski then began to question Defendant more on those topics. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 32. He asked Defendant if he had the rental agreement with him-Defendant did not, but, at Trooper Stepanski's suggestion, reported having it on his cellphone. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 32.

         23. Trooper Stepanski also asked Defendant the planned length of his trip to Brooklyn, how he traveled to Ohio, and if he was visiting anyone there. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 31-34. Defendant informed Trooper Stepanski he was planning on staying in Brooklyn for just a couple of days, maybe two days. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 32. Defendant further answered that he drove from California to Ohio and was not visiting anyone there. Gov't Ex. 2. Trooper Stepanski asked Defendant's plans after Brooklyn and Defendant responded that he would then head back to Ohio. Gov't Ex. 2. When Trooper Stepanski questioned Defendant further as to why he needed to return back to Ohio, Defendant replied “just because.” Gov't Ex. 2.

         24. Trooper Stepanski advised Defendant that, in addition to moving from the right lane to the left lane without leaving enough room between him and the vehicle in front, Trooper Stepanski had clocked Defendant for 3/10 of a mile travelling at a speed of 68 miles per hour in a 65 miles per hour zone. Gov't Ex. 2.

         25. Trooper Stepanski then asked Defendant more questions about the specifics of his trip. Tr. 32. Trooper Stepanski asked Defendant when he rented the vehicle and when it was due back. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 32-33. He also asked Defendant how he traveled from California to Ohio and why. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 32-33. Defendant replied that he rented the vehicle the day before in Columbus, Ohio and that it was due back the following day. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 32-33. He further explained to Trooper Stepanski that he traveled to Ohio from California for work: he was a mover. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 32-33.

         26. When Trooper Stepanski inquired further about these facts, Defendant informed Trooper Stepanski that he had moved a customer by himself and that the moving truck was still in Ohio. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 32-33.

         27. Trooper Stepanski then questioned Defendant further about his destination. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 32-33. Defendant again told Trooper Stepanski that he was traveling to Brooklyn, did not know the address of his cousin, but had been there before and knew how to get there. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 32-33.

         28. As Trooper Stepanski conversed with Defendant he looked into the vehicle and noticed a large number of suitcases inside the vehicle. Tr. 32-34.

         29. Trooper Stepanski's questioning took slightly under five minutes. Gov't Ex. 2.

         30. Trooper Stepanski testified that his suspicions were raised based on Defendant's responses. Tr. 30-32. He commented on how nervous Defendant appeared and the visible shaking. Tr. 30, Gov't Ex. 2.

         31. Moreover, Trooper Stepanski was suspicious because he thought that Defendant should have had a better idea of where he was heading. Tr. 31-32.

         32. Trooper Stepanski testified that his suspicion increased on hearing that Defendant had rented a car that was due back the next day, but he planned to spend two days in Brooklyn. Tr. 32.

         33. Furthermore, the discrepancy between the six to seven suitcases he observed inside the vehicle and the length of Defendant's trip also increased Trooper Stepanski's suspicion. Tr. 32-33.

         34. Trooper Stepanski believed there was criminal activity afoot and, because of that, he wanted to search the vehicle. Tr. 34.

         35. After completing his exchange with Defendant, Trooper Stepanski returned to his vehicle, ran Defendant and the vehicle through the CLEAN and NCIC databases, and requested backup. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 34.

         36. Trooper Sean Ahearn arrived to serve as Trooper Stepanski's backup officer after seven- to eight-minutes. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 34. Trooper Stepanski directed Trooper Ahearn to stay parked behind Trooper Stepanski's vehicle so that he could seek consent from Defendant to search his vehicle. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 35.

         37. Trooper Stepanski then approached Defendant's vehicle, asked Defendant if he had any guns or knives on him, and asked Defendant to exit the vehicle. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 35. He advised Defendant to be careful as he exited the vehicle because of the interstate traffic to the left of his vehicle. Gov't Ex. 2.

         38. Initially after Defendant agreed to exit his vehicle and had exited the vehicle, he raised his arms, apparently in preparation for Trooper Stepanski to frisk him. Gov't Ex. 2.

         39. Realizing this, Trooper Stepanski communicated that he wasn't going to frisk Defendant. Gov't Ex. 2. Trooper Stepanski further told the Defendant to relax and turn around to face him. Gov't Ex. 2.

         40. Trooper Stepanski and Defendant talked off to the side of the interstate between ...


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