United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
Pretrial Motion to Suppress, ECF No. 18-Denied
F. LEESON, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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 rights were
violated by his interaction with Trooper Stepanski; and (4)
he argues that the consent he gave to search his vehicle is
Court heard testimony and received evidence during a hearing
on the motion on May 15, 2019. The defendant did not testify.
For the reasons set forth below,  the motion to suppress is
FINDINGS OF FACT
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Trooper Stepanski testified that he could not see that the
defendant was Hispanic as he drove by. Tr. 74.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After pulling Defendant over, Trooper Stepanski approached
the passenger side of the vehicle. Gov't Ex. 2, Tr. 29.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Trooper Stepanski conversed with Defendant he looked into the
vehicle and noticed a large number of suitcases inside the
vehicle. Tr. 32-34.
Trooper Stepanski's questioning took slightly under five
minutes. Gov't Ex. 2.
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.
Moreover, Trooper Stepanski was suspicious because he thought
that Defendant should have had a better idea of where he was
heading. Tr. 31-32.
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.
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.
Trooper Stepanski believed there was criminal activity afoot
and, because of that, he wanted to search the vehicle. Tr.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Trooper Stepanski and Defendant talked off to the side of the
interstate between ...