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United States v. Mahler

United States District Court, D. Idaho

February 6, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JERAMIE MAHLER, et al., Defendants.

ORDER ON MOTION TO SUPPRESS

EDWARD J. LODGE, District Judge.

Before the Court in the above-entitled matter is the Defendant Jeramie Mahler's Motion to Suppress. (Dkt. 129.) The parties fully briefed the Motion and the Court held a hearing on the same on January 7, 2013. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court directed the parties to file briefing which has been received. The Court has considered the materials submitted in the record and the evidence and arguments presented at the hearing and finds as follows.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Defendant is charged with Conspiracy to Distribute Methamphetamine and Possessing a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime. (Dkt. 24.) The charges relate to activities occurring from on or about November 2012 involving multiple defendants who allegedly were distributing methamphetamine in the District of Idaho as well as a March 25, 2013 shooting. The instant Motion seeks to exclude all physical and testimonial evidence obtained as a result of the vehicle search on April 2, 2013, any statements the Defendant made to a confidential informant on July 10, 2013 during an undercover video and audio recording, and the photo lineup identification of the Defendant by one David Harrod. (Dkt. 129.)

DISCUSSION

1. Vehicle Search

The Motion firsts seeks to suppress all physical and testimonial evidence obtained as a result of the April 2, 2013 traffic stop, seizure, arrest, and search of a vehicle driven by the Defendant. The basis for the Motion are: 1) the police lacked probable cause to believe a traffic violation had occurred, 2) the police lacked probable cause to search the car, and 3) there is no exception to the warrant requirement that justifies the search. (Dkt. 129 at 2.)

At 11:21 a.m. on April 2, 2013, Canyon County Deputy Sheriff Darcy Warren initiated a traffic stop of a white Audi A4 on Orchard Street in Caldwell, Idaho for speeding. The Defendant was driving the vehicle which was owned by Hernan Gomez-Gutierrez. When asked, the Defendant gave Deputy Warren his brother's name, Matthew Mahler, instead of his own and was unable to produce the car's registration, any proof of insurance, or a driver's license. Upon approaching the vehicle the Deputy noted that the Defendant was "especially nervous" and sensed that something was not right. Deputy Warren returned to his vehicle and did a license check under the name of Matthew Mahler and obtained a photograph which he believed "somewhat resembled" the Defendant.

Deputy Warren wanted a second opinion concerning the Defendant's identification and he requested assistance. Two additional Canyon County Sheriff's officers soon arrived on scene, Corporal Longoria and Corporal Chad Harrod. While waiting in the driver's seat of the Audi, the Defendant called the vehicle owner, Mr. Gomez-Gutierrez, from his cell phone.

After the officers had reviewed the driver's license photographs, they returned to the vehicle and told the Defendant to exit the Audi. The Defendant was questioned about his identity and the vehicle he was driving. Ultimately the officers obtained a photograph of the Defendant and he was correctly identified. The Defendant was then arrested for driving while suspended, driving without insurance, and for providing false information. Prior to placing him in the patrol vehicle, the officers pat searched him and located $595, keys, and noted he was wearing a tactical vest. There was no identification or wallet found on the Defendant's person.

Around the same time, the owner of the Audi, Mr. Gomez-Gutierrez, arrived on scene and identified the Defendant as "Matt." Mr. Gomez-Gutierrez told the officers that the Defendant had been test driving the car to buy it for about a week. Mr. Gomez-Gutierrez did not have identification, registration, insurance information, or a driver's license. Mr. Gomez-Gutierrez did not give consent to search the vehicle. Mr. Gomez-Gutierrez tried to call his girlfriend to bring his driver's license or other materials concerning the ownership of the vehicle and possibly move the vehicle but his girlfriend never arrived on scene.

The officers searched the "lunge area" inside of the Audi and discovered a container of suspected methamphetamine in the center console, two.40 caliber pistols, a backpack behind the driver's seat with a container of a substance that they suspected to be methamphetamine, and a hypodermic needle was found in the trunk of the car. The officers also discovered a knife and other drug paraphernalia in the Audi.

A drug dog also arrived on scene and alerted on the vehicle driven there by Mr. Gomez-Gutierrez, a Dodge Magnum. The Officers checked Mr. Gomez-Gutierrez for weapons and located a rolled-up twenty-dollar bill containing a white crystal substance. Officers then searched the Dodge and discovered a.45 caliber pistol, loaded magazines, and $2, 600. Mr. Gomez-Gutierrez was then arrested.

The vehicles were taken into police custody. An inventory search was later performed at the police garage.

A. Traffic Violation

In the initial briefing on the Motion the Defendant argued the Government cannot establish that there was probable cause to initiate the traffic stop for speeding. (Dkt. 129.)[1] The Government asserts that the traffic stop and seizure was valid because Deputy Warren saw the Audi exceeding the speed limit and confirmed his observation with his radar gun. (Dkt. 159.) Thus, the Government contends, there was both reasonable suspicion and probable cause for the stop.

At the hearing, Deputy Warren testified that he had performed the tuning fork test on his radar equipment prior to leaving the station on the day he stopped the Defendant for speeding. He further testified that his radar clocked the Audi going 67 mph in a 45 mph zone. The Court finds the evidence properly establishes that the traffic stop of the Audi for speeding was lawful.

B. Search of the Audi

The Defendant argues there was no probable cause to search the vehicle without a warrant under the automobile exception and there was no consent to search the car. (Dkt. 129, 217.) The Government maintains that the search of the Audi was lawful under either the automobile exception or the search incident to arrest doctrine. (Dkt. 159, 219.)

(1) Automobile Exception

"Under the automobile exception... police may conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle if there is probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime." United States v. Brooks, 610 F.3d 1186, 1193 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). "Probable cause to search is evaluated in light of the totality of the circumstances." Id. at 1193-94 (quoting United States v. Pinela-Hernandez, 262 F.3d 974, 978 (9th Cir. 2001)) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 241 (1983). In United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266 (2002), the Supreme ...


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