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United States v. Arias

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 12, 2017



          Leo T. Sorokin United States District Judge.

         Luis Alberto Arias moves to suppress evidence derived from the search and seizure of a blue Honda Accord he was driving at the time it was impounded. Doc. No. 150. As to the evidence from the car, Arias raises two issues: first, that the officers did not have probable cause to search or tow the blue Honda Accord and second, that the officers should have obtained a warrant before searching the car. The government opposed the motion, Doc. No. 158, and Arias replied, Doc. No. 163. Following a hearing, the Court requested supplemental briefing to clarify the facts. The government filed a supplemental memorandum and affidavit, Doc. No. 174, and Arias responded, Doc. No. 178. For the reasons stated below, the motion to suppress is DENIED.


         The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) conducted a Title III investigation which revealed that Arias was an active drug trafficker in the Boston area, supplying heroin and cocaine to redistributors. Between August 12, 2015, and August 26, 2015, the DEA intercepted a number of calls between Arias and Juan Pena, a codefendant. Doc. No. 158-2 at 10-12. Pena wanted to obtain a supply of heroin from Arias. Id. On August 26, 2015, Arias sold the heroin to Pena and Pena made multiple calls to other unknown individuals to distribute the heroin. Id. at 13. Between September 18, 2015, and October 2, 2015, the DEA intercepted calls between Arias and multiple redistributors about supplying drugs. Id. at 13-16. In one call, Arias explained to another person how to operate “a really good hide” in the car. Id. at 14. On September 29, 2015, investigators observed Arias in a blue Honda Accord making multiple hand-to-hand deliveries of drugs. Id. at 16-17. On October 4, 2015, the DEA intercepted multiple calls between Arias and Carlos Quesada-Varment, a codefendant here, about drugs Arias intended to obtain from Quesada-Varment. Id. at 17-18.

         Because of information gleaned from the intercepted calls, surveillance was established on Arias on October 4, 2015. Doc. No. 158-3 at 2. Arias and Andy Aviles, a codefendant, were observed in the blue Honda Accord picking up drugs at a motel in Sharon, MA, around 4:11 pm. Id. at 8-9. Investigators intercepted additional calls in which Arias discussed taking the drugs to customers to be tested and later coming back to the motel to return the drugs. Id. at 11. Investigators saw the blue Honda Accord arrive at the motel at 10:55 pm. Id. Arias and Aviles exited the vehicle and carried a large square white item into one of the rooms. Id. at 12. A few minutes later, Quesada-Varment exited that room and walked to a black Honda Accord with a large white bag with something square in the bottom. Id. Shortly thereafter, Quesada-Verment exited the vehicle without anything in his hands. Id.

         On October 5, 2015, investigators saw the black Honda Accord leaving the motel. Id. at 14. The vehicle was stopped on I-95 N with the assistance of Massachusetts State Police. Id. While searching the car, investigators found a hidden compartment with approximately 4 kilograms of cocaine and a loaded handgun. Id. at 14-15.

         On October 7, 2015, DEA investigators intercepted calls indicating that Arias intended to go to Rhode Island to meet a source of supply. Doc. No. 158-4 at 3. Investigators followed the blue Honda Accord from Massachusetts to Rhode Island. Id. at 4. While Arias was driving, investigators intercepted a call in which Arias told an unidentified person that he would call “in two [] hours to see what you want.” Id. Arias arrived in Central Falls, RI. Id. When the blue Honda Accord arrived at approximately 3:27 pm, Arias and an unidentified person discussed Arias's arrival. Id. Investigators saw that only the passenger was in the blue Honda Accord. Id. At approximately 3:36 pm, investigators saw Arias return to the blue Honda Accord, recline the seat, and reach into the rear seat on the passenger's side. Id. Arias began to drive back to Massachusetts. Id. at 5. When he reached the Rhode Island border, surveillance was stopped. Id.

         At approximately 4:10 pm while on routine patrol, Massachusetts State Trooper Michael Tryon saw the blue Honda Accord speeding. Doc. No. 158-1 at 1. Trooper Tryon stopped the car for going 81 mph, well over the 65 mph speed limit. Id. The driver (Arias) produced a Massachusetts license identifying him as Jose Antonio Folchrivera. Id. The registration stated that Marie Rodriguez owned the car. Id. The passenger was identified as Andy Aviles. Id. Trooper Tryon spoke with Arias and noticed that he was nervous and sweating. Id. Trooper Tryon also “noticed what appeared to be a large amount of U.S. Currency in the center console area as well as money scattered on the floor of the vehicle and several cell phones inside the vehicle.” Id. Arias and Aviles began speaking in Spanish to each other. Arias “then stared straight ahead and stated in Spanish that he did not speak English.” Id. Trooper Tryon then received information from Troop H Communications that the passenger, Aviles, had a warrant for family abuse from Puerto Rico. Trooper Tryon asked Aviles to exit the vehicle, pat frisked him for weapons, and placed him in handcuffs “for [his] safety while waiting on confirmation of extradition.” Id. Arias and Aviles were speaking Spanish to each other so Trooper Tryon requested that another cruiser with a Spanish-speaking officer come to assist. Id. Trooper Tryon states that “At this time, Trooper Conway arrived” but it is not clear whether Trooper Conway is the Spanish-speaking officer Trooper Tryon requested. Id. Trooper Tryon asked Arias who the vehicle belonged to and Arias said Maria. Id. Trooper Tryon asked Maria's last name and Arias said he did not know. Id. Arias stated that he was on his way to Maria's house but he could not provide the address on the registration. Id.

         According to Trooper Tryon, “As a result of the criminal indicators observed during [his] encounter with both [Arias] and Aviles, in particular the discrepancies relative to the registered owner and for safety purposes, [he] requested a tow for the vehicle.” Id. According to the DEA report, “Based on probable cause from the Title III intercepted calls of [Arias]'s phone and [Arias]'s inability to provide information regarding the registered owner of the Honda, other than the registered owner's first name, the Honda was towed to the MSP-Foxboro Barracks.” Doc. No. 158-4 at 5. While the reports did not make clear whether the DEA has contacted the Massachusetts State Police, Trooper Tryon's supplemental affidavit states that the DEA contacted the State Police, informed them of the Title III investigation, provided a description of the blue Honda Accord, and asked that the State Police have a Trooper perform a traffic stop of the vehicle to assist the investigation. Doc. No. 174-1 at 1.

         Trooper Tryon asked if Arias and Aviles wanted to accompany the vehicle to the State Police barracks until the owner arrived but they declined and instead had Trooper Conway drop them off by an exit from the highway. Doc. No. 158-1 at 2. Trooper Tryon requested that a K-9 meet the car at the barracks to search for narcotics. Id. The K-9 unit arrived and alerted for narcotics on the blue Honda Accord. The vehicle was subsequently searched and a hidden aftermarket compartment was found. Inside the compartment were approximately 2 kilograms of heroin and a loaded handgun. Multiple cell phones were also found.

         When Arias and Aviles arrived at the State Police Barracks with the owner of the car, Marie Rodriguez, Massachusetts State Police arrested Arias and Aviles. Id. at 2-3. They were advised of their rights through a written statement in Spanish. Id. at 3.


         The parties do not disagree about whether the initial stop of the car for speeding is reasonable. Trooper Tryon had reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation, speeding. Regardless, Trooper Tryon had probable cause based on the information the DEA provided. The issue is thus whether the impoundment of the car and the search of the car were conducted within the confines of the Fourth Amendment. The Court assumes without deciding that Arias has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car and thus is able to challenge the stop and ensuing search.

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