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United States v. Morales Torres

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 4, 2019

UNITED STATES of AMERICA,
v.
MIGUEL ANGEL MORALES TORRES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          NATHANIEL M. GORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant Miguel Angel Morales Torres (“Morales Torres” or “defendant”) has been indicted on one count of Possession with Intent to Distribute One Kilogram or More of Heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A)(i). The indictment also includes a drug forfeiture allegation.

         Before the Court is defendant's motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of an automobile stop conducted in August, 2018. For the reasons that follow, that motion will be denied.

         I. Background

         A. The Facts

         In August, 2018, law enforcement officers from the Drug Enforcement Administration (“the DEA”) engaged a cooperating witness (“the CW”) to assist in the investigation of Cesar Rodrigo Guerra-Garcia (“Guerra-Garcia”), a suspected multi- kilogram-level narcotics distributor. The CW had been working with the DEA for about a year and had previously provided reliable and corroborated information to other law enforcement agencies in other successful drug investigations. In a series of recorded telephone calls and text messages, Guerra-Garcia agreed to deliver four kilograms of fentanyl to the CW in Massachusetts for a total purchase price of $220, 000.

         On August 18, 2018, Guerra-Garcia informed the CW that the drugs would be delivered by a courier who was on his way to Boston and that the courier would contact the CW to coordinate the pickup. On August 19, 2018, the CW received a telephone call from the courier who spoke in Spanish. They agreed to meet in Boston. Later that day, the CW received a telephone call from Guerra-Garcia who informed the CW that the courier had arrived in Boston and would meet the CW the following day around noon.

         On August 20, 2018, the CW received another telephone call from the courier. In a series of calls and text messages, the two arranged the address of 94 Granite Avenue, Milton, Massachusetts, as the pickup location and agreed to meet around noon. Law enforcement began surveillance of the pickup site shortly thereafter.

         Around 12:15 P.M., officers observed a white tractor trailer drive slowly by a “park and ride” area near the pickup location. They saw two Hispanic men in the vehicle who were looking around as they passed the “park and ride” area. The tractor trailer briefly stopped at a parking lot past the pickup location, turned around and drove back to the pickup location.

         Around that same time, the CW received a telephone call from the courier who said that he was at the meeting location. The officers then stopped the tractor trailer. Morales Torres was the driver of the vehicle. He and his passenger each presented their driver's license to the officers. The officers reported that both men appeared nervous and had conflicting stories about where they had come from and where they were going. The officers allege that defendant stated that they were lost and trying to get to Boston while the passenger said that they were trying to get to Rhode Island. The officers claim that when the men were asked for more specifics about their destination, neither could answer.

         While the officers were speaking with Morales Torres and the passenger, other law enforcement agents instructed the CW to place several calls to the courier's telephone. The officers speaking with defendant noticed that a cellphone inside the tractor trailer rang multiple times during their conversation. The officers then removed Morales Torres and the passenger from the vehicle and conducted a search of the tractor trailer. They discovered a black plastic bag in a cabinet behind the driver's seat which contained four packages of tan powder wrapped in green cellophane and black tape. A field-test of the powder revealed that it contained heroin. Morales Torres and the passenger were arrested and transported to the State Police Barracks in Boston, Massachusetts.

         B. The Parties' Arguments

         Defendant claims that the drugs and his subsequent incriminating statements were obtained as the result of an unlawful stop and search of the tractor trailer and thus should be suppressed. He contends that 1) the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the tractor trailer, 2) not enough information is known about the CW to determine his or her reliability and thus his or her information could not support a finding of reasonable suspicion and 3) he was detained and his vehicle was searched without probable cause.

         The government responds that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle based on the totality of the circumstances, particularly based on 1) the CW's communications with Guerra-Garcia and the courier in Spanish and 2) the DEA agents' observation of a tractor trailer arriving at the pickup location at the same time the courier called the CW to announce his arrival. Moreover, the government asserts that the stop was reasonable in both scope and duration. Finally, the government contends that the officers had probable cause ...


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