United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
ORDER AND MEMORANDUM ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO
SUPPRESS EVIDENCE (DOCKET NO. 53, 57, & 69)
TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN DISTRICT JUDGE
United States of America (the “Government”)
charged Jose Perez, Jr. (“Perez Jr.”), Jose E.
Perez (“Perez”), and Christian Garcia
“Defendants”) with conspiracy to distribute
controlled substances and possession of firearms in
furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Defendants move to
suppress all the evidence obtained during the March 23, 2018,
stop. For the following reasons, the Court
denies the motions.
March 23, 2018, at approximately 11:35pm, Trooper George
D'Amelio (“Trooper D'Amelio”) of the
Massachusetts State Police was returning home from a duty
shift when he observed a gray sedan tailgating another car on
Route 2 eastbound. (Docket No. 64-1 at 2). The gray sedan,
which was traveling at 75 mph, “abruptly changed lanes,
without using a turn signal, from the left lane to the right
lane, and cut-off another vehicle traveling in the right
lane, nearly causing a collision.” (Docket No. 64-1 at
2). The gray sedan “then changed lanes back to the left
lane in front of the vehicle that the operator had previously
been tailgating nearly causing a collision with the second
vehicle.” (Docket No. 64-1 at 2). Trooper D'Amelio
activated his cruiser's lights and initiated a stop.
(Docket No. 64-1 at 2).
D'Amelio approached the passenger side of the vehicle and
asked the driver, Perez Jr., to roll down all the windows.
(Docket No. 64-1 at 3). Trooper D'Amelio requested Perez
Jr.'s license and registration. (Docket No. 64-1 at 3).
As Perez Jr. retrieved these documents, Trooper D'Amelio
observed “what appeared to be a clear glassine bag
partially sticking out of Perez [Jr.]'s right front
pocket.” (Docket No. 64-1 at 3). Trooper D'Amelio
asked Perez Jr. what he had in the bag. (Docket No. 64-1 at
3). Perez Jr. mumbled and stuttered but did not provide an
answer. (Docket No. 64-1 at 3). Trooper D'Amelio then
requested that Perez Jr. remove the bag. (Docket No. 64-1 at
3). Perez Jr. complied without objection. (Docket No. 64-1 at
3). Perez, the front passenger, and Garcia, the rear
occupant, displayed signs of nervousness as Perez Jr. handed
over the bag. (Docket No. 64-1 at 3). The bag contained
cocaine packaged in a manner that Trooper D'Amelio
believed to be consistent with street-level distribution.
(Docket No. 64-1 at 3).
D'Amelio requested backup, and when another officer
arrived on scene, Trooper D'Amelio asked Perez Jr. to
exit the vehicle and frisked Perez Jr. for weapons. (Docket
No. 64-1 at 3). He found no weapon, but he discovered $1, 285
in United States currency on Perez Jr.'s person. (Docket
No. 64-1 at 3). Trooper D'Amelio placed Perez Jr. in
handcuffs, administered his Miranda rights, and
secured him in a cruiser. (Docket No. 64-1 at 4). In doing
so, he told Perez Jr. that he was not under arrest. (August
D'Amelio had Perez (Perez Jr.'s brother) exit the
vehicle. (Docket No. 64-1 at 4). As he had done with Perez
Jr., Trooper D'Amelio frisked Perez for weapons,
handcuffed him, administered his Miranda rights, and
placed him in a cruiser. (Docket No. 64-1 at 4). He then had
Garcia exit the vehicle. (Docket No. 64-1 at 4). Trooper
D'Amelio discovered two golf-ball-sized bags of marijuana
while frisking Garcia for weapons. (Docket No. 64-1 at 4).
Kilimonis arrived on scene with a narcotics dog. (Docket No.
64-1 at 4). To ensure that the dog could safely enter the
vehicle, Trooper D'Amelio and Trooper Kilimonis scanned
the vehicle for weapons. (Docket No. 64-1 at 4). Trooper
Kilimonis found a loaded handgun hidden under a sweatshirt in
the backseat. (Docket No. 64-1 at 4). Trooper Kilimonis also
found a pistol in the glove compartment. (Docket No. 64-1 at
5). The handgun had been reported as stolen, and the serial
number of the pistol had been partially obliterated. (Docket
No. 64-1 at 5). The officers subsequently searched the trunk
of the vehicle and found a backpack containing approximately
one pound of marijuana and dozens of unused plastic baggies.
(Docket No. 64-1 at 5).
were arrested and charged with conspiracy to distribute
controlled substances and possession of firearms in
furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. They now move to
suppress the evidence gathered during the stop. (Docket No.
53, 57, & 69).
traffic stop is permissible under the Fourth Amendment when
an officer has a “reasonable suspicion that a traffic
violation has occurred.” United States v.
Chaney, 584 F.3d 20, 24 (1st Cir. 2009). An officer may
arrest an individual if he has “probable cause to
believe that an individual has committed even a very minor
criminal offense in his presence . . . .” Goddard
v. Kelly, 629 F.Supp.2d 115, 125 (D. Mass. 2009)
(quoting Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 532 U.S.
318, 354 (2001)). “Once authorized to make a lawful
arrest, law enforcement personnel may conduct a warrantless
search of the person of an arrestee.” See United
States v. Bizier, 111 F.3d 214, 217 (1st Cir. 1997).
Officers may also search the arrestee's vehicle if (1)
“the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance
of the passenger compartment at the time of the search”
or (2) “it is reasonable to believe evidence relevant
to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle.”
See Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 343 (2009)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Trooper D'Amelio had ample cause to stop Perez Jr. for
driving to endanger. He witnessed Perez Jr. tailgate another
vehicle, change lanes without signaling, and nearly cause a
collision with two other vehicles. (Docket No. 64-1 at 2).
Trooper D'Amelio also had probable cause to
arrest Perez Jr. and to search him incident to
arrest. As Perez Jr. retrieved his license and registration,
Trooper D'Amelio observed the glassine bag sticking out
of Perez Jr.'s front right pocket. He asked for and
received the bag, and he determined that it contained cocaine
packaged in a manner consistent with distribution. Because he
lawfully detained Perez Jr. based on his possession of
cocaine, Trooper D'Amelio did not need a warrant to
search Perez Jr. See Bizier, 111 F.3d at 217.
Moreover, given the way the cocaine was packaged and the cash
Perez Jr. carried, Trooper D'Amelio did not need a
warrant to search the vehicle. He had ample reason to believe
that it would hold additional evidence relevant to the
drug-related offenses. See Gant, 556 U.S. at 343.
The Court therefore declines to suppress the evidence
obtained from Perez Jr. or the vehicle.
Court also declines to suppress the evidence obtained from
Garcia. Garcia's presence in a car containing cocaine and
his visible nervousness as Perez Jr. handed over the bag gave
Trooper D'Amelio reasonable suspicion that Garcia might
be armed. And, even if Trooper D'Amelio lacked reasonable
suspicion that Garcia was armed, the inevitable discovery
rule would shelter any evidence recovered from Garcia. The
search of the vehicle produced evidence that would have given
Trooper D'Amelio probable cause to arrest Garcia, and
officers would have recovered the bags of marijuana in a
search incident to arrest or an inventory ...