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United States v. Vergara-Manzo

United States District Court, D. Kansas

March 4, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ALBERTO VERGARA-MANZO, FELIPE BALLEZA, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ERIC F. MELGREN, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Felipe Balleza's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 17) and Defendant Alberto Vergara-Manzo's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 24). Both Defendants contend that the approximate 4.9 pounds of methamphetamine found during a vehicle search in Colby, Kansas, should be suppressed because it was found during an illegal search and seizure. The Court held a hearing on February 18, 2014. For the reasons stated in more detail below, the Court denies Defendants' motions.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

On October 28, 2013, Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Brattin observed a 2005 Dodge Ram pickup traveling eastbound on Interstate 70 at approximately eighty miles per hour. Trooper Brattin followed the vehicle and saw that it had a broken left taillight. Trooper Brattin ran the registration with dispatch, and dispatch advised him that the truck had an expired vehicle registration. The trooper then stopped the vehicle.

Defendant Felipe Balleza was the driver of the truck. Balleza is from Mexico and speaks little English. Defendant Alberto Vergara-Manzo was a passenger and seated in the right front seat. Trooper Brattin approached the vehicle on the passenger side. Balleza started to look for his driver's license and insurance. Upon questioning, Vergara-Manzo stated that they were traveling from California to Olathe because Vergara-Manzo was tired of living in California. Vergara-Manzo also stated that Balleza was going to help him find work in Olathe.

After receiving both Defendants' identification and the car insurance, the trooper began to walk to his car and observed a 2014 registration sticker on the plate although dispatch had advised him that the tag was expired. Trooper Brattin returned to the truck and asked for registration information. Defendants told the trooper that Balleza had just bought the car off the street in California and gave him the title and sales contract. The sales contract showed that Balleza bought the vehicle on October 24, 2013, for $2000.00. The tag information identified an address in California, but there was not an individual name listed in the record.

Upon running Defendants' information, Trooper Brattin learned that Vergara-Manzo had a warrant out of California, but there was no extradition requested. Trooper Brattin wrote Balleza a warning and told him that he needed to get the taillight and registration fixed, and he returned all documents. After walking a few steps away from the truck, Trooper Brattin returned to the passenger side of the vehicle and asked if he could ask them a few questions. They both agreed.

Vergara-Manzo stated that they were going to Kansas City to find work, and that he knew Balleza through his dad. Balleza stated that he had lived in Kansas City for approximately three months but that he was originally from Dallas. He stated that he was in California to purchase the truck. Trooper Brattin observed that Balleza was quiet and that Vergara-Manzo was talkative. Trooper Brattin also observed that there was only one small bag in the pickup and many empty coffee containers and fast food trash. The trooper explained that there were a lot of people who transport drugs, money, and weapons and asked if he could search the truck. Both individuals said yes.

Trooper Brattin spoke to both Defendants in English, and both appeared to understand and respond appropriately in English. Trooper Brattin conducted a pat-down of both Defendants and asked them to stand approximately twenty to thirty feet in front of the vehicle during the search. Another officer, Trooper Medicott, arrived and assisted in the search. Upon the search, the officers observed that the underside of the truck may be different than the top, and the driver's side door was approximately twice as heavy as the passenger door. Trooper Brattin also observed a red substance near the rear wheel. The officers also observed glue on the inside panel of the driver's side door. After searching for approximately fifteen minutes, the troopers did not find anything illegal in the truck.

Trooper Brattin then asked Defendants if they would follow him to the sheriff's office in Colby and Defendants could sit in the office. The following is the dialogue between Trooper Brattin and Defendants:

Trooper Brattin: All right, guys. Real quick. That way you don't have to stand out here anymore. You guys mind following us in to town? And then we'll put you in an office or room. That way you don't have to stand out here and freeze. Does that work?
Vergara-Manzo: Yeah.
Trooper Brattin: What we'll do is he'll, you just follow me, and he'll follow you guys, okay? What we'll do is we'll do is we'll get you in an ...

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