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United States v. Medina

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 8, 2014



ERIC F. MELGREN, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Jesus Medina's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 15). Medina contends that all evidence of methamphetamine obtained during an interstate traffic stop should be suppressed because he was unlawfully detained after the purpose of the stop was completed. The Court agrees and finds that the totality of the circumstances surrounding the stop did not rise to the level of reasonable suspicion required for the state trooper to detain Medina without his consent. Because the trooper lacked reasonable suspicion for an investigatory detainment, the Court grants Medina's motion to suppress.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

On February 14, 2014, Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Jerett Ranieri observed Jesus Medina driving a Chevy Malibu with a California tag by himself eastbound on Interstate 70 near exit 333 in eastern Kansas. By misreading an E for an F, a license tag check returned for a Porsche SUV. The trooper stopped Medina, advised him that the tag was illegible, and suggested that he should wipe it off the next time he stopped for gas. When the trooper asked Medina if he owned the car, Medina replied he was going to see his aunt in Kansas for a week. He later clarified that his aunt lived in Kansas City, Kansas, and that he was driving from Anaheim. The trooper asked for the car's registration, and Medina produced it. The trooper again asked who owned the car, and Medina replied that it belonged to a family member. The trooper asked, "You don't know the name?" and Medina appears to have gestured toward the registration papers. The trooper replied "okay, okay" and then asked Medina for his driver's license. The vehicle was registered to Servando Lopez of Chino, California.

The trooper returned to his patrol car with the license and registration. The trooper learned that the registration and license were valid, the car was not reported stolen, and there were no warrants for Medina. At the suppression hearing, the trooper testified that while in the patrol car he made the decision to detain Medina because he suspected him of drug trafficking. The trooper listed the following observations in his report as the basis for his suspicion: Medina was very nervous and had shaky body language, was traveling on a known drug trafficking interstate and was coming from a known drug source area, had only one key on the key ring, was heading toward a large urban area, and had fast-food wrappers on the front passenger seat. The trooper also testified that he considered the vehicle's salvage title as another basis for his suspicion but conceded that he did not include it in his written report.

Approximately 11 minutes into the stop, the trooper issued Medina a warning and thanked him for his time. Medina left the vehicle and wiped down his tag. He returned to the vehicle, had his foot on the brake pedal, and was closing the door when the trooper asked if he could search the trunk. At about this time, the trooper's supervisor arrived at the scene. After being patted down, Medina opened the trunk where the trooper observed a small overnight bag. The trooper asked to search inside the vehicle, and Medina declined. Shortly after Medina refused to allow the car to be searched, a canine unit arrived. The dog alerted on the car's front bumper, where approximately 11 pounds of methamphetamine eventually was discovered.

In March 2014, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Medina with one count of possession with intent to distribute methampethamine. In May 2014, Medina filed a motion to suppress the evidence, and the Court held a hearing on the motion in June 2014.

II. Analysis

Medina's motion to suppress primarily challenges whether the trooper had sufficient reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify detaining him after issuing a warning. Medina does not challenge the initial stop but alleges that the trooper unlawfully extended the scope and duration of the stop and that the continued encounter was not consensual. In addition to arguing that the totality of the circumstances gave the trooper a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity sufficient to justify an investigatory detainment, the Government challenges whether Medina had a reasonable expectation of privacy in a car he did not own. Because the Government essentially asserts that Medina lacks standing to file this motion, the Court first will address the issue of Medina's reasonable expectation of privacy.

A. Medina Had a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from "unreasonable searches and seizures" conducted by state or federal government officials.[1] As the party seeking suppression, Medina must demonstrate that it was his Fourth Amendment rights that were violated.[2] This principle is often called "standing, " but the idea that personal Fourth Amendment rights must be at stake "is more properly subsumed under substantive Fourth Amendment doctrine.'"[3] The party seeking suppression has the burden of citing facts at the suppression hearing indicating that his own rights were violated by the search.[4] The determination of whether a defendant's own Fourth Amendment rights were violated turns on two questions: 1) whether the defendant can show a subjective expectation of privacy in the area searched, and 2) whether society is prepared to recognize that expectation as objectively reasonable.[5]

In the context of an automobile search, the Tenth Circuit has held that for a defendant to show such a subjective expectation of privacy in an automobile, he bears the burden to show a legitimate interest in or lawful control over the car.[6] Mere possession of the car and its keys is not enough to establish a legitimate possessory interest.[7] In short, a "defendant does not have standing to contest a search where he does not establish a link between himself and the registered owner."[8] The Tenth Circuit has observed that this does not mean that a defendant must show legal documentation establishing a chain of lawful custody from the registered owner to himself.[9] But when the defendant is not the registered owner, he bears the burden of establishing that he gained possession from the owner or someone with authority to grant possession.[10] A slight connection to the vehicle's lawful owner may suffice for standing.[11] On the other hand, no standing exists if a defendant-when asked-fails to establish any connection to the owner or a person with authority to grant possession.[12]

Generally, a person driving a borrowed car has a subjective expectation of privacy in the vehicle.[13] Specifically, in the context of a non-owner driver, the Tenth Circuit has held:

The officer's testimony established that [the defendant] had claimed to have borrowed the car from the rightful owner and had produced a registration bearing the owner's name. Although such evidence may not be determinative of the Defendant's right to possess the car, absent evidence to the contrary, it is sufficient to meet his burden of demonstrating Fourth Amendment standing.[14]

Here, the question is whether Medina established a link-even a slight connection- between himself and the registered owner. Medina did not testify at the suppression hearing, but his interaction with the trooper was presented through a DVD recording from the trooper's dashcam. Medina's responses are mostly inaudible. As best as can be discerned, the following brief exchange took place:

Trooper: I'm just going to warn you about your tag. When you stop to get gas, you might try cleaning it off so we can see when it expires, your license plate. It's hard to see when it expires. And it comes back on a Porsche. Do you have papers, registration for it?
Medina: (inaudible)
Trooper: Is this your car? A friend's? Amigo's? ...

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