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United States v. Morales

United States District Court, D. Kansas

June 23, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JUAN F. MORALES, Defendants

Page 1292

For Juan F. Morales, Defendant: Edward L. Robinson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Robinson Law, LLC, Wichita, KS.

For Victor Linares, Defendant: Kurt P. Kerns, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ariagno, Kerns, Mank & White, Wichita, KS.

For Filiberto Escobedo-Colon, Defendant: E. Jay Greeno, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of E. Jay Greeno, Wichita, KS.

For USA, Plaintiff: Lanny D. Welch, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of United States Attorney - Wichita, Wichita, KS.

Page 1293

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ERIC F. MELGREN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This matter comes before the Court on Juan Morales' Motion to Suppress (Doc. 34). Morales contends that evidence of methamphetamine and cocaine obtained during a traffic stop should be suppressed because the stop was not justified at its inception and his consent to search was invalid because of an unreasonable detention. Specifically, Morales argues that the stop was not justified because the highway patrolman misinterpreted Kansas traffic law about whether a turn signal is required when two lanes become one. But under recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the Court finds that the stop was valid even if the trooper made a reasonable mistake of law. And the Court finds that the resulting detention was not unreasonable in duration or scope and that Morales' consent was valid. In the alternative, the Court finds that there was reasonable suspicion for the stop based on other information obtained through surveillance during an ongoing drug investigation. As a result, the Court denies Morales' motion to suppress.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

In December 2014, a task force of the Drug Enforcement Administration was intercepting calls under a state-issued wiretap of the phone of Codefendant Filiberto Escobedo-Colon as part of a drug-related investigation in Garden City, Kansas. The task force had intercepted four calls between Escobedo-Colon and Codefendant Victor Linares, who lived in Lamar, Colorado. Undercover DEA agents had made two controlled buys of cocaine from Linares in the summer of 2014 at his ranch east of Lamar. One of the intercepted calls indicated that a payment had been made to Escobedo-Colon for drugs to be obtained from Linares in Colorado. On

Page 1294

December 19, 2014, Escobedo-Colon called Linares and handed the phone to a person later determined to be Defendant Juan Morales, who talked about coming to meet Linares at his ranch the next day.

Members of the task force, which included Finney County sheriff's deputy Michael Tabor, set up surveillance the next day near Linares' ranch outside of Lamar. Based on intercepted calls, the task force believed that Morales was on his way to pick up drugs from Linares. That afternoon, a maroon 2001 Ford Windstar minivan arrived at the ranch, stayed about 15 minutes, and left driving east on U.S. Highway 50. Members of the task force followed the minivan into Kansas. Tabor contacted Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Brody Gosch and asked him to stop a vehicle coming back from Colorado with narcotics. Tabor told Trooper Gosch that the subject of the investigation was driving a maroon 2001 Ford Windstar minivan and provided the license tag number.

A few hours later, Trooper Gosch stopped Morales driving the maroon 2001 Ford Windstar minivan on U.S. Highway 50 west of Lakin, Kansas. Trooper Gosch observed Morales driving in the right lane on a " super two" highway, which features two eastbound lanes for a short distance, the extra lane being provided as a passing lane. When the two lanes narrowed to become one lane, Trooper Gosch stopped Morales for failing to use a turn signal. The officer asked Morales where he had been, and Morales said he had visited family in Syracuse earlier that day. About 10 minutes after the stop began, the officer returned Morales' license and documentation, issued a warning citation, and said " you take care, sir." The officer took two steps away from the passenger window, returned, asked Morales if he could ask him a few more questions, and Morales agreed. Trooper Gosch asked Morales more questions about his travel that day, the family he said he visited, and whether he had any drugs in the vehicle. After about three minutes, Trooper Gosch asked Morales, " Is it OK if I search your vehicle?" Morales nodded his head affirmatively and after the Trooper, who wanted a verbal response, repeated the request once or twice Morales made a verbal response of " OK." Trooper Gosch searched the vehicle and found a ...


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