United States District Court, D. Utah
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S
MOTION TO SUPPRESS
N. Parrish United States District Court Judge
the court is Defendant Guillermo Lopez-Casillas' motion
to suppress evidence obtained from a search of his car after
a traffic stop. (Docket No. 32). The court held an
evidentiary hearing on the matter on January 4, 2017. (Docket
No. 51). The transcript of that hearing was filed on January
12, 2017. (Docket No. 53). Defendant submitted a memorandum
in support of the motion on February 22, 2017. (Docket No.
58). The government responded with its own memorandum in
opposition on March 8, 2017. (Docket No. 59). Defendant did
not file a reply. Both parties filed proposed findings of
fact and conclusions of law for the court's
consideration. (Docket Nos. 60, 61). The court held oral
argument on the matter on April 4, 2017. As explained below,
the court DENIES Defendant's motion.
The initial traffic stop.
around 10:00 AM on August 14, 2015, Trooper Jared Withers of
the Utah Highway Patrol was parked on the median of
Interstate 70 (“I-70”) near milepost 140 and
about twenty miles west of Green River, Utah. (Tr. 11:14-19).
Trooper Withers was monitoring the speed of passing motorists
with radar. (Tr. 11: 18-19). At 10:18 AM, he noticed a darkly
colored BMW car approaching. (Tr. 12:3-4). He clocked the car
travelling at sixty-five miles per hour despite the posted
speed limit of sixty. (Tr. 11:25; 12:5). As the car
approached Trooper Withers' position, it slowed to
fifty-five miles per hour. (Tr. 12:5-7).
car drew closer, Trooper Withers observed a dark strip of
window tint running along the top of the windshield and
extending below the AS-1 line,  which he knew to be a violation
of Utah law. (Tr. 12:8-10; 21:24 - 22:3). He also noted that
the car's side windows were so darkly tinted as to
prevent him from seeing inside the passenger compartment.
(Tr. 12:8-13). Having previously tested the light
transmittance of “a couple thousand windows, ”
Trooper Withers concluded this was also “an obvious
violation” of Utah law. (Tr. 23:15-20). Accordingly,
Trooper Withers left the median, pulled up behind the car,
and initiated a traffic stop. (Tr. 12:18-24). As the car was
slowing to a stop near milepost 141, Trooper Withers observed
that tinting on the rear windshield covered the center brake
light-another violation of Utah law. (Tr. 12:21-23). At some
point, Trooper Withers noted that the vehicle had a temporary
license plate taped to the front windshield. (Tr. 24:6-9).
Initial discussion with the car's occupants.
Withers approached the vehicle on the passenger side. An
adolescent passenger rolled down the passenger-side window as
Trooper Withers approached. (Tr. 25:11-17). Trooper Withers
leaned over, rested his arms on the passenger's door, and
began to speak to Defendant, who was in the driver's
seat. (Tr. 25:20-21; Gov. Exh. 1 at 10:18:15-21). Trooper
Withers then informed Defendant that his vehicle's window
tint violated Utah law, briefly leaned his head and inserted
his arm into the passenger compartment, and pointed to the
tint extending below the AS- 1 line. (See Tr.
25:11-17; Gov. Exh. 1 at 10:18:36-47). Defendant responded
that the back windows were tinted when he bought the car, but
the side windows and the front windshield were not. (Tr.
25:14-17). Trooper Withers then asked Defendant where he was
from and whether he had a driver's license. Defendant
responded that he was from Los Angeles, California, and
admitted that his driver's license was currently
suspended due to a 2008 DUI conviction. (Tr. 25:25 - 26:1;
26:5-8). Thus, neither Defendant nor his fifteen-year-old
passenger was authorized to drive the car. (Tr. 26:9-18).
Defendant searched for his identification, Trooper Withers
asked him where he and his passenger were headed. (Tr.
26:22). Defendant responded that he was taking the passenger
back to Minnesota. (Tr. 26:13; 26:23 - 27:2). Defendant
initially identified the passenger as his cousin, before
saying the passenger was in fact his cousin's son. (Tr.
26:24 - 27:2). Trooper Withers noted that the passenger was
“showing extreme physical signs of
nervousness”-he observed sweat forming on the
passenger's forehead and the “carotid artery in his
neck [was] pounding.” (Tr. 27:4-7).
eventually provided an identification card issued by the
State of California that identified him as Guillermo
Lopez-Casillas. (Tr. 27:20-23). After Defendant handed him
the card, Trooper Withers requested registration and
insurance information for the car. (Tr. 27:24-25). Defendant
produced an insurance card and indicated that the only
registration he had on hand was a temporary permit taped to
the windshield. (Tr. 28:1-5). The insurance had an effective
date of August 8, 2015, while the registration was issued in
Minnesota on August 7, 2015. (Tr. 28:2; 28:6-11).
gathered the requested documentation, Defendant explained to
Trooper Withers that he had already driven to California and
was heading back to Minnesota after less than a week. This
quick turnaround from California, coupled with purchase of
the vehicle only seven days prior in Minnesota, piqued
Trooper Withers' suspicion. Trooper Withers estimated
that the distance between Minnesota and Los Angeles was
around 2, 000 miles-a trip that would require ten to twelve
hours of driving over three days. (Tr. 28:17-24; 29:1-3).
Trooper Withers also noticed a hat with a Ferrari symbol on
the passenger's seat, which he identified as a common
signifier “specifically used by Mexican drug
organizations as a symbol to represent themselves.”
point, Trooper Withers asked Defendant to accompany him to
his patrol car while he ran Defendant's information.
Defendant agreed and exited his vehicle. (Tr. 29:20 - 30:7).
Trooper Withers observed that Defendant was wearing dress
slacks, dress shoes, a button-up shirt, and “a nice
hat, ” which Trooper Withers considered unusually
formal for a cross-country traveler. (Tr. 30:10-14).
Defendant explained that this was “just how he likes to
dress” and nothing more than a reflection of “his
[sense of] style.” (Tr. 33:2-3).
Discussion with defendant in the patrol car.
they reached the patrol car, Trooper Withers conducted a
brief consensual search for weapons on Defendant's
person. He then allowed Defendant to sit in the front
passenger seat of the patrol car. (Tr. 30:16-25). As Trooper
Withers filled out a citation on his laptop, Defendant
explained that he had moved from California to Minnesota
three months prior and was in the process of making the move
permanent. (Tr. 31:4-11). He told Trooper Withers that he
stayed with the passenger's mother while in Minnesota. He
also indicated that he worked installing radios and
electronics for the passenger's mother. (Tr. 31:10-15).
Defendant told Trooper Withers that he had been in California
for “about a week” before Trooper Withers
reminded him that it was only a week before that he had
purchased the car in Minnesota. (Tr. 35:5-7). At this,
Defendant amended his answer, saying that they had been in
California for five days. (Tr. 35:9). As they talked, Trooper
Withers observed that Defendant's breathing became heavy.
approximately 10:23AM, around five minutes after he initiated
the stop, Trooper Withers contacted dispatch and asked them
to run a driver's license check, a warrants and criminal
history check, and a check of the VIN and registration for
Defendant's car. (Tr. 33:9-16). Trooper Withers then
asked Defendant “what [they] should do” to
resolve the stop since neither Defendant nor his passenger
were permitted to drive. They discussed whether Defendant
knew anyone in the area. (Tr. 33: 21 - 34:1; 33:21 - 34:3).
Defendant responded that he did not know what to do because
his closest relative lived in Arizona. (Tr. 34:3-4).
point, Trooper Withers suspected that Defendant might be
transporting narcotics. Thus, Trooper Withers deployed his
K-9, Marco, while waiting for the requested information from
dispatch. (Tr. 34:5-7). Marco made three passes on the
vehicle but did not alert to the odor of narcotics. (Tr.
34:15-16). After he put Marco back into the patrol car,
Trooper Withers retrieved the window tint meter to check the
light transmittance on the side windows of Defendant's
car. (Tr. 34:18-20). While testing the windows, Trooper
Withers spoke to the passenger about the trip to Minnesota.
(Tr. 34:23-25; 35:10-17). Contrary to the statements that
Trooper Withers had elicited from Defendant just moments
before, the passenger indicated that they had only been in
California for about two days, and had left Minnesota just
four days prior. (Tr. 35:16-19). As he questioned the
passenger, Trooper Withers again observed signs of
significant anxiety and asked the passenger why he was so
nervous. (Tr. 36:12-19). The passenger responded that the dog
made him nervous, but Trooper Withers explained that he had
seen signs of anxiety even before the dog was deployed. (Tr.
confirming that the window tint was not in conformance with
Utah law, Trooper Withers returned to his patrol car where
Defendant was waiting. (Tr. 37:2-12). Asked to confirm the
length of his trip, Defendant again asserted that he had been
in California for five days. (Tr. 37:14-15). Trooper Withers
then asked if there was anything illegal in the vehicle, and
Defendant responded that there was not. (Tr. 37:15-17).
Defendant further denied that he had any “cocaine,
methamphetamine, heroin, [or] marijuana” when Trooper
Withers asked him about each drug directly. (Tr. 37:17-20).
Despite this denial and the earlier failure of the K-9 to
alert, Trooper Withers still suspected that Defendant was
transporting narcotics and asked Defendant for permission to
search his vehicle. Defendant nodded his head and then
verbally assented to the search. (Tr. 39:18-20; 41:7). At
this point, Trooper Withers was still waiting for the
requested information from dispatch.
Search of the car.
order to safely conduct the search, Trooper Withers
instructed Defendant to stand at a signpost about fifty feet
ahead of Defendant's car. (Tr. 40:1-10). Defendant
complied. Trooper Withers also told Defendant that he could
yell from that position if he objected to any aspect of the
search, but should not approach the car during the search.
(Tr. 40:2-7). Trooper Withers explained that this prevented
Defendant from “com[ing] up behind” him during
the search. (Tr. 40:3-10).
first approached the car, Trooper Withers asked the passenger
if he had any luggage. (Tr. 40:14-15). The passenger
indicated he had a backpack, which he allowed Trooper Withers
to search. (Tr. 40:15-17). As he began to search the car,
Trooper Withers asked the passenger to stand between the post
where the defendant was waiting and the ...