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United States v. Gurule

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

February 14, 2018




         This matter is before the court on defendant Tommy Gurule's motion to suppress. Defendant Tommy Gurule (hereinafter “Mr. Gurule”) has moved to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the detention and search of his person during a traffic stop on 29 June 2017. Mr. Gurule asserts that all evidence obtained and all statements made to law enforcement officers after the search are poisonous fruits of a detention and search made in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and must therefore be suppressed. The court bases its decision on parties' arguments from an evidentiary hearing held 11 December 2017 and subsequent briefings.[1]


         The court finds the following facts. Mr. Gurule was the backseat passenger of a car stopped for a traffic violation by West Valley City Detective Jeffrey Smith (hereinafter “Detective Smith”) when the driver of the car engaged in improper lane changes and failure to use a turn signal. ECF No.19 at 2. As Detective Smith turned on his lights, the vehicle pulled into a gas station. Id. Detective Smith pulled up behind the stopped vehicle, approached the passenger side window, and requested identification from all three occupants of the vehicle. Id. at 2-3. Upon returning to his vehicle to check the record of each occupant, Detective Smith called for back-up. Id. at 3. Detective Benjamin Watson (hereinafter “Detective Watson”) soon arrived on the scene. Id. Upon looking into the vehicle, Detective Watson could see a considerable amount of property piled almost to the ceiling next to the back seat passenger. Id. The property caught his attention because it would be hard to see any weapons hidden near the passenger. Id. at 3-4. However, Detective Watson acknowledged that Mr. Gurule made no furtive movements while in the car. ECF No. 16 at 53:15-16. Detective Smith also acknowledged that none of Mr. Gurule's actions while in the car made him think Mr. Gurule was dangerous in any way. Id. at 25:16-18.

         The record check revealed that none of the occupants of the vehicle had a valid driver's license and that the driver of the vehicle had some misdemeanor warrants for her arrest. ECF No. 16 at 11:8-15, 12:5-8. Detective Smith asked the driver to exit the vehicle, which she did. Id. at 12:10-12. After a brief conversation in which Detective Smith asked her, among other things, whether there was anything illegal in the car, the driver consented to a search of the vehicle. Id. at 12:14-16. Because the officers planned to search the vehicle, Detective Smith asked Mr. Gurule to exit the vehicle and Detective Watson simultaneously asked the front passenger to exit the vehicle. Id. at 12:23-25, 13:1. Detective Watson conducted a consensual pat down of the front seat passenger while Detective Smith was engaging Mr. Gurule in conversation. Id. at 41:7-9.

         As Mr. Gurule exited the vehicle, Detective Smith asked whether he had anything illegal on him. ECF No. 16 at 13:21-22. Mr. Gurule said he did not. Id. Detective Smith asked whether he could search Mr. Gurule for weapons; Mr. Gurule responded that he did not want to be searched. Id. at 13:22-25. Detective Smith then told Mr. Gurule to sit on the curb near the vehicle, Id. at 14:1, which Mr. Gurule did, with his arms “completely slouched forward on his knees.” Id. at 42:14-15. Detective Watson testified that the way Mr. Gurule leaned forward while sitting on the curb gave him concern that he might be preparing to flee or fight, but acknowledged that Mr. Gurule did not reach for anything or attempt to flee. Id. at 54:22-25, 55:1-11.

         Detective Smith asked Mr. Gurule whether he had any weapons on him. ECF No. 16 at 15:2. Mr. Gurule looked away and said, “no.” Id. at 15:8-10. Detective Smith then asked specifically whether Mr. Gurule had a gun on him. Id. at 15:20-21. Mr. Gurule, broke eye contact with the detective, looked away when he said “no, ” and then looked back at the detective. Id. at 15:19-23. Detective Smith told Mr. Gurule he felt like Mr. Gurule was “giving [him] dodging answers” and asked him to stand up. Id. at 16:11-12. Though Detective Smith expressed concern that Mr. Gurule answered his questions in an evasive manner, he acknowledged that Mr. Gurule did not show any signs of dangerousness in the car, did not make any furtive movements or gestures, nor indicate any signs of dangerousness after leaving the car. Id. at 25:11-18, 26:17-25, 27:1-2.

         Detective Watson testified that while Mr. Gurule was sitting on the curb, Detective Watson saw “a large bulge on his right pocket of his jeans. It appeared that there was some sort of large item in his pocket.” ECF No. 16 at 43:9-21. With Detective Smith standing on one side of him and Detective Watson on the other, Mr. Gurule was asked to stand up. Id. at 44:12-16. As Mr. Gurule began to stand, Detective Smith held Mr. Gurule's left wrist and back of his arm to support him. Id. at 16:13-21. Detective Watson testified that as Mr. Gurule was standing, he noticed Mr. Gurule brought his right hand near the pocket where Detective Watson had seen the bulge, so the detective grasped Mr. Gurule's forearm to make sure Mr. Gurule did not reach for whatever was in the pocket. Id. at 44:16-20. Detective Watson testified that “as soon as [he] grasped his arm or put [his] hand around his forearm area [he] saw a handle or a grip to a small handgun in that pocket where that bulge was.” Id. at 45: 5-7. Detective Smith testified that “when [Mr. Gurule] stood up [he] saw a silver colored object in [Mr. Gurule's] pocket, ” and he heard Detective Watson say he saw a gun in Mr. Gurule's right front pocket, after which he “held onto [Mr. Gurule's] arm a little bit more firmly, ” handcuffed him and retrieved the gun from his pocket. Id. at 16:25-17:2-13. When asked how much time passed between the time he asked Mr. Gurule to exit the vehicle and when he located the gun on Mr. Gurule, Detective Smith responded, “I don't know. 15, 20 seconds, 30 seconds. I am not sure”. Id. at 17:17-18.

         Mr. Gurule was interviewed a short time later in Detective' Smith's patrol car, where he was given Miranda warnings and agreed to speak with Detective Smith about the incident. ECF No. 16 at 18:20-25, 19:1-3. Mr. Gurule acknowledged that he was in possession of the gun and had had it for years. ECF No. 18 at 4. He also explained where he obtained it. Id.


         Mr. Gurule has brought a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the illegal detention and search of his person. The government's burden in responding to a motion to suppress is to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, the legality of the seizure and search. United States v. Burciaga, 687 F.3d 1229, 1230 (10th Cir. 2012). The government thus need only show that there is a 51% likelihood that the Fourth Amendment was not violated. United States v. Banks, 93 F.Supp.3d 1237, 1251 (D. Kan. 2015). The court finds that this burden was not met, and Defendant's motion to suppress is granted.

         Reasonableness of Detention

         A traffic stop is a form of seizure under the Fourth Amendment. However, the Supreme Court has also held that an officer making such a traffic stop may order passengers to get out of the car pending completion of the stop, even without any belief that the passenger(s) have committed a crime. Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 415 (1997). But in order for an investigative detention to be reasonable, an officer's actions must be justifiable at the beginning and then remain “reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.” United States v. Botero-Ospina, 71 F.3d 783, 786 (10th Cir. 1995), citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S.1, 20 (1968). The court finds that, although the initial stop based on traffic violations was reasonable, the further seizure of Mr. Gurule and subsequent search of his person were not.

         The Supreme Court stated in Rodriguez v. United States that once “the tasks are completed as it relates to a traffic stop, the defendant is free to go.” ECF 18 at 6; see also135 S.Ct. 1609 (S.Ct. 2015). After having collected his license and verified that Mr. Gurule was not wanted (the necessary tasks related to the original stop, at least in regards to Mr. Gurule), he should have been free to leave. However, the police asked for permission to conduct a ...

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