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United States v. Vasquez

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS, SECOND CIRCUIT


decided: October 27, 1980.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MANUEL VASQUEZ AND LUIS IBARGUAN, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS

Appeals from judgments of conviction entered on guilty pleas in the Eastern District of New York, Jack B. Weinstein, Chief Judge, for violations of the federal narcotics laws. Affirmed.

Before Mulligan and Timbers, Circuit Judges and Palmieri*fn*, District Judge.

Author: Mulligan

Appellants Manuel Vasquez and Luis Ibarguan appeal from judgments of conviction entered on guilty pleas in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York by Chief Judge Jack B. Weinstein, for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (1976). In addition, appellant Ibarguan was convicted, on a plea of guilty, of possession with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (1976). On appeal, appellants assert that Judge Weinstein erred by refusing to grant, in their entirety, motions to suppress evidence and, therefore, that the convictions should be reversed. The judgments of conviction are hereby affirmed.

I.-The Facts

Acting on information disclosed in a related narcotics investigation, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) detectives conducted surveillance of an apartment building at 14-01 55th Street, Brooklyn, New York, believed to be the residence of a large cocaine purchaser named Ocampo. Another investigation had revealed that Ocampo resided in apartment A-1, although he had not yet been identified there. On one occasion of surveillance, the agents observed a woman who lived in the same apartment leave the building several times and look up and down the street as if she were expecting someone. Soon thereafter, the appellants approached the building in a car that the agents recognized as belonging to another individual identified in the records of a related narcotics investigation.*fn1 Appellant Vasquez left the car and entered the apartment building. A few minutes later, Vasquez returned and the appellants drove about ten blocks to another apartment building. After leaving the vehicle, Vasquez signaled Ibarguan to drive away. At which point, Ibarguan began circling the block and several times engaged in peculiar conduct, apparently suspecting that he was being watched or followed. During this period, DEA Detective Raymond Vallely attempted to conduct a surveillance of the appellants on foot. He observed Vasquez leave the building, note the presence of Vallely and then return into the building. Shortly thereafter, Vasquez re-emerged carrying an umbrella and a yellow and white plastic shopping bag. Ibarguan immediately drove to the curb, picked him up and drove away followed directly by the detectives' car. When both cars stopped at an intersection, Ibarguan signaled and positioned his car for a right turn, but as the light changed he glanced in the rear view mirror and abruptly turned left. Sensing that the appellants were aware of being followed and rather than risk losing sight of them in traffic, the agents pulled along the driver's side of the appellants' car at the next light. The agents displayed a badge and pulled the appellants over to the curb. As Vallely left the car, he saw Vasquez bend down and reach under the passenger seat. By the time Vallely got to the passenger side of the car, Vasquez had placed the shopping bag, which had been on his lap, partially under the car. Thereupon, Vallely directed Vasquez and Ibarguan to leave the car, frisked them and picked up the shopping bag. He was able to see, in plain view, a large amount of money at the top of the bag. When Vallely asked who owned the bag, Ibarguan smiled and said something to the effect that it must belong to Detective Vallely since he found it in the street. Vallely then searched through the bag and found, concealed under the cash, several plastic bags containing approximately three pounds of cocaine. Appellants were then placed under arrest and taken to the 66th Police Precinct. Later they were transferred to DEA headquarters for processing.

II.-The Law

(A) Appellants claim that the agents had no grounds either to make an investigatory stop or to make the subsequent arrest. These contentions have no merit. "An officer need have only a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot before subjecting a person to an investigatory stop." United States v. Gomez, 633 F.2d 999 at 1004 (2d Cir. 1980); United States v. Vasquez, 612 F.2d 1338, 1342 (2d Cir. 1979). In light of the information derived from the other drug investigations, the elusive meanderings of appellant Ibarguan while waiting for Vasquez, the appearance of Vasquez with the shopping bag, as well as the attempt to confuse the trailing agents in traffic, the officers had articulable, specific and objective facts to form the basis for a reasonable suspicion that the appellants were engaged in narcotics trafficking. "True, viewed singly by an untrained eye, these events might be susceptible of an innocent interpretation. But when viewed collectively by experienced police officers who have seen this pattern of behavior many times before," the events provided a reasonable objective basis to stop and question the appellants. United States v. Gomez, supra, at 1005; e.g., United States v. Oates, 560 F.2d 45, 61 (2d Cir. 1977).

Furthermore, when Vasquez bent down and reached under his seat, the detectives were justified in making a protective frisk under Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 146, 92 S. Ct. 1921, 32 L. Ed. 2d 612 (1972), particularly in view of the violent nature of narcotics crime. See United States v. Vasquez, supra, 612 F.2d at 1343; United States v. Oates, supra, 560 F.2d at 61. In addition, after the detectives saw large amounts of money in the shopping bag and heard Ibarguan's suggestion that the bag belonged to Detective Vallely, a remark construed by Judge Weinstein to be an attempt to bribe the officer, probable cause existed to seize the bag and inspect its contents. Upon discovery of white powder, almost certain to be narcotics, probable cause existed for the arrests. As we recently stated in United States v. Webb, 623 F.2d 758, 761 (1980), "(while) the rule prohibiting law enforcement officers from making arrests without probable cause serves to protect the public from harassment or arbitrary police actions, the rule also must serve the concomitant interest of allowing the police to enforce the law without undue restraint." See Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 176, 69 S. Ct. 1302, 1311, 93 L. Ed. 1879 (1949).

Appellants' reliance on United States v. Rico, 594 F.2d 320 (2d Cir. 1979) and United States v. Buenaventura-Ariza, 615 F.2d 29 (2d Cir. 1980) does not lessen the highly suspicious pattern of behavior engaged in by these appellants. These cases, which dealt with investigatory stops and searches in airports of persons suspected to be drug couriers, employ different modes of analysis because different factual exigencies are at issue.*fn2 Nevertheless, the factor underlying all narcotics cases is the public's "compelling interest in detecting those who would traffic in deadly drugs for personal profit." United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 561, 100 S. Ct. 1870, 1881, 64 L. Ed. 2d 497 (1980) (Powell, J., concurring). We are, therefore, unpersuaded by the purportedly innocent explanations for conduct otherwise indicative to experienced officers that the appellants were involved in narcotics transactions at the time of their arrest.*fn3

For these same reasons, we agree with the District Court that the search of the shopping bag was justifiable and proper. Even if the appellants had not abandoned the bag, see United States v. Arboleda, 633 F.2d 985 at 991 (2d Cir. 1980), its incriminating contents could be seen in plain view. Furthermore, although the appellants may have had some expectation of privacy initially, this had certainly evanesced after Ibarguan relinquished ownership to Detective Vallely. Therefore, the officer's observing and searching the contents of the paper bag was entirely reasonable under the circumstances. E.g., Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U.S. 753, 99 S. Ct. 2586, 61 L. Ed. 2d 235 (1979); United States v. Dien, 609 F.2d 1038 (2d Cir. 1979); United States v. Santana, 485 F.2d 365 (2d Cir. 1973).

(B) The appellants' second major claim is that statements obtained from them at DEA headquarters after their arrest should have been suppressed because they were "tainted" by earlier statements made at the 66th precinct which the District Court suppressed because of the absence of adequate Miranda warnings. The test is whether assuming the earlier statements were inadmissible, the latter statements are rendered inadmissible because of any taint carried over from the previous unconstitutional interrogation. E.g., United States v. Knight, 395 F.2d 971, 974 (2d Cir. 1968). Judge Weinstein's conclusion that the later admissions were not tainted is not clearly erroneous and is fully supported by the record. Prior to questioning at DEA headquarters, Vasquez, who was Spanish-speaking, was given his constitutional rights in Spanish by a qualified bilingual agent. Since Ibarguan had previously made several statements in English, he was given his rights in English. Both appellants indicated that they understood their rights and voluntarily repeated the statements they made at the 66th precinct prior to receiving the Miranda warnings. The later questioning took place in a noncoercive atmosphere: there is no suggestion of physical or mental intimidation and the questioning was conducted by officers who did not know the content of the previous interviews. Therefore, examination of all the circumstances discloses no improper conduct by the DEA agents " "such as to overbear (the appellants') will to resist and bring about confessions not freely self-determined....' " United States v. Reed, 572 F.2d 412, 426 (2d Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 913, 99 S. Ct. 283, 58 L. Ed. 2d 259 (1978) (quoting, United States v. Ferrara, 377 F.2d 16, 17 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 389 U.S. 908, 88 S. Ct. 225, 19 L. Ed. 2d 225 (1967)); see Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590, 600-04, 95 S. Ct. 2254, 2260-62, 45 L. Ed. 2d 416 (1975).

(C) Finally, the appellants urge that the search warrant issued for appellant Vasquez's apartment*fn4 was not supported by probable cause because certain information contained in the affidavit was part of the suppressed incriminating statements. Specifically, Paragraph 2 of the affidavit, which refers solely to the identity and residency of appellant Vasquez, was based on statements made before the appellants received their constitutional rights. We agree with Judge Weinstein, however, that this information "was of no significance" in the magistrate's decision to issue a warrant because of the existence of other sufficiently detailed and corroborated evidence that the appellants were involved in drug trafficking. The determinations made by a neutral magistrate and district judge that probable cause existed to issue a search warrant are accorded great deference and "any doubts should be resolved in favor of upholding the warrant." United States v. Jackstadt, 617 F.2d 12, 14 (2d Cir. 1980) (per curiam); e.g., United States v. Ventresca, 380 U.S. 102, 109, 85 S. Ct. 741, 746, 13 L. Ed. 2d 684 (1965).

The judgments of conviction are therefore affirmed.*fn5


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