United States District Court, S.D. New York
June 14, 2005.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
SAUL RODRIGUEZ, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: DEBORAH BATTS, District Judge
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
Before the Court is Defendant Saul Rodriguez' ("Rodriguez")
pre-trial motion seeking suppression of physical evidence and
statements made to law enforcement personnel.
For the reasons that follow, Defendant Rodriguez' motion to
suppress is DENIED.
Defendant Rodriguez is charged in an indictment with
participating in a narcotics trafficking conspiracy from in or
about October, 2003, up to and including in or about June,
2004.*fn1 According to the Government, between October, 2003
and June, 2004, Rodriguez and other co-conspirators were the
targets of a criminal narcotics investigation by the Drug
Enforcement Administration ("DEA"). The DEA utilized wiretap
authorizations, global positioning tracking devices, surveillance and confidential sources as part of its investigation. (Gov't.'s
Letter dated May 5, 2005 at 1.) During the course of the
investigation, the DEA learned that Wagner Bonilla, a
Co-Defendant in this case, was a money launderer and narcotics
trafficker, who was scheduled to receive a multi-kilogram
shipment of cocaine at his home in College Point, New York in
late 2003. (Id.) This information led to the surveillance of
Bonilla's home, beginning in or about November, 2003. (Id. at 1-2.)
On December 15, 2003, Rodriguez drove to Bonilla's house with
his wife, Co-Defendant Edna Cortes in a 2000 Jeep Cherokee. DEA
agents observed Bonilla leave his house with a light-colored
shopping bag, enter the Jeep and then exit without the bag and
re-enter his residence. Rodriguez and Cortes then drove away.
(Id. at 2; Rodriguez Aff. ¶¶ 2-7.) DEA agents initiated a traffic
stop of the Jeep, informing Rodriguez that a vehicle matching the
description of the Jeep had been involved in a hit-and-run
accident in Jackson Heights. (Gov't.'s Letter at 2; Rodriguez Aff
¶ 9.) The Government states that Rodriguez consented to the
search of his car; Rodriguez states in his affidavit that his
wife informed him that she had consented to the search.
DEA agents seized the shopping bag that Bonilla had brought
with him into the Jeep. It contained approximately $38,020. (Gov't.'s Letter at 2.) DEA agents questioned both Rodriguez and
Cortes. The Government alleges that Rodriguez stated that the
money was his mother's life savings. Rodriguez does not recall
making that statement and states that he told them it was his
money and his mother's. (Rodriguez Aff. ¶ 11.) According to the
Government, DEA agents continued to question Rodriguez and he
stated that he had received the bag from a man named "El Sobrino"
who had given it to Rodriguez in the parking lot of B.J.'s
Warehouse earlier that day. Cortes informed DEA agents that she
was not with Rodriguez when he received the bag and that he had
possessed the bag earlier in the day. (Gov't.'s Letter at 2.) The
DEA agents then arrested Rodriguez and Cortes. They were
subsequently released and the DEA continued to investigate
Bonilla and others involved in the narcotics conspiracy. At the
conclusion of the investigation, a federal grand jury indicted
Rodriguez and his co-conspirators.
Rodriguez seeks to suppress the physical evidence and
statements he made to DEA agents on December 15, 2003 on the
ground that the evidence and statements are fruit of an illegal
search. (Rodriguez Aff. ¶ 16.) Rodriguez also contends that the
consent to search was elicited by deception because there was no
accident in Jackson Heights. The Government states that the vehicle stop was not illegal
because the facts known to the DEA agents gave rise to a
reasonable suspicion that Rodriguez was engaged in criminal
activity, namely that Wagner Bonilla was a major narcotics
trafficker who utilized his residence in connection with his drug
business. (Gov't.'s Letter at 2-3.)
The temporary detention of an automobile "by the police, even
if for a brief time period and for a limited purpose,
constitutes" a seizure of an individual under the Fourth
Amendment. Brown v. City of Oneonta, New York, 221 F.3d 329,
340 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Whren v. United States,
517 U.S. 806, 809 (1996) (internal quotations omitted)). "An automobile
stop is thus subject to the constitutional imperative that it not
be unreasonable under the circumstances." United States v.
Swindle, 2005 WL 1110925, at *3 (2d Cir. 2005). It is well
established that the police may make such a stop for purposes of
investigating possible criminal behavior, provided that the stop
is based on the officer's "reasonable suspicion supported by
articulable facts that criminal activity may be afoot." United
States v. Colon, 250 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 2001) (internal
quotations omitted); see also United States v. Sokolow,
490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968)).
In determining when an officer possesses reasonable suspicion,
the Court must look "not to his inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or `hunch,' but to the specific reasonable inferences
which he is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his
experiences." United States v. Bold, 19 F.3d 99, 102 (2d Cir.
1994) (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 22). The requisite degree of
suspicion is "considerably less than proof of wrongdoing by a
preponderance of the evidence." United States v. Glover,
957 F.2d 1004, 1009 (2d Cir. 1992) (citations and internal quotations
omitted). In evaluating whether an officer possessed sufficient
information to justify an investigative stop, the Court examines
"both the content of information possessed by the police and its
degree of reliability." Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 330
(1990); Bold, 19 F.3d at 102. The Court must scrutinize the
totality of circumstances to determine whether an investigatory
stop passes constitutional muster. See United States v.
Salazar, 945 F.2d 47, 50 (2d Cir. 1991).
DEA Special Agent Shane Todd's Affidavit in Support of an
Application for Authorization to Intercept Electronic
Communications states that DEA agents learned that an individual
named "David," later determined to be Co-Defendant Wagner
Bonilla, was to purchase an amount of cocaine. Bonilla was the
subject of surveillance by DEA agents. (Todd Aff. ¶¶ 10-17.) On
December 15, 2003, Special Agent Todd observed two individuals,
Rodriguez and Cortes, drive up to Bonilla's residence in a green
2000 Jeep. Bonilla left his residence carrying a light-brown shopping bag and got into the Jeep. He then left the Jeep without
the bag and reentered his residence.
Based upon this information, DEA agents had reasonable
suspicion to stop Rodriguez. It was reasonable for them to infer
from the facts available that "criminal activity may be afoot."
They knew that Bonilla was scheduled to purchase narcotics, and
had observed Bonilla enter Rodriguez' vehicle with the
light-brown shopping bag and leave the vehicle without it. It was
reasonable for DEA agents to suspect that the bag contained
material related to a drug transaction, particularly when
Rodriguez and Cortes gave conflicting statements concerning the
bag.*fn2 The Court finds that DEA agents had reasonable suspicion to
stop Rodriguez' vehicle. Because the stop was legal, the evidence
obtained from the search of the vehicle and statements made
concerning the bag, are not fruit of an illegal search.
Accordingly, the Court DENIES Defendant Rodriguez' motion to
suppress physical evidence and statements and his request for an
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant Rodriguez' motion to
suppress physical evidence and statements made to law enforcement
agents is DENIED.
The next status conference in this matter is set for July 25,
2005 at 11:00 AM. The Court hereby excludes from speedy trial
calculations the period from the date of this Order until July
25, 2005. This exclusion is designed to guarantee effectiveness
of counsel and prevent any possible miscarriage of justice. The
Court finds that the value of this exclusion outweighs the best
interests of the Defendants and the public in a speedy trial.
This order of exclusion is made pursuant to
18 U.S.C. §§ 3161(h)(8)(A) and (B). All counsel are to be present at the next status conference.
The Court DIRECTS counsel to be prepared to set a trial date at