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United States v. Carrion-Soto

November 7, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge



On June 22, 2006, law enforcement officers from the Sheriff's Office in Florence County, South Carolina, conducted a search of a vehicle in which the defendant, Luis Carrion-Soto, was traveling as a passenger. Among the evidence that the officers uncovered during the search were two packages, one of which contained 100 grams of heroin and another that contained one kilogram of cocaine. In a three-count superseding indictment filed on August 21, 2007, Mr. Carrion-Soto was charged with participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy and with possessing with the intent to distribute cocaine and heroin [Docket Item 17].

Mr. Carrion-Soto has moved the Court to suppress various statements that he made to law enforcement officers on the day of his arrest and on subsequent days, claiming that the statements were obtained illegally in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights [Docket Item 30]. In addition, Mr. Carrion-Soto has moved to suppress various pieces of evidence seized during the search of the vehicle on June 22, 2006, arguing that the search that produced the evidence was illegal under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution [Docket Item 31]. The Government opposes the defendant's motions and argues that the evidence was obtained legally [Docket Items 24, 32, 33]. The Court conducted hearings on October 16, 22 and 25, hearing testimony from law enforcement witnesses and from Defendant himself. For the following reasons, the Court denies the defendant's motions and finds all of the challenged evidence admissible.


The Court first summarizes the relevant facts that gave rise to the evidence that Mr. Carrion-Soto seeks to suppress.

A. Law Enforcement Officers' Testimony

1. June 22, 2006 Traffic Stop and Automobile Search

At the suppression hearing before the Court on October 16, 2007, Corporal Wayne Drummond testified that on the morning of June 22, 2006, he was patrolling Interstate 95 in Florence County, South Carolina in an unmarked police vehicle when he observed a blue Lexus automobile driving south on the Interstate in excess of the speed limit. (Tr. 148.) Corporal Drummond activated his siren and "blue lights"*fn1 and followed the Lexus until it pulled over and stopped in the emergency lane on the side of the road. (Id. at 148-49.) Corporal Drummond, who was armed and wearing a Sheriff's uniform, approached the Lexus on the passenger's side, where he observed two people in the vehicle - Vergen Guzman in the driver's seat and Mr. Carrion-Soto in the passenger seat. (Id. at 149-50.) Mr. Carrion-Soto appeared to be asleep when Corporal Drummond approached the car. (Id. at 150.)

Corporal Drummond testified that he asked Ms. Guzman for her driver's license and vehicle registration. (Id.) When Ms. Guzman opened the glove compartment to obtain the registration information, Corporal Drummond observed a four-inch stack of United States currency in six individually bound substacks, with the large stack bound together by rubber bands. (Id.) According to Corporal Drummond, the quantity and packaging of the currency aroused his suspicion that the occupants of the Lexus were involved in unlawful activity, and he asked Ms. Guzman to exit the vehicle in order to question her separately from Mr. Carrion-Soto, who was by then awake.*fn2 (Id. at 151-52.) Standing at the back of the Lexus, Corporal Drummond asked Ms. Guzman a series of questions about her travel plans and her relationship with the defendant. (Id. at 53, 70, 152.) Ms. Guzman informed Corporal Drummond that she and Mr. Carrion-Soto had come from Pennsylvania and were driving to Florida, although she did not know where in Florida they were going, and stated that they planned to return from Florida two days later. (Id. at 153-55.) Ms. Guzman also informed Corporal Drummond that she and Mr. Carrion-Soto had been in a romantic relationship for one year. (Id. at 152.) Corporal Drummond testified that he then spoke separately with Mr. Carrion-Soto, asking him the same questions he had posed to Ms. Guzman. (Id. at 155.) Mr. Carrion-Soto informed Corporal Drummond that they were driving to Daytona, Florida to visit his uncle, that they had recently stopped at a roadside complex called "South of the Border," and that he had been dating Ms. Guzman for one-and-a-half months. (Id. at 155-57.)

According to Corporal Drummond, the combination of the following factors led him to suspect that the car's occupants were involved in criminal activity: the stack of currency; the inconsistency between Ms. Guzman's and Mr. Carrion-Soto's answers; the fact that Ms. Guzman did not know their ultimate destination; the brevity of the couple's trip; the destination of Daytona, which Corporal Drummond understood to be a "source" city for narcotics; the couple's visit to South of the Border, which Corporal Drummond believed to be a meeting place for drug traffickers; and the "Patrolman's Benevolent Association" decal on the dashboard of the Lexus, which Corporal Drummond knew to be of the sort frequently utilized by drug traffickers to discourage law enforcement officers from investigating their vehicles. (Id. at 154-57.) After he posed his initial questions to Ms. Guzman and Mr. Carrion-Soto, Corporal Drummond entered the information about the traffic stop in the "mobile data" unit computer in his car to verify the ownership of the Lexus. (Id. at 158.)

Corporal Drummond testified that he sought and received permission from Ms. Guzman to search the Lexus. (Id. at 158-59.) In response to questioning from Corporal Drummond, Ms. Guzman stated that there were no guns or illegal substances in the car. (Id. at 159.) According to Corporal Drummond, he posed the same questions to the defendant, who likewise stated that the car contained no drugs or illegal substances. (Id.) Corporal Drummond testified that he asked Mr. Carrion-Soto for permission to search the car, and Mr. Carrion-Soto consented. (Id.) Sergeant Brown testified that he heard Corporal Drummond ask Ms. Guzman and Mr. Carrion-Soto for permission to search the Lexus in a non-threatening tone of voice and witnessed both parties consent to the search.*fn3 (Id. at 76, 84-85.) According to Sergeant Brown, Ms. Guzman gave her consent between fifteen and twenty minutes after her car had been stopped, and Mr. Carrion-Soto consented about five minutes later. (Id. at 85.)

According to Sergeant Brown's testimony, Ms. Guzman and Mr. Carrion-Soto were asked to stand outside the car while Corporals Drummond, Jackson, Spell, and Weaver searched the car. (Id. at 87-88.) Corporal Drummond searched the trunk of the car and found a duffel bag and a blue suitcase, which he then held up to Ms. Guzman and Mr. Carrion-Soto. (Id. at 88-89.) Corporal Drummond then asked who the luggage belonged to, and Ms. Guzman said that the duffel bag was hers, while Mr. Carrion-Soto claimed the suitcase; the officers did not seek Ms. Guzman's or Mr. Carrion-Soto's consent to open the luggage. (Id. at 89-90, 194.) Corporal Drummond opened the duffel bag first and found no contraband. (Id. at 89.) He next opened the suitcase, which was not locked, and removed from the suitcase a cylinder that was wrapped in black tape. (Id. at 90.) Subsequent testing revealed that the cylinder contained more than 100 grams of heroin.

Believing that the cylinder contained narcotics, the officers placed Ms. Guzman and Mr. Carrion-Soto in handcuffs and advised them that they were not under arrest but were being placed in investigative detention. (Id. at 91.) At Sergeant Brown's suggestion, Corporal Drummond read to detained suspects the Miranda warnings from a "Miranda card" that Sergeant Brown had handed to him. (Id. at 91-93.) Corporal Drummond read these warnings approximately forty minutes after the Lexus had first been stopped. (Id. at 94.) According to Sergeant Brown, Corporal Drummond's tone was non-threatening, and, apart from the application of handcuffs, the officers had not made a show of force or otherwise intimidated the suspects.*fn4 (Id. at 93.) According to the officers' testimony, Mr. Carrion-Soto stated that he understood his rights and was willing to answer the officers' questions. (Id. at 94.) Mr. Carrion-Soto stated that he did not know what the cylinder contained, and when Sergeant Brown told him that he believed the cylinder contained heroin, Mr. Carrion-Soto stated that he thought that it contained a steroid for dogs. (Id. at 95-96.)

Twenty-seven minutes after Ms. Guzman and Mr. Carrion-Soto had been placed in investigative detention and had been warned of their Miranda rights, Corporal Spell discovered a rectangular object wrapped in black tape under the rear passenger-side seat of the Lexus. (Id. at 104-05.) Subsequent testing revealed that the rectangular object was one kilogram of cocaine. According to Sergeant Brown, shortly after the cocaine was discovered, Mr. Carrion-Soto told Corporal Jackson that he wished to speak with Sergeant Brown, and, in the conversation that ensued, Mr. Carrion-Soto said that the kilogram of cocaine was his but denied ownership of the heroin. (Id. at 107.) Soon after making this admission to Sergeant Brown, Mr. Carrion-Soto made a similar confession to Corporal Drummond; this latter confession was captured on the video recording of the traffic stop by the camera in Corporal Drummond's vehicle. (Id. at 110; Ex. 10T.)

Sergeant Brown testified that after the heroin and cocaine were discovered, he examined the exterior of the car and the luggage with his patrol dog, Treez, a Belgian Malinois with substantial training in narcotics detection.*fn5 (Tr. 112.) According to Sergeant Brown, Treez "alerted" to the presence of narcotics near the trunk of the car, where the heroin had been found. (Id.) The officers also conducted a "luggage lineup" on the side of the road by placing the pieces of luggage between five and ten feet apart, and Treez "alerted" to the presence of narcotics next to the blue suitcase where the heroin had been found. (Id. at 113.)

At the October 16, 2007 hearing, United States Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") Task Force Officer Joseph M. Koenig ("TFO Koenig") testified that his office was contacted on the morning of the June 22, 2006 traffic stop because of the drugs that were discovered and because Mr. Carrion-Soto was reportedly interested in cooperating with the government. (Id. at 202-03.) TFO Koenig testified that he arrived at the scene on Interstate 95 at approximately 10:00 a.m. on the morning of June 22. (Id. at 203.) When he arrived on the scene, TFO Koenig spoke with Sergeant Brown and Corporal Drummond about the stop and resulting search of the Lexus. (Id. at 204.) According to TFO Koenig's testimony, the officers only informed him that Ms. Guzman had consented to the search of the car; they made no mention of Mr. Carrion-Soto's consent. (Id. at 206.)

After speaking with Sergeant Brown and Corporal Drummond, TFO Koenig had a brief conversation with Mr. Carrion-Soto. When TFO Koenig asked the defendant if he had been read his Miranda warnings, the defendant confirmed that one of the deputies read him his rights from a yellow card and that he understood his Miranda rights and wanted to cooperate. (Id. at 207-08.) According to TFO Koenig, Mr. Carrion-Soto stated that the cocaine was his but that the heroin had been placed in his suitcase by someone else without his permission. (Id. at 209.) Mr. Carrion-Soto reiterated his interest in cooperating with the government, and TFO Koenig informed him that the DEA would make the Court aware of any cooperation he provided. (Id. at 209-210.)

2. DEA Interview

After this brief conversation with the defendant at the scene of the traffic stop, TFO Koenig placed Mr. Carrion-Soto in the front seat of his car to transport him to the DEA offices for a full interview. (Id. at 211.) TFO Koenig and Mr. Carrion-Soto were the only people in the car when TFO Koenig transported him to the DEA office, and the defendant remained handcuffed during this ten- to fifteen-minute drive. (Id. at 211-12.) TFO Koenig testified that while he was being transported to the DEA office, Mr. Carrion-Soto expressed agitation over the fact that someone placed heroin in his luggage. (Id. at 212.) TFO Koenig also testified that he made no threats or promises to the defendant during this time. (Id.)

At the DEA office, Mr. Carrion-Soto was taken to an interrogation room, where his handcuffs were removed. (Id. at 212-13.) TFO Koenig testified that he did not re-read the defendant his Miranda warnings because they had not taken an extended break. (Id. at 214.) Over the course of a one-and-a-half- to two-hour interview at which two other DEA employees were present, Mr. Carrion-Soto described his New Jersey-based drug dealing in significant detail, accounting for sales of approximately eighty kilograms of cocaine. (Id. at 214-18.) TFO Koenig testified that the defendant was not permitted to accept calls on his cellular telephone during the interview, but that he made three calls at the direction of law enforcement officers and he permitted the officers to monitor those calls. (Id. at 219.) According to TFO Koenig, during the interview, the law enforcement officers did not threaten Mr. Carrion-Soto or make promises regarding the effect of his cooperation. (Id.)

TFO Koenig testified that, after interviewing Mr. Carrion-Soto, the DEA officers determined that his cooperation would be most helpful to the New Jersey office of the DEA, since the officers there were already aware of him and his drug-related activities. (Id. at 219-20.) Accordingly, it was determined that the defendant would be returned to the custody of the Florence County Sheriff's Office pending his appearance before a Florence County magistrate judge. (Id. at 220.) Mr. Carrion-Soto was instructed to contact DEA Special Agent Timothy Beach ("SA Beach") upon his return to New Jersey, and was provided SA Beach's telephone number. (Id.) TFO Koenig admitted under cross-examination that at the end of the interview, he stated to the defendant regarding his cooperation, "If you f*** me on this, you'll regret it for the rest of your life." (Id. at 226.)

After the DEA interview, Mr. Carrion-Soto was charged with violating South Carolina controlled substances laws and incarcerated before appearing before the magistrate judge. On June 23, 2006, the defendant appeared before the magistrate and was released on a personal recognizance bond in order to return to New Jersey.

3. Statements to SA Beach

At the October 22, 2007 hearing, SA Beach testified that at 11:00 p.m. on June 23, 2006, he received a telephone call from Mr. Carrion-Soto. (Tr. 8.) By this time Mr. Carrion-Soto had been released on bail and had returned to New Jersey on his own recognizance. During the call, which lasted five minutes, Mr. Carrion-Soto reiterated his interest in cooperating with the government and provided SA Beach with detailed information regarding other drug traffickers with whom he had dealings in Cumberland County, New Jersey. (Id. at 9-10.) SA Beach testified that he did not read the defendant his Miranda warnings or otherwise discuss the defendant's constitutional rights during this call because he was not in custody or under arrest. (Id. at 9.) SA Beach further testified that during the telephone call, he made no threats, promises, or predictions to the defendant regarding his cooperation and employed no tricks or deception. (Id. at 11.) SA Beach informed the defendant that he would be contacted early the following week to arrange a meeting with DEA investigators. (Id. at 12.)

On June 27, 2007, SA Beach telephoned the defendant and instructed him to meet the DEA officers in the parking lot behind the Wal-Mart in Hamilton, New Jersey. (Id. at 13.) Mr. Carrion-Soto arrived at the parking lot in the blue Lexus, where SA Beach and two other law enforcement officers were waiting. (Id. at 14.) SA Beach testified that when the defendant saw the three officers waiting, he "put his head down" and stated that he recognized Detective Gami Cruz, but when asked by SA Beach whether he was still interested in speaking with the officers, he answered affirmatively. (Id. at 15.) Mr. Carrion-Soto was asked to follow SA Beach's car to the DEA office, and the three law enforcement officers and the defendant each drove separately to the office in Northfield, New Jersey, which was located approximately thirty minutes from Hamilton. (Id. at 16.) At the DEA office, Mr. Carrion-Soto was patted down to ensure that he was unarmed, and was taken to a conference room for the interview. (Id. at 17, 33.)

SA Beach testified that the interview at the Northfield office lasted for two hours. (Id. at 18.) The interview was attended by SA Beach, four additional law enforcement officers, and Assistant United States Attorney Diana Carrig, who informed the defendant that she was an attorney but otherwise did not speak during the interview. (Id. at 17, 35.) At the beginning of the interview, the defendant started to cry, stating that he was upset because of the risk that his cooperation posed to his children. (Id. at 18.) According to SA Beach's testimony, the officers offered Mr. Carrion-Soto water and excused themselves from the room in order to give him the opportunity to collect himself, and a few minutes later, the defendant informed the officers that he was prepared to continue the interview. (Id. at 18-19.) During the interview, the defendant provided detailed information about his drug trafficking activities in New Jersey. (Id. at 19.) Mr. Carrion-Soto was not handcuffed during the interview, and, according to SA Beach's testimony, he was "free to leave at any time." (Id. at 20-21.) SA Beach testified that no one spoke with Mr. Carrion-Soto about his constitutional rights because, according to SA Beach, he was not in custody or under arrest. (Id. at 17.) At the end of the two-hour interview, Mr. Carrion-Soto was photographed and fingerprinted. (Id. at 42-45.) This information was taken, according to SA Beach, in order for the DEA to process the defendant's "confidential source establishment package." (Id. at 43.) Although the defendant had subsequent dealings with SA Beach and other DEA agents, the Government does not seek to introduce any statements made by the after the June 27, 2006 interview.

B. Mr. Carrion-Soto's Testimony

Mr. Carrion-Soto testified about his recollection of the events in question, and his account differed in several respects from those of the Government's witnesses. First, the defendant's testimony about the June 22, 2006 traffic stop is at odds with the accounts of Corporal Drummond Sergeant Brown with regard to several facts. According to Mr. Carrion-Soto's recollection, after the Lexus stopped on the side of Interstate 95, Corporal Drummond asked Ms. Guzman to exit the Lexus before asking for her license and vehicle registration. (Id. at 93.) He asked the defendant to find the vehicle registration information after Ms. Guzman had exited the vehicle, and once Mr. Carrion-Soto opened the glove compartment, Corporal Drummond observed the stack of United States currency and asked Mr. Carrion-Soto to exit the vehicle. (Id. at 93.) With both Ms. Guzman and Mr. Carrion-Soto out of the vehicle, and without seeking Mr. Carrion-Soto's consent, Corporal Drummond began searching the vehicle. (Id. at 94-95.) He discovered the suitcase in the trunk within two to three minutes, and without asking for the defendant's consent, opened the suitcase and ...

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