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United States v. Trujillo

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 9, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
PUENTE TRUJILLO.

          OPINION

          WILLIAM J. MARTINI. U.S.D.J.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant Puente Trujillo's ("Defendant") motion to suppress certain evidence. ECF No. 11 ("Motion").[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         Defendant was arrested at a gas station on November 1, 2018. Just prior to his arrest, an undercover police officer received a text message containing a picture of Defendant, a description of where he would be waiting, and other information useful for identification. Armed with that information, Arresting Officers approached the truck in which Defendant was waiting ("Truck"). They instructed him to exit the Truck and asked for permission to conduct a search. Defendant declined to permit a search but did say something regarding "not caring" whether he "goes to jail" (hereinafter, "First Statement").

         The Arresting Officers then moved Defendant away from the Truck and brought a drug-sniffing dog to the scene. The dog alerted both outside the Truck and in the cab. The Arresting Officers then searched the Truck and eventually located eleven packages within a door panel appearing to contain a controlled substance.

         While there was some disagreement over the exact order of events, after the packages were found, Defendant was placed under arrest and mirandized. Either immediately before or after being arrested, Defendant was told or overheard that drugs were found in the Truck. The Arresting Officers were consistent that after hearing about the drugs and being mirandized, Defendant said something like "I didn't think you would find them" ("Second Statement").

         Next, Defendant was transported to a Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") office for questioning and processing. Either on the way or before departing the scene, Defendant began offering to cooperate with the government (hereinafter, "Third Statement"). Once at the DEA office, he also informed officers that a cartel boss nicknamed "El Mencho" had a $100, 000 bounty on all DEA agents' heads ("Fourth Statement").

         In an interview room at the DEA office, in a recorded conversation, Defendant can be heard and seen confirming his understanding of another Miranda warning read to him in Spanish. Gov. Hearing. Ex. 4. He also signed an acknowledgement form confirming the same. Gov. Hearing. Ex. 3. Defendant then made further disclosures to the questioning officers ("Fifth Statement").

         II. DISCUSSION

         Defendant moves to suppress the Statements (1) as fruit of the poisonous tree; and (2) because he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his Miranda rights.

         A. Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

         Defendant argues that the Arresting Officers failed to obtain a warrant before searching the Truck, and thus all resulting evidence should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. He further argues the automobile exception does not apply because the Government had time to obtain a warrant before searching the Truck. Defendant's counsel conceded that the Arresting Officers acted with probable cause in conducting the search.

         Defendant's counsel's concession that the Arresting Officers had probable cause ends the inquiry. Under the "automobile exception," when the police have probable cause to believe that a vehicle contains contraband, they need not obtain a warrant before searching the vehicle. Maryland v. Dyson, 527 U.S. 465, 467 (1999). "The automobile exception has no separate exigency requirement." Id. at 466 (cleaned up). In any event, the Arresting Officers credibly testified that they searched the Truck shortly after receiving confirmation of Defendant's appearance and whereabouts. Thus, even accepting Defendant's view of the automobile exception, the Arresting Officers acted with deliberate speed to avoid the Truck's departure.

         As the automobile exception applies to the search of the Truck, the Statements were not "fruit of the poisonous tree," and thus ...


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