United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. WATTERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Defendant Manuel Paz Sanchez, Jr.'s motion
to suppress evidence seized from his rental vehicle. (Doc.
58). For the following reasons, Sanchez's motion is
morning of December 12, 2017, Montana Highway Patrol Trooper
Barry Kilpela was heading eastbound on Interstate 90 when he
came upon a car following about two car lengths behind a
semi-truck trailer. Kilpela testified that he estimated the
semi was traveling somewhere between 65 and 70 miles per
hour. The posted speed limit in the area was 65 miles per
hour for trucks and 80 miles per hour for cars. As Kilpela
passed the car and the semi-trailer, he noticed that the car
was still traveling very closely behind the semi. For
approximately two miles, Kilpela watched in his rearview
mirror to see if the car would pass the trailer as he had.
When it did not, Kilpela pulled into a median and picked a
stationary spot from which he could determine if the car was
still traveling too closely behind the semi. As the semi
passed the stationary spot he had picked, Kilpela counted one
second before the car passed the same spot. Based on his
training, Kilpela testified that he believed a three-second
delay between the semi and the car would have been a
pulled Sanchez over for following the semi too closely. (Doc.
62-1 at 1). When Kilpela approached the car and explained why
he had stopped Sanchez, Sanchez agreed that he was following
the semi too closely but did not pass or exit the interstate
because he did not want Kilpela to think he was avoiding him.
When Kilpela asked for the car registration, Sanchez provided
him with the rental contract for the car. Kilpela noticed
that the car had been rented out of Sacramento, California,
and was already due back. He also noticed a blanket and a
pillow in the back seat of the car. (Id. at 2).
Kilpela testified that these facts raised his suspicion
because he knew that a lot of drug trafficking originated
from Sacramento and he knew that rental cars were often used
for drug trafficking because of their reliability and because
the trafficker does not risk his own car being seized in the
event of an arrest.
asked Sanchez to accompany him to the patrol car while
Kilpela filled out a traffic warning. While Kilpela looked
over Sanchez's rental contract, Sanchez told Kilpela that
he had been visiting family in Idaho for three days but was
on his way to Bismarck, North Dakota, to catch a flight back
to Sacramento. (Id. at 2). He told Kilpela that his
wife wanted him home right away and had found a cheap flight
out of North Dakota to Sacramento. Task Force Officer Sonny
Smith and Sergeant Troy Muri arrived on the scene. Smith
approached Sanchez's window and asked Sanchez where he
had stayed the night prior. Sanchez replied that he had
visited "Yogi Bear" in Yellowstone National Park.
testified that he found it implausible that Sanchez had
rented the car in Sacramento, traveled to Idaho to visit
family for three days, overnighted in his car in Yellowstone
National Park and stayed in a motel all since the car had
been rented, just 72 hours prior. Kilpela also thought it was
odd that Sanchez would drive from Idaho to Bismarck to save
money and catch a flight home, considering it likely would
have been cheaper and faster to fly or drive from Idaho to
Sacramento. (Doc. 62-1 at 2). When Sanchez was asked if he
had any criminal history, Sanchez responded that he had been
arrested for "accessory to 187." 187 is law
enforcement code for murder. Considering this information all
together, Kilpela began to suspect Sanchez was involved in
major criminal activity. (Id.).
returned the rental papers to Sanchez and issued him a
warning for Following Too Closely. (Id-) Kilpela asked
Sanchez if he was carrying any drugs or illegal items in the
car. Sanchez said no. Kilpela asked Sanchez if he would
consent to a vehicle search. Sanchez agreed verbally and in
stayed in the patrol car with Sanchez as Smith and Muri began
the search. Muri began searching the trunk and Smith began
searching the front seat and console. Smith found a tire
repair kit in the front seat. Kilpela testified that this was
unusual for someone with a rental car because renters
typically do not repair rental car tires. Muri removed the
spare tire from the trunk. Kilpela, Smith and Muri each
picked up the spare tire and all agreed that it was heavier
than most spare tires. Kilpela testified that he also noticed
that the tire exhibited irregularities when he bounced it on
the ground. (Doc. 62-1 at 2).
deployed his drug dog, Mika, around the car. Mika showed
alert behavior on the trunk area. When presented with the
spare tire, she showed distinct alert behavior by scratching
and biting at the tire and then she sat down, indicating the
odor of narcotics was coming from the spare tire. (Id; Doc.
63 at 8:29:30-33).
Kilpela performed an "echo test" of the spare tire
using a stethoscope and a mallet. His test results indicated
that some object was inside the tire. Based on the outcome of
this test, Kilpela believed that there was obstruction of the
airspace within the tire and that narcotics were likely
inside. (Doc. 62-1 at 2).
explained law enforcement's suspicions to Sanchez that
narcotics were contained in the tire. Smith asked for
Sanchez's consent to drive the car to a tire shop and
have the tire shop take the tire off its rim, so they could
look inside. Sanchez consented to these actions. (Doc. 63 at
8:33:54-8:34:09). Smith drove the rental car to a nearby tire
shop. When the tire was removed from the rim, Smith and
Kilpela discovered just over eight pounds of methamphetamine
inside. (Doc. 62-1 at 3).
makes three arguments in support of suppression: (1) the stop
was without reasonable suspicion; (2) the stop was
unconstitutionally prolonged beyond the scope of issuing a
traffic citation; and (3) the scope of Sanchez's consent