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United States v. Lugo

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

November 19, 2019



          Dana L. Christensen, Chief Judge United States District Court

         Before the Court is Anthony Jacob Lugo's Motion to Suppress. (Doc. 19.) Lugo is charged in the indictment with possession of a firearm made in violation of the Firearms Act, possession with intent to distributed marijuana and cocaine, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense. (Doc. 1.) Lugo contends that his Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights were violated requiring suppression of the evidence found in his vehicle and statements made while he was in custody. The Court held a hearing on November 7, 2019. After consideration of the parties' briefs, exhibits, the testimony of Montana Highway Patrol Trooper David Morris, and the arguments advanced at the hearing, the Court denies the motion.

         Background [1]

         At approximately seven p.m. on August 28, 2017, Montana Highway Patrol received a call reporting a possible drunk driver on 1-90. The caller reported that a baby blue Chevrolet pickup was swerving and speeding outside of Bozeman, Montana. Trooper Morris responded to the call. As he approached the truck, he noticed that it had Texas plates, a missing mirror, and held two men and a dog. When the vehicle veered into the left lane without signaling, Trooper Morris activated his lights and siren to initiate the stop. (Doc. 20-1 at 1-2.) Roughly thirty seconds later, the driver, Lugo, glanced in his rearview mirror, noticed the trooper, and pulled over. Despite a wide unobstructed shoulder, Lugo positioned his vehicle in the center of the shoulder causing the driver's-side door to hug the traffic lane to its left. (Docs. 21; 20-2 at 2.)

         Trooper Morris approached the vehicle and asked for Lugo's driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. (Doc. 21.) Lugo produced his Texas driver's license but did not have the other documentation. (Id.) As they spoke, Trooper Morris detected an odor of raw marijuana coming from the vehicle. (Doc. 20-1 at 2.) He also noticed a glass gar containing marijuana on the center console of the dashboard, [2] and that the car had a "lived-in look." (Id.) Lugo was visibly nervous, and his hands were shaking. (Id.) Unprompted, Lugo spoke in rapid succession, informing the trooper that he had just been in Washington at his Aunt's house, that he was headed to Colorado to visit friends, and that he was a 100% disabled veteran. (Docs. 20-1 at 2; 21.)

         Trooper Morris then ordered Lugo to step out of the vehicle. (Doc. 21.) Lugo opened the door causing the trooper to step backwards into the lane of traffic. (Id.) As Lugo exited the vehicle, Trooper Morris observed a handgun in a seat pocket on the driver's side. (Doc. 20-1 at 2.) He asked if he could hold on to the gun during the stop, and Lugo confirmed that this was okay. (Doc. 21.) Lugo also indicated that there was an unloaded assault rifle behind the driver's seat. (Id.) In light of the weapons, Trooper Morris asked Lugo to wait by the hood of the patrol car while he spoke briefly with the passenger and assessed the situation with the other gun. (See Doc. 20-1 at 2.) He then frisked Lugo for additional weapons. (Doc. 21.)

         Lugo was visibly nervous. (Doc. 20-1 at 2.) He expressed that he had PTSD and asked the trooper to feel his heartbeat. (Doc. 21.) Trooper Morris declined and told Lugo to calm down. (Id.) He directed Lugo to the front passenger's seat and invited him to keep the door open. (Id.) When Lugo continued to communicate his anxiety, Trooper Morris explained that he only intended to issue a written warning for the driving infraction. (Id.)

         With Lugo in the front seat, Trooper Morris went about the business of issuing a warning and checking Lugo's driving record. At this point, Lugo began to talk: he apologized for his driving, for having a broken mirror, he explained that he intended to get his oil changed and mirror fixed when he got to Colorado, he reiterated his status as a disabled veteran, and explained that he was tired of using pills and opiates which is why he went to Washington to get CBD oil. When Trooper Morris asked what CBD is, Lugo explained that it is part of the marijuana plant that has medicinal properties but does not result in a "high." (Id.)

         In light of this disclosure, Trooper Morris asked to search Lugo's vehicle. (Doc. 20-1 at 2.) Lugo declined, but offered to turn over the marijuana he had in his car. (Doc. 21.) Trooper Morris explained that he intended to search the entire vehicle and would call a canine unit. (Id.) Lugo began to panic. (See id.) He told the trooper he might have a heart attack, and he did not "want to be incriminated for having a little marijuana." (Id.) Lugo again asked the trooper to feel his heartbeat and though the trooper declined, he could see the vein on Lugo's neck pulsating. (Id.) Lugo volunteered the search of his body instead and offered to give up his vape pens. (Id.) While this was going on, Trooper Morris continued to process the paperwork related to the traffic warning. (Id.) As the back and forth continued, Lugo pleaded with the officer not to search his car and expressed his fear that he would have a heart attack. (Id.)

         It was at this time that Trooper Morris elected to provide a Miranda warning. As the trooper advised Lugo of his rights, Lugo repeatedly interrupted: "Why am I being arrested?" "What am I being detained for?" Still in the middle of his warning, Trooper Morris clarified that Lugo was being detained for having marijuana but he was not under arrest. When he continued the warning and informed Lugo of his right to counsel, Lugo immediately responded, "I want a lawyer." (Id.)

         Trooper Morris once again told Lugo that he was not under arrest and that both he and his passenger were free to leave but that his vehicle was being detained. (Id.) Trooper Morris then asked Lugo how he knew the passenger. From here, things became chaotic. (See id.) Lugo and Trooper Morris both exited the vehicle, the passenger was instructed to leave the truck and apprised of the situation. (Id.) Lugo and the passenger began to argue with Trooper Morris and another officer who had arrived at the scene. (Id.) Lugo expressed his belief that the officers lacked the ability to search his vehicle and that his constitutional rights were being violated. (Id.) Lugo requested the name of the trooper's supervisor and then stated that he would not leave the scene until the supervisor arrived. (Id.) As things began to escalate, Trooper Morris warned Lugo that he could not get into his vehicle and briefly placed him in handcuffs on the assertion that he would arrest Lugo for obstructing justice. When Lugo agreed to calm down and leave the scene, Trooper Morris removed the handcuffs. Sometime thereafter, Lugo and the passenger left the scene and began to walk to town.

         After the traffic stop, Trooper Morris towed the vehicle into town, and applied for and received a warrant to search the truck, which lead officers to recover marijuana, cocaine, a digital scale, and a ledger.

         Legal Standard

         The proponent of a motion to suppress bears the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that evidence was obtained in violation of his or her constitutional rights. Rakas v. Illinois,439 U.S. 128, 130 n.l (1978) (citing Simmons v. United States,390 U.S. 377, ...

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