United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
Kristine G. Baker United States District Judge
the Court is defendant Rafael Padilla's motion to
suppress evidence (Dkt. No. 13) to which the government has
responded in opposition (Dkt. No. 14). Mr. Padilla seeks to
suppress any physical evidence seized from the car Mr.
Padilla was driving; any evidence or statements obtained,
directly or indirectly, as a result of any unlawfully seized
evidence; and any statements that were made while in custody
and without the benefit of Miranda warnings. See
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1996).
Padilla argues that he committed no traffic violation; thus,
he contends that there was no probable cause to stop the
vehicle and that all evidence seized as a result of the
traffic stop should be suppressed (Dkt. No. 14, at 3). The
government asserts that there was a traffic violation
providing probable cause to stop the vehicle and that the
search was lawful. The government also contends that, even if
the traffic stop was unlawful, Mr. Padilla consented to a
search of his car, which neutralized any taint allegedly
stemming from the stop (Dkt. No. 14, at 1). The government
also maintains that there was probable cause to search for a
compartment in the car.
Court conducted a hearing on Mr. Padilla's motion to
suppress on June 7, 2016. At the hearing, the Court heard
oral argument from both parties. Mr. Padilla and the
government presented witnesses who testified in open court.
Mr. Padilla testified on behalf of himself. At the conclusion
of the hearing, the Court took the motion under advisement.
For the reasons that follow, the Court denies Mr.
Padilla's motion to suppress (Dkt. No. 13).
hearing on Mr. Padilla's motion to suppress, the
government introduced several exhibits, including a video
recording of the traffic stop. The government previously
filed this video as an exhibit to its response in opposition
to Mr. Padilla's motion to suppress (Dkt. No. 14, Ex. A).
The government also presented testimony at the hearing from
Arkansas State Police Trooper Brandon Bennett and Arkansas
State Police Corporal Rocky Rapert. In support of his motion,
Mr. Padilla testified on his own behalf.
Bennett has 10 years of law enforcement experience. He has
attended training sessions sponsored by the Arkansas State
Police, as well as training regarding drug courier profiles
and border locations, one of which is McAllen, Texas. The
government also presented testimony from Corporal Rapert. He
has 12 and a half years of law enforcement experience.
Bennett testified that, on February 24, 2015, he was on duty
and parked on Interstate 55 in Mississippi County, Arkansas,
near the 60-61 mile marker. He saw a Kia sport utility
vehicle driven by Mr. Padilla pass his position and
immediately apply the brakes. Trooper Bennett estimates that
Mr. Padilla abruptly slowed from about 70 miles per hour to
about 60 miles per hour. Trooper Bennett then left his parked
position and began to follow Mr. Padilla in his vehicle.
Trooper Bennett asserts that, as he was following Mr.
Padilla, Mr. Padilla's vehicle was "at most, one car
length behind a tractor-trailer in the right lane."
(Dkt. No. 14, at 1). Trooper Bennett then observed Mr.
Padilla pass the tractor-trailer in the left lane and
testified that Mr. Padilla appeared nervous, was sitting
perfectly straight, and was holding the steering wheel in a
two-handed "white knuckle" grip (Id. at
2). During his testimony, Mr. Padilla denied being nervous.
Bennett testified that, through his training and experience,
he has learned that these signs indicate potential unlawful
action. Trooper Bennett also testified that, when he
initially observed Mr. Padilla, he decided to conduct a
traffic stop because Mr. Padilla was following the
tractor-trailer too closely. He stated that he has received
training by attending classes in traffic law and accident
investigation. In his classes, he was taught that you should
have a car length between vehicles for every
ten-mile-per-hour increment the vehicles are traveling, so in
this case that would be six to seven car lengths between
vehicles. On cross examination by Mr. Padilla's counsel,
Trooper Bennett testified that he is also aware from his
training that it is permissible to follow a tractor-trailer
closely while a person is attempting to pass the
tractor-trailer. Trooper Bennett explained that he has
responded to traffic accidents where people were following
tractor-trailers too closely and that these accidents have
ranged from fender-benders to fatalities. He has pulled
people over many times for following tractor trailers too
63-mile marker, Trooper Bennett radioed in Mr. Padilla's
vehicle tags. Trooper Bennett testified that this information
is useful because finding out about a driver's past
criminal history, about any outstanding warrants, and
information of that nature has the potential to save his
life. Corporal Rapert answered Trooper Bennett's radio
call, ran Mr. Padilla's vehicle tags, and informed
Trooper Bennett that the License Plate Reader indicated that
the vehicle in which Mr. Padilla was traveling had crossed
the border from Mexico into the United States at
approximately 12:30 p.m. on February 23, 2015, the day
before. Corporal Rapert testified that he relayed this
information because the majority of the narcotics in this
country come from Mexico.
Bennett followed Mr. Padilla for what he estimates was three
to four miles while he received Mr. Padilla's vehicle tag
information. After that, at the 67-mile marker, Trooper
Bennett activated his blue lights and siren. He pulled Mr.
Padilla over. In its response in opposition, the government
contends that Trooper Bennett conducted the traffic stop of
Mr. Padilla's car because Mr. Padilla violated Ark. Code
Ann. § 27-51-305, which prohibits "follow[ing]
another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent,
having due regard for the speed of vehicles and the traffic
upon and the condition of the highway." (Dkt. No. 14, at
Court understands that, when the blue lights on a police
vehicle are activated, the center-mounted dashboard camera in
the patrol car activates, begins to film, and, in fact,
captures approximately one minute of activity prior to the
blue lights being activated. In the government's response
it represents that:
Bennett's car was equipped with a dashcam and a lapel
microphone. The camera saves video from 60 seconds before the
trooper engages [his] police lights. The camera begins saving
audio when the police lights are activated. When Bennett
observed Padilla drive too closely to the tractor-trailer, he
did not immediately activate his police lights and stop
Padilla, waiting instead until he had gotten information from
dispatch about Padilla's license plate number. Thus,
although Bennett's traffic stop was captured on the
dashcam, the traffic violation that led Bennett to stop
Padilla is not captured on the video because Bennett did not
turn on his blue lights until 3-4 miles (i.e., more
than one minute of driving time) after he saw Padilla commit
the traffic violation.
(Dkt. No. 14, at n.1).
Bennett also testified that the traffic violation he
witnessed and that prompted him to stop Mr. Padilla was not
captured on the video. Based upon this representation, the
Court understands the government to be contending that the
alleged traffic violation does not appear on the video that
is attached as Exhibit A to its response in opposition.
Bennett then approached Mr. Padilla's car and informed
him that he had been pulled over because he was following a
tractor-trailer too closely (Dkt. No. 14, Ex. 1). Trooper
Bennett then asked Mr. Padilla a series of questions,
including where he was going, where he had come from, whether
he had recently crossed the border, and if he had ever been
arrested. Mr. Padilla told Trooper Bennett that he was
traveling to visit his children in Chicago, Illinois, and had
left his home in McAllen, Texas, at 6:00 a.m. on February ...