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United States v. Diaz

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

September 8, 2015

United States of America, Appellant,
v.
Felipe Diaz, AKA Sealed Defendant 1, and Wellington Diaz, AKA Sealed Defendant 2, Defendants-Appellees

Argued June 3, 2015

The United States appeals from an order issued orally on June 9, 2014, confirmed in writing on June 10, 2014, and an order issued orally on September 24, 2014, confirmed in writing on the same day, both by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Alvin K. Hellerstein, Judge), granting the motions of defendants Wellington Diaz and Felipe Diaz, respectively, to suppress evidence obtained following the stop and search of their vehicle on an interstate highway in Mississippi. The district court concluded that the state police officer who conducted the stop lacked reasonable suspicion to believe that the driver had committed a traffic violation and the stop therefore violated the Fourth Amendment . We conclude, however, that the officer's observation of several of the defendants' vehicle's wheels twice touching or crossing the solid painted line separating the right lane of the highway from the shoulder gave rise to reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation. The orders of the district court are therefore.

JOSHUA A. NAFTALIS (Brian A. Jacobs, on the brief), for Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, for Appellant.

SUSAN JEWELL WALSH, Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, P.C., New York, New York, for Defendant--Appellee Wellington Diaz.

JESSE M. SIEGEL, New York, New York, joining the brief of Wellington Diaz, for Defendant-Appellee Felipe Diaz.

Before: SACK, WESLEY, and HALL, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 235

Sack, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from orders of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Alvin K. Hellerstein, Judge ) granting the motions of defendants Wellington Diaz and Felipe Diaz, respectively, to suppress evidence obtained following the stop and search of a vehicle driven by Wellington and owned by his brother and passenger, Felipe.[1] The district court granted the motions on the ground that the police officer who conducted the stop lacked reasonable suspicion to conclude that a traffic violation had occurred under the relevant state law. We conclude, however, that the officer's observation of several of the defendants' vehicle's wheels twice touching or crossing the solid painted line separating the right lane of the highway from the shoulder gave rise to reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation had occurred. We therefore reverse and remand with instructions to the district court to consider the parties' remaining arguments as to the constitutionality of the stop and ensuing search, which the court, having granted the motions on other grounds, did not reach.

BACKGROUND

Factual Background

On the evening of November 19, 2013, Senior Police Officer Gordon Christopher Read[2] of the Meridian Police Department in Meridian, Mississippi, was within that city patrolling Interstate Highway 20 (" I-20" )/Interstate Highway 59 (" I-59" )[3] in his police vehicle pursuant to his ordinary traffic-monitoring duties.[4]

Sometime between 8:15 and 8:30 p.m., Read received a telephone call from a United States Department of Homeland

Page 236

Security (" DHS" ) agent, who asked that Read assist with the stop of an 18-wheel tractor-trailer that DHS believed might be involved in narcotics trafficking. The agent explained that the vehicle would be red or white, bearing a " Triple K Logistics" or " Triple Y Logistics" logo and New York license plates. The agent indicated that he had information that the truck was about an hour-and-a-half away from Read's location. The agent did not describe his basis for thinking the truck might be involved in narcotics trafficking.

By about 10:45 p.m., Read noticed that more than one-and-a-half hours had elapsed and assumed that the DHS-identified vehicle had not passed him or that he had missed it. Read began driving eastbound on I-20/I-59, a four-lane highway with two lanes running in each direction, to resume his ordinary duties.

As he drove in the right eastbound lane of I-20/I-59, Read approached a black 18-wheel tractor-trailer traveling in the same direction and lane. The truck did not match the description given by the DHS agent: It was solid black, not red or white, and bore New Jersey, not New York, license plates. According to Read, as he followed the truck over the course of about three miles, he saw the right rear wheels of the tractor-trailer " cross" the solid painted white line separating the right lane of traffic from the right shoulder of the road on two occasions. According to Wellington, the vehicle did not cross the line. Read decided to stop the tractor-trailer because ...


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