United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division
Martin May United States District Judge
case comes before the Court on the Magistrate Judge's
Report and Recommendation ("R&R") ,
recommending that this Court deny Defendant Honorato
Pineda-Zuniga's Motions to Suppress [84, 86]. Pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), Defendant filed objections to the
R&R . The facts and procedural history of this case
are set forth in the R&R and are fully incorporated
herein by reference. After due consideration, the Court
enters the following Order.
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court reviews the
Magistrate's R&R for clear error if no objections are
filed. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). If a party files
objections, however, the district court must determine de
novo any part of the Magistrate Judge's disposition
that is the subject of a proper objection. Id; Fed. R. Crim.
P. 59(b)(3). As Defendant filed objections to the R&R,
the Court reviews the Magistrate Judge's findings and
recommendations regarding these conclusions on a de
novo basis. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
R&R, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court deny
Defendant's Motions to Suppress evidence resulting from a
vehicle stop, in which Defendant was a passenger. Defendant
makes three objections to the Magistrate Judge's legal
conclusions, each of which the Court will address in turn.
Intercepts and Surveillance
first objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that
law enforcement intercepts and surveillance provided
reasonable and articulable suspicion to support the vehicle
stop. Dkt. No.  at 1. As the Magistrate Judge
recognized, an officer must have reasonable and articulable
suspicion in order to stop a vehicle. See Terry v.
Ohio. 392 U.S. 1, 21-22 (1968). Reasonable suspicion is
"a less demanding standard than probable cause and
requires a showing considerably less than preponderance of
the evidence." Illinois v. Wardlow. 528 U.S.
119, 123 (2000). It must be based on "specific and
articulable facts which, taken together with rational
inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that
intrusion." Terry. 392 U.S. at 21. In
determining whether there was reasonable suspicion, the Court
"look[s] at the 'totality of the circumstances'
of each case to see whether the detaining officer ha[d] a
'particularized and objective basis' for suspecting
legal wrongdoing." United States v. Arvizu, 534
U.S. 266, 273 (2002). The officer must have more than just a
"hunch of criminal activity." United States v.
Perkins, 348 F.3d 965, 970 (nth Cir. 2003) (quotation
omitted). In making this determination, the Court must
"give due weight to inferences drawn from those facts by
... local law enforcement officers." Ornelas v.
United States, 517 U.S. 690, 699 (1996).
argues that the Magistrate Judge should not have relied on
law enforcement intercepts because DEA Task Force Officer
David Noe, who does not speak Spanish, disregarded the
interpreter's translations of these intercepts and
instead used his own interpretations to support the vehicle
stop. Dkt. No.  at 1-3. However, as the Magistrate Judge
found, the record contradicts Defendant's argument.
Officer Noe's testimony makes clear that he relied on the
interpreter's translations. Dkt. No.  at 9. Officer
Noe also later testified that the interpreters would, in
addition to providing direct translations, offer their own
thoughts as to what certain code words might mean.
See Id. at 21-22. Officer Noe stated that
he did not rely on those impressions, but instead his own
impressions based on his knowledge and experience.
Id, . The Court thus finds that Defendant's
argument is not supported by the record.
Defendant argues that Officer Noe's opinions about what
various code words in the intercepts meant were purely
speculative, and never clearly discussed criminal activity.
Dkt. No.  at 3. Defendant also argues that it was
arbitrary for Officer Noe to infer that references to
"Norato" were short for Honorato, Defendant's
first name. Id. The Court finds that, in the context
of the entire investigation, Officer Noe's inferences
were reasonable. See. Dkt. No.  at 2-8 (describing the
context in which Officer Noe reached his opinions and
inferences). For example, Officer Noe opined that
"33" was a code word for " money " based
off of communications about one of Defendant's alleged
coconspirators needing "33" to rent a house.
Id. at 2. Officer Noe then applied his opinion about
that code word's meaning to other intercepts. See icL at
5-6. In reaching this finding, the Court gives due weight to
Officer Noe's inferences, as it must, based on his
extensive training and over 20 years of experience. See
Ornelas, 517 U.S. at 699.
Defendant argues that there was not sufficient evidence from
the surveillance linking him to the stopped black Cadillac to
support a finding of reasonable suspicion. Dkt. No.  at
3-5. However, that is not what was required of the law
enforcement officers in this case. To the contrary, the
officers were required to have reasonable suspicion for the
traffic stop as a whole, not to stop Defendant personally.
Indeed, the officer who stopped the car testified that when
he pulled the car over, he was not even aware Defendant was a
passenger. Dkt. No.  at 71-72.
the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge that there was
reasonable and articulable suspicion to support the vehicle
stop in this case. As set out by the Magistrate Judge, the
investigation's intercepts and surveillance indicated the
presence of a drug trafficking operation at addresses where
the black Cadillac frequented. The intercepts included coded
references to drugs and money, as well as clear expressions
of concern about possible police surveillance. Before the
traffic stop, the black Cadillac was seen leaving one alleged
stash house with another vehicle that was stopped and found
with four kilograms of methamphetamines. And immediately
before the stop occurred, the black Cadillac was seen being
loaded with luggage at a second suspected stash house. The
Court finds that based on the totality of these
circumstances, the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop
the vehicle. As a result, Defendant's objections are
Window Tint as Pretext
objects that the officer who pulled over the car, Trooper
Kent, could not have relied on a perceived window tint
violation in stopping the car. See Whren v. United
States, 517 U.S. 806, 813 (1996) (holding that
subjective intent, including pretext, is not relevant to
whether probable cause exists to believe a violation of the
law occurred). However, the Court need not reach this issue
because it was not relied upon by the Magistrate Judge. The
Magistrate Judge expressly refrained from making any finding
as to the window tint violation because there was conflicting
testimony on the topic, there was no corroboration for the
purported violation, and because any finding was not