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United States v. Santana

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

January 30, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JAKZIRI MALDONADO SANTANA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          AMY TOTENBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently before the Court is Magistrate Judge Vineyard's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) [Doc. 60] recommending that the Court deny Defendant's Motions to Suppress [Docs. 20, 21]. The Defendant has filed objections to the R&R [Doc. 65].[1]

         A district judge has broad discretion to accept, reject, or modify a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations. United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 680 (1980). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court reviews any portion of the R&R that is the subject of a proper objection on a de novo basis and any non-objected portion on a “clearly erroneous” standard. The Defendant objects on numerous grounds to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation. In particular, the Defendant objects to the findings and recommendations reached by the Magistrate Judge:

• that Trooper Moremen had probable cause to justify stopping her vehicle;
• that the search of Ms. Santana's car was justified by a combination of probable cause and the automobile exception to the warrant requirement;
• that Defendant's statements given to law enforcement agents subsequent to their provision of appropriate Miranda warnings were voluntary and should not be suppressed;
• that Ms. Santana provided valid, free, and voluntary consent for the search of her cell phone.

         Accordingly, the Court has reviewed the record in this case on a de novo basis. After an independent de novo review of the record, the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's R&R that Trooper Moremen had probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop Ms. Santana; that the search of the car was justified by the automobile exception to the warrant requirement; that she was properly Mirandized and her statements post-provision of the Miranda warnings were voluntary; and that she provided valid, free, and voluntary consent for the search of her cell phone.

         The Court finds that the Trooper Moreman had probable cause, or at least reasonable suspicion, to support stopping Ms. Santana's car. “A traffic stop . . . is constitutional if it is either based upon probable cause to believe a traffic violation has occurred or justified by reasonable suspicion in accordance with Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).” United States v. Spoerke, 568 F.3d 1236, 1248 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing United States v. Harris, 526 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir.2008)).

         Trooper Moremen stated “over the radio that he was stopping the vehicle for weaving within its lane and because the vehicle appeared to have a dark window tint, not allowing him to see if the driver was wearing a seatbelt.” (Doc. 60 at 20) (citing Gov. Ex. 1 at 22:10-22:47; Gov. Ex. 2 at 13:26:23-13:26:35; Gov. Ex. 2 at 13:32:32-13:32:37 (informing a backup officer who responded to the traffic stop that he had stopped Santana for window tint and failure to maintain lane)). Magistrate Judge Vineyard rejected Trooper Moremen's assertion that he had probable cause, at the time he initiated the traffic stop, to believe Ms. Santana was weaving within her lane and had committed a violation of O.C.G.A. 40-6-48(1). (Doc. 60 at 24.) But, he ultimately found that Moremen's “testimony established that he had probable cause to believe that the window tinting on Santana's vehicle violated Georgia law, which is all that is necessary to conduct a traffic stop.” (Id. at 26.)

         Ms. Santana argues that the traffic stop was not supported by probable cause. (Doc. 65 ¶¶ 5, 9.) She puts forth two primary objections in connection with her contention that the car's window tint under the factual circumstances did not give Trooper Moremen probable cause. First, she “objects to the assertion that Trooper Moremen positioned his vehicle so that he could view whether she had on a seatbelt” or see the window tint prior to stopping her. (Doc. 65 ¶ 5; Doc. 17 at 17.) Second, she contends that a possible window tint violation could not support probable cause to stop her because Ms. Santana's vehicle was not in violation of Georgia law, and Trooper Moremen did not cite the tint on Ms. Santana's vehicle as an independent basis for stopping her vehicle.

         First, the Court conducted an independent review of the aerial and dashcam footage[2] in this case to determine whether Trooper Moremen was close enough to Ms. Santana's car to clearly see whether Ms. Santana had on a seatbelt. The Court is hesitant to conclude that Trooper Moremen was close enough to Ms. Santana's car to see if she had buckled her seatbelt because Trooper Moremen does not get side-by-side to Ms. Santana's car. However, as a trained law enforcement officer, Moremen could have determined that her windows were tinted to some extent when he was driving in the parallel lane to Santana's car, though still behind her vehicle.

         Regarding Ms. Santana's second objection that her window tint was not actually in violation of Georgia law (O.C.GA. § 4-8-73.1), the Eleventh Circuit has held that “police do not have to ascertain conclusively whether a window-tint violation had occurred before there is probably cause to investigate.” United States v. Reyes, Criminal Nos. 1:11-cr-00009-ODE-RGV, 1:11-cr-00060-ODE-RGV, 2011 WL 7070980, at *6 (N.D.Ga. Aug. 29, 2011), adopted by 2012 WL 176488, at *6 (N.D.Ga. Jan. 19, 2012) (quoting United States v. Alvardo, No. 8:10-CR-348-T-30TGW, 2010 WL 5262736, at *4 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 17, 2010), adopted by 2010 WL 5262735, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 17, 2010)); see also United States v. Weaver, 145 Fed.Appx. 639, 641 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (unpublished). Here, while ...


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