United States District Court, D. Nevada
Decided: March 25, 2014.
For United States of America, Plaintiff: Gregory W. Addington, U.S. Attorney's Office, Reno, NV.
For Santiago Jr Cruz, Claimant: Shawn R Perez, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office Of Shawn R. Perez, Las Vegas, NV.
LARRY R. HICKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
This is a civil forfeiture action. Before the Court is Claimant Santiago Cruz's (" Cruz" ) Motion to Suppress Evidence Pursuant to Supplemental Rule G(8). Doc. #27. The United States filed an Opposition (Doc. #28), to which Cruz replied (Doc. #31).
I. Facts and Procedural History
On July 12, 2010, Cruz was driving westbound on Interstate 80 near Sparks, Nevada when Nevada Highway Patrol (" NHP" ) Trooper Jason Phillips (" Phillips" ) pulled him over for speeding and for an obtrusively-placed Global Positioning System (" GPS" ) device mounted on Cruz's windshield. Doc. #29, ¶ 4. Thereafter, Phillips approached Cruz's vehicle to request identification. Doc. #29, ¶ 8. Cruz produced his Nevada driver's license. Id. Phillips informed Cruz that it was not his intention to issue a citation, but that he would conduct a routine check of Cruz's license. Doc. #29, ¶ 9. Cruz then volunteered that the car was a rental, and produced the rental agreement, which stated that the rental period for the vehicle began on June 28, 2010, in Las Vegas, Nevada, and was due back to Las Vegas one week earlier, on July 5, 2012. Doc. #29, ¶ 12. Cruz explained that he had extended the rental term over the phone. Doc. #27, p. 3.
Upon approaching the vehicle, Phillips recognized the odor of marijuana and the strong odor of air freshener coming from
the interior of the vehicle. Doc. #29, ¶ 10. Phillips also observed Cruz to exhibit signs of nervousness and anxiety as he was looking for the rental agreement and repositioning the GPS device. Doc. #29, ¶ 13. While the records check was being processed, Phillips contacted NHP Trooper Erik Lee (" Lee" ) to inquire as to the availability of a canine unit. Doc. #29, ¶ 15. Lee informed Phillips that his NHP vehicle was temporarily out of service and that he would arrive to the location with a canine as soon as possible. Id. Thereafter, Phillips requested that Cruz exit the vehicle. Doc. #29, ¶ 11. When Cruz exited the vehicle, Phillips smelled marijuana on Cruz's person. Id. Phillips then conducted a search of Cruz's person for weapons, but discovered none. Id.
Also while awaiting the results of the records check, Phillips inquired as to Cruz's criminal history. Doc. #29, ¶ 16. Cruz responded that he had one prior drug-related arrest. Id. Cruz's record check subsequently confirmed a drug-related arrest and conviction for drug trafficking. Id. Phillips also asked Cruz if he possessed any methamphetamine, and Cruz replied that he did not. Id. Finally, Phillips inquired about Cruz's travel plans, and Cruz stated that he was driving back from Battle Mountain, Nevada to Fairfield, California in order to pick his mother up for a friend's funeral back in Battle Mountain. Id. Cruz also stated that he had rented the vehicle in Las Vegas to drive to Battle Mountain to visit family. Id. Additionally, Cruz admitted that he used to sell drugs in Battle Mountain, but was no longer involved in that illegal activity. Id.
Thereafter, Phillips returned Cruz's license and rental agreement and informed Cruz that he would not issue a citation and Cruz was free to go. Doc. #29, ¶ 17. Before Cruz had returned to the vehicle, Phillips asked to conduct a search of the vehicle. Id. Cruz declined, and Phillips informed him that he was being detained until the narcotics canine unit arrived. Id. Phillips then returned to his patrol car to inquire as to the availability of a canine unit with the Reno Police Department (" RPD" ) or the Washoe County Sheriff's Office (" WCSO" ). Doc. #29, ¶ 18. No canine units were available from either RPD or WCSO. Id. Phillips was thereafter informed that Lee was en route to his location with a canine unit. Doc. #29, ¶ 20. Lee and canine " Petey" arrived twenty to thirty minutes after the initial traffic stop had concluded. Doc. #29, ¶ ¶ 18-20; Doc. #27, p. 4. Upon arrival, Petey positively alerted to the trunk and the rear passenger door of Cruz's vehicle. Doc. #29, ¶ 21. A subsequent search of Cruz's vehicle yielded two bags containing cash, one in the trunk and one in the back seat of the car. Doc. #16, ¶ 16. The currency in the two bags totaled $102,836.00. Id. The search also yielded discovery of an air freshener container under the front passenger seat of the vehicle. Doc. #29, ¶ 23; Doc. #29, Ex. 17.
II. Legal Standard
Rule G(8)(a) of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions provides that " [i]f the defendant property was seized, a party with standing to contest the lawfulness of the seizure may move to suppress use of the property as evidence." A motion to suppress brought by a claimant in a civil forfeiture proceeding is akin to one brought by a defendant in a criminal case. See One 1958 Plymouth Sedan v. Pa., 380 U.S. 693, 696-702, 85 S.Ct. 1246, 14 L.Ed.2d 170 (1965) (holding that the Fourth Amendment is applicable to forfeiture proceedings); see also ...