The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Salas on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.
Defendant Salas was driving through Oklahoma on his way from Arkansas to Texas when he was pulled over by Deputy Gragg for erratic driving. Salas had crossed the fog line on the right side of the lane twice, forming the basis for the traffic stop. Gragg issued Salas a warning for the traffic violations and told him he was good to go, but when Salas shook Gragg’s hand, the deputy asked him if he would mind answering more questions. Gragg asked Salas if he could search the vehicle and Salas consented. The dash cam in the patrol car recorded this interaction. Gragg’s search revealed nine one-gallon ziploc baggies of methamphetamine, weighing nearly 20 pounds. Salas was arrested and charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Salas moved to suppress the contents of the search, arguing that Gragg lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Salas and that he did not validly consent to the search.
The district court denied suppression, finding that Gragg had reasonable suspicion to stop Salas based on just one of the two fog line violations. After his motion to suppress was denied, Salas entered a guilty plea. The district court accepted the presentence report’s base offense level and sentenced Salas to 151 months’ imprisonment with three years’ supervised release. Salas challenged both the search and the imposed sentence.
The Tenth Circuit determined that the initial traffic stop was lawful based on the fog line violations, one of which would have been enough to raise reasonable suspicion in the officer. Although Salas’ initial fog line violation occurred near a curve in the road, it would not have been enough to cause a driver to veer halfway over the fog line, and the vehicle he was driving was a four-door sedan that would not have been susceptible to light winds. Because the initial stop was lawful, the Tenth Circuit did not need to apply a heightened standard to the legality of Gragg’s search. Salas had consented to the search after the traffic stop had ended and the encounter became a consensual one, and his consent was recorded on the officer’s dash cam. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit determined that there had been no Fourth Amendment violation.
Salas also argued that his sentence should be reduced because of his acceptance of responsibility. However, the purpose of the sentence reduction is to mitigate trial preparation costs, and Salas did not enter the guilty plea until the day the government filed its trial brief. The government was not required to offer the sentence reduction and did not do so in this case, since it had already begun trial preparation and there was no cost mitigation. The Tenth Circuit determined no error in the government’s failure to offer the sentence reduction.
The district court’s order denying suppression and the sentence were affirmed.