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United States of America v. Margarito Saucedo

August 6, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MARGARITO SAUCEDO, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 3:10-cr-30010-RM--Richard Mills, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tinder, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED APRIL 2, 2012--

Before ROVNER, SYKES, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

Margarito Saucedo appeals the denial of his motion to suppress, contending that the search of his tractor-trailer exceeded the scope of his consent to search. We affirm.

I.

On January 11, 2010, Trooper Nathan Miller of the Illinois State Police stopped a Peterbilt tractor-trailer because it had a paper registration plate that appeared to be expired. The truck was driven by Margarito Saucedo. Trooper Miller confirmed that the plate had expired in November 2009 and ran the truck's U.S. D.O.T. number. Trooper Miller advised Saucedo of the reason for the stop--the expired plate--and Miller also advised Saucedo that he would be conducting a motor carrier safety inspection. Trooper Miller requested Saucedo's driver's license, logbook, and paperwork for the truck, trailer, and load. Saucedo handed over his license, documentation referencing his license, and other paperwork; he had no information pertaining to the load because his trailer was empty. Trooper Miller ran Saucedo's license and learned that it was invalid.

Trooper Miller and Saucedo proceeded to Miller's squad car to speak further. The trooper checked Saucedo's criminal history and learned that he had prior convictions for drug distribution and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Trooper Miller asked Saucedo whether he had any weapons or was carrying any drugs in the truck or trailer. Saucedo volunteered that the trooper could "open it." Trooper Miller then asked

Saucedo if he could search his truck and trailer, and Saucedo said, "yes." The trooper again asked Saucedo if he had any weapons, marijuana or cocaine, and Saucedo said he had "nothing." At no time did Saucedo limit the scope of the search.

While speaking with Saucedo, Trooper Miller was in contact with other law enforcement officers because of Saucedo's criminal history and because Miller saw some things that raised his suspicions, including an overabundance of religious paraphernalia and air fresheners and three cell phones. In addition, Saucedo had given Miller documentation that noted problems with Saucedo's driver's license. Trooper Miller contacted a certified canine unit for assistance.

With Saucedo still in the squad car and having ob- tained his consent to search, Trooper Miller conducted a search of the truck and trailer. He began with the trailer, which was empty. He moved to the tractor and escorted the passenger, Saucedo's cousin, to an offi- cer's vehicle. Miller returned to the cab of the truck and began his search. Within a few minutes, he found what he thought was an alteration to a small alcove that housed a compartment in the sleeper/bunk area behind the driver's seat. Trooper Miller was familiar with the bunks in Peterbilt trucks and that drew his attention to the alcove's black TV and its silver outlining. Using his flashlight, he could see that the alcove appeared altered--the TV's silver outlining showed a depth of the alcove that, in his words, "was most certainly not cor- rect." So he searched. He used a screwdriver to disas- semble one screw, pulled back the plastic molding around the alcove, peered in, and found a hidden com- partment.

Trooper Miller returned to his squad car and placed Saucedo in a deputy's squad car with his cousin. By then the canine unit, Trooper Maro and his dog Vik, had arrived. Trooper Miller returned to the cab, removed the TV and three remaining screws from the molding, and removed the hidden compartment from the alcove. He opened it up and found 10 kilograms of cocaine inside. Trooper Maro then walked Vik around the truck and Vik alerted at the truck's side.

At that point, Trooper Miller had further discussions with Saucedo. At no time did Saucedo indicate that he had any difficulty with the English language. Miller told Saucedo what he had found. But before telling Saucedo where he found the cocaine, Trooper Miller asked him where he thought it had been found. Saucedo said he thought the cocaine was found behind the TV. Saucedo did not object to the nature of the search or the fact that Trooper Miller had looked in the hidden com- partment. Trooper Miller asked Saucedo whether his truck had been searched before; Saucedo said that it had.

Unsurprisingly, Saucedo was arrested. Trooper Miller asked Saucedo why he had given his permission to search even before Miller asked for it. Saucedo ex- plained that he'd been searched before and nothing was found. At one point, Saucedo advised Trooper Miller that he had diabetes, wasn't feeling well, and asked Miller to retrieve one of his prescriptions. Miller did so.

A grand jury charged Saucedo with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine. Saucedo moved to suppress the cocaine and the magistrate judge held an evidentiary hearing. The judge found that Saucedo "clearly understood English fluently at the time of the stop and knew that he was consenting to the search of the entire tractor-trailer" and that "Saucedo was suffering no ill effects due to his condition at the time of the traffic stop . . . that affected his ability to comprehend his situation or to make in- telligent decisions." The judge also found that Saucedo volunteered his consent, that Trooper Miller confirmed that he could search both the tractor and trailer, and that "Saucedo did not indicate any limitations on the scope of his consent." The district judge ...


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