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October 4, 2013

Judge suppresses evidence in immigrant case

JACKSON —

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge has granted a motion to suppress evidence in the case of a Texas man charged in Mississippi with transporting people who were in the country illegally.

Armando Alvarado was charged with the crime in August 2012 after being pulled over by a state trooper on Interstate 20 in Rankin County, Miss.

His lawyer, Mike Scott, argued in court records that the stop was illegal and any evidence and statements should be thrown out.

The court record says the trooper stopped Alvarado for following another vehicle too closely on Aug. 23, 2012. There were four others in the 2002 Volkswagen Jetta. Alvarado had a Rosenberg, Texas, address and told the officer he was going to Atlanta to visit his brother, the court record said.

After questioning and running a background check, the trooper determined Alvarado had been charged with a similar crime in the past. The trooper also said Alvarado gave conflicting statements about who owned the car and his relationship with the passengers.

The trooper called immigration officials to report a "small load" of people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves in Jackson ruled this week that the traffic stop was valid. However, the judge said that nearly 20 minutes into the stop, the trooper told Alvarado he would not be ticketed for the traffic violation.

Alvarado should have been allowed to leave at that point "because the purpose of the stop had been fulfilled," Reeves said in his order. Instead, the trooper asked Alvarado for permission to search the vehicle.

By the time the search was completed, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official had arrived.

The judge said the trooper may have had a "hunch" that a crime was being committed, but he didn't have proper legal authority to detain Alvarado after deciding not to ticket him.

"The computer check revealed no warrants for Alvarado's arrest, no reports that the vehicle was stolen, no reports that the vehicle had been or was currently involved in a crime, no reports that Alvarado was in the midst of a crime, and no reports that Alvarado was about to commit a crime," the judge wrote.

Reeves said the prolonged detention violated Alvarado's Fourth Amendment rights.

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