Smuggling Charges From Left-Lane Driving
VICTORIA, Texas (CN) - Two people facing human-trafficking charges after they were pulled over for driving in the passing-only lane failed to persuade a federal judge the traffic stop was illegal.
Texas state trooper Jeremiah Collins was on patrol, parked by a gas station in Victoria County, when he saw a white Ford Explorer going north in the left lane of U.S. Highway 59, court records show.
There is a "Left Lane for Passing Only" sign next to the highway, about 5 miles south from where Collins first saw the Explorer.
Collins followed the Explorer for another 5 miles, twice pulling up alongside it to give the driver a chance to get over to the right lane.
Observing that the young woman in the Explorer's passenger seat was avoiding eye contact and staring straight ahead, Collins suspected her and the driver of smuggling migrants.
When he pulled the Explorer over and the passenger rolled her window down, Collins saw three people huddled in the fetal position on the floorboard behind the front seats.
He arrested the driver, Joe Angel Castillo, and the passenger, Giselle Lysette Gonzalez, on human-trafficking charges.
Castillo and Gonzalez moved to suppress, arguing that Collins did not have reasonable suspicion that Castillo had committed a traffic violation and the traffic stop violated their Fourth Amendment rights to be free from illegal searches.
U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa deemed the traffic stop legal Monday.
Although there is no Texas traffic law that specifically bans driving in the left lane without passing, a "traffic sign can make it a violation," his nine-page ruling states.
There are also a number of factors indicating that it was reasonable for Collins to suspect that the Explorer had been on the highway longer than 5.3 miles, and that Castillo had seen the passing-only sign, according to the ruling.
Costa cited the dashboard-camera video Collins recorded after the incident, showing the highway from the passing-only sign to the gas station where Collins first saw the Explorer.
"There are few heavily travelled routes that enter US 59" on that 5.3 mile stretch, and the highway section in question is in a sparsely populated area, he wrote.