A New Mexico man who turned down a plea deal that would have gotten him out of prison after a handful of years for transporting nearly $200,000 of cocaine last year has had his trial verdict and 12-year sentence upheld by the Arizona Court of Appeals.
Leobardo Alvarado II was convicted by a Cochise County jury of transporting 14.7 pounds of cocaine inside the radiator of a Chevrolet Avalanche during a border crossing from Mexico in May 2021. He was a passenger in the vehicle and told Douglas police officers he planned to receive $8,000 upon delivery of the cocaine.
Alvarado, 33, was considered a Category 2 repetitive felon when it came time for Judge Laura Cardinal to impose sentencing. However, he contended on appeal the judge abused her discretion by allowing jurors to hear testimony about how the cocaine was detected in the vehicle and of Alvarado’s post-Miranda statement that he had transported illegal drugs on prior occasions.
At issue was whether a Douglas officer had reasonable suspicion that the driver of the Avalanche had committed a traffic offense. If the traffic stop was unlawful, then the cocaine and Alvarado’s incriminating statements would have been kept out of the trial.
But Chief Judge Garye Vasquez wrote in the unanimous Nov. 18 appellate decision that Cardinal did not abuse her discretion in denying Alvarado’s motion to suppress the evidence connected to the stop.
“We view the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to affirming Alvarado’s convictions,” Vasquez wrote. “Alvarado’s conviction and sentence are affirmed.
The appellate decision does not take effect until at least Dec. 29, providing Alvarado 30 days to petition for review from the Arizona Supreme Court.
According to court records, a Douglas officer witnessed what he believed were two violations supporting a traffic stop of the Avalanche – one was an item “hanging from the rearview mirror” that appeared to obstruct the driver’s view. That item turned out to be a rosary.
The other violation stemmed from the officer’s contact with his dispatch center which informed him the Avalanche’s license plate was suspended. This was later clarified to mean the vehicle’s registration was suspended.
Cardinal ruled it was not necessary for her to determine whether the Arizona Legislature intended “such a common adornment” as a rosary hanging from a rearview mirror to be a violation of state law. Instead, Cardinal ruled the license plate’s suspended status was “sufficient grounds alone” for the traffic stop.
Court records show Alvarado rejected a pretrial plea deal which would have guaranteed him for less than five years in prison along with credit for 221 days he spent in jail awaiting resolution of the case. The judge conducted a Donald Hearing before the plea deal was formally rejected to ensure Alvarado understood the potential outcome if convicted at trial.
His earliest release date is currently in June 2031, according to the Arizona Department of Corrections.
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