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United States v. Benavidez

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 19, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
GABRIEL BENAVIDEZ, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          M. CHRISTINA ARMIJO, Chief United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence Derived from Illegal Search. [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2] The Court, having considered the submissions, the relative law, and otherwise being fully informed, hereby GRANTS the Motion.

         BACKGROUND

         Defendant is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§92');">22');">2(g)(1) and 92');">24(a)(2');">2). [Doc. 4] The parties largely agree about the facts leading up to Defendant's arrest. On March 8, 2');">2016, a woman identified as J.L. called the Albuquerque Police Department from an apartment in Albuquerque, New Mexico and reported that Defendant had a knife and was threatening her. [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, p. 1; Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, p. 1] Police officers responded to the apartment and knocked repeatedly but no one came to the door. [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, pp. 1-2');">2; Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2] Officers heard sounds as though someone pushed items against the front door. [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, pp. 1-2');">2, Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2-2');">2, p. 3');">p. 3');">p. 3');">p. 3; Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2] Eventually J.L. responded but refused to leave the apartment, told officers that she would not open the door because one of her sons was asleep in the bedroom, and told officers that Defendant had left. [Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2] Officers saw Defendant look through the blinds of the sliding door. [Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2] Eventually, officers conversed with J.L. at the front door and later with Defendant at the back door, both of whom refused to leave the apartment. [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2 pp. 1-2');">2; Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2]

         Finally, after 90 minutes, Defendant came out of the apartment and was arrested. [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2; Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2] According to the “Affidavit for Search Warrant, ” after “the occupants of the apartment . . . exited safely and [Defendant] was detained, ” officers “conducted a safety sweep of the apartment to insure no other person(s) were hiding or concealing themselves where one could.” [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2-2');">2, pp. 3');">p. 3');">p. 3');">p. 3-4] According to the briefs of both parties, at the time of the “safety sweep, ” J.L. and her children were in the room officers first entered. [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2; Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2]. Either way, according to Defendant, officers conducted this “safety sweep” after “assur[ing] themselves of J.L.'s safety and the safety of her children.” [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2]

         After police officers conducted the protective sweep, they spoke to J.L. [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2; Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, p2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2-3] J.L. told them that Defendant lived alone in the apartment, that she was either “just visiting” [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2] or had returned to retrieve clothing [Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, p. 3');">p. 3');">p. 3');">p. 3], and that she was not aware of any drugs or firearms in the apartment. [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, p. 2');">2] Defendant argues that, “[h]ad this strategically delayed interview been conducted when officers first entered the apartment, they would have known that no further search was necessary.” [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2]

         The only significant factual dispute between Defendant and the Government is whether, during the “safety sweep, ” a firearm was in plain view. According to Defendant, during the “safety sweep, ” an officer looked inside a closet and under “full bags of clothes in white trash bags that appear to stand as much as (2');">2) feet high, in a full bedroom closet, ” where they saw a firearm. [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, p. 3');">p. 3');">p. 3');">p. 3] Defendant contends that it was obvious that no person could have been hiding under these bags. [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, p. 4');">p. 4] The Government claims that “once officers opened the closet door, the rifle was in plain view on the closet floor.” [Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, pp. 9-10]

         Task Force Officer Hernandez submitted a search warrant affidavit that Defendant argues “demonstrat[es] a lack of good faith in applying for the warrant.” [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, p. 13] The “Affidavit for Search Warrant” states:

During the sweep, Officer Henry saw on the floor of the master bedroom closet, a long barreled rifle that he described to have a black in color handle and a wood type stock. . . . I spoke with the victim in this incident, [J.L.] During our conversation she did tell me that she was in fear of receiving an immediate assault and/or battery from the suspect. . . . [J.L.] stated that she had previously been the victim of domestic violence committed against her by . . . Benavidez and that there is a recent criminal case pending with the 2');">2ndJudicial District Court, of New Mexico. [J.L.] stated that Benavidez had arrived at the apartment “high” and stated that Benavidez uses “methamphetamine.”

[Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2-2');">2, p. 4');">p. 4] Defendant argues Officer Hernandez left out of the affidavit that J.L. made inconsistent statements and that there was no evidence to support that J.L. could recognize the signs of methamphetamine intoxication. Thus, Defendant argues that Officer Hernandez “withheld material information about the reliability of the only legally-obtained evidence presented - the statements of J.L.” [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, p. 13]

         ANALYSIS

         A Hearing is Not Necessary

         When there are no material facts in dispute, a hearing on a motion to suppress is not necessary. “[A]n evidentiary hearing is only required when the motion to suppress raises factual allegations that are sufficiently definite, specific, detailed, and nonconjectural to enable the court to conclude that contested issues of fact going to the validity of the search are in issue.” United States v. Glass, 2');">28 F.3d 1398');">12');">28 F.3d 1398, 1408-09 (10th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks, citations and brackets omitted); see also United States v. Pettigrew, 2');">26');">468 F.3d 62');">26, 638 (10th Cir. 2');">2006) (rejecting defendant's argument that an evidentiary hearing was necessary where the “Government conceded the facts as related by [the Defendant]”); United States v. Jackson, 363 Fed.Appx. 2');">208, 2');">210 n.2');">2 (3rd Cir. 2');">2010) (unpublished decision) (collecting cases which state that the party seeking a hearing on a motion to suppress bears the burden of establishing that there are material, disputed factual issues). The decision of whether or not an evidentiary hearing is necessary is within the discretion of the district court. Glass, 12');">28 F.3d at 1408.

         Neither party requested a hearing on the Motion to Suppress. There is one glaring disputed fact: whether the officer moved bags when searching the closet or whether the firearm was in plain view. However, if the warrantless search was not justified, that fact is immaterial. The facts relevant to deciding whether the warrantless search was justified only potentially vary in one way, which is not material: whether, after Defendant exited the apartment and was in custody, J.L. and her children also exited [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2-2');">2, p. 4');">p. 4], or whether the officers entered and found them safe immediately upon entering the first room, the living room [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2; Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2');">2');">2');">p. 2');">2]. Either way, before searching the bedroom, the officers had ascertained that J.L. and her children were safe. For the reasons set forth later in this Opinion, this fact is dispositive to the Motion to Suppress. Thus, no hearing is necessary.

         Protective Sweep

         In the search warrant affidavit, Officer Hernandez states: “members of the Albuquerque Police Department conducted a safety sweep of the apartment to insure no other person(s) were hiding or concealing themselves where one could.” [Doc. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2-2');">2, p. 4');">p. 4 (emphasis added)] Thus, in arguing that the search was not justified, Defendant argued law relating to protective sweeps. However, the Government relies on a completely different theory and different case law to justify the search: the “exigent circumstances/emergency aid exception.” [Doc. 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33, pp. 5-8] Nonetheless, the Government does not explicitly abandon the protective sweep theory. Accordingly, the Court addresses both exceptions to the requirement that the government obtain a warrant before searching a home.

         In Maryland v. Buie, 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">25');">494 U.S. 2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">2');">2');">2');">32');">25, 33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">33');">334-35 (1990) our United States Supreme Court sanctioned and defined protective sweeps by holding as follows:

We also hold that as an incident to the arrest the officers could, as a precautionary matter and without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, look in closets and other spaces immediately adjoining the place of arrest from which an attack could be immediately launched. Beyond that, however, we hold that there must be articulable facts which, taken together with the rational inferences from those facts, would warrant a reasonably prudent officer in ...

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