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United States v. Morales

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 21, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVEN MORALES, Defendant.

          DAMON P. MARTINEZ United States Attorney

          JASON BOWLES Attorney for Defendant

          SAMUEL A. HURTADO Assistant United States Attorney

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARTHA VAZQUEZ United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the United States' Motion for Reconsideration of the Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order, [Doc. 37], granting Defendant Steven Morales' Motion to Suppress Evidence, [Doc. 23]. The United States moved for reconsideration of this Court's Order on August 8, 2016, [Doc. 39], and Mr. Morales opposed the United States' motion on August 18, 2016. [Doc. 47], The Court, having considered the briefs, evidence, relevant law, arguments, and being otherwise fully informed, GRANTS the United States' Motion for Reconsideration and now DENIES Mr. Morales' Motion to Suppress Evidence.

         Background

         In light of the Court's revised interpretation of the applicable law, the facts as presented by the United States, [1] both in its filings and at the evidentiary hearing on April 27, 2016, are restated as follows.

         On January 26 and 28, 2015, because Mr, Morales was wanted on an outstanding state arrest warrant, the U.S. Marshals Services obtained orders from the Sixth Judicial District Court for the State of New Mexico for disclosure of telecommunications records associated with Mr. Morales, including GPS information. [Doc. 39 at 1].

         On January 28, 2015, the GPS information indicated that Mr. Morales' cell phone was in the vicinity of a Smith's grocery store in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Id. Members of a fugitive task force, including deputy U.S. Marshals, went to the Smith's parking lot to find and arrest Mr. Morales. Id.

         On April 27, 2016, at an evidentiary hearing before this Court, Deputy U.S. Marshal Ben Segotta testified that upon arriving at the Smith's parking lot, he saw two people-a man and a woman-sitting in a Mazda sedan with a "Jack Key Motors" license plate frame. [Doc. 38 at 14]. The license plate frame indicated to Deputy Segotta that the car had been purchased from Jack Key Motors in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The car's origin was consistent with the information Deputy Segotta had received about Mr. Morales-that he was from southern New Mexico and had traveled to Albuquerque from Las Cruces. Id. at 15. Deputy Segotta saw a woman in the front passenger seat pass a cellphone to a third person in the back seat who reached up and grabbed it. Id. at 15-16. Deputy Segotta testified that although he could not see the person in the back seat, he saw a tattooed ami reach up and grab the cell phone, consistent with his knowledge that Mr. Morales had a "tattoo sleeve" on his arm. Id. at 16-18. Deputy Segotta testified that the person in the back seat "was somebody who had to have been kind of curled up and attempting to, to me, to hide." Id. at 47.

         When the two front-seat occupants exited the car and entered the store, Deputy Segotta was able to see the driver, a man, more clearly. The task force had been informed that Mr. Morales' father, Arturo Morales, was involved in helping his son evade law enforcement. Upon comparing Arturo Morales' driver's license photo with his observations of the driver, Deputy Segotta "was confident that the photograph matched the driver of the vehicle." Id. at 21 and 43.

         At this point, having identified Mr. Morales' father and observed someone with a tattooed arm hiding in the back seat of the car, someone in the task force issued an order to execute the arrest warrant. Id. at 63. At least seven task force officers moved towards the car. Deputy Chris Roberson testified that as he approached the car, he looked through the front windshield and "it looked like the subject that was-very similar descriptors, if not the subject." Id. Mr. Morales was arrested and during the search pursuant to his arrest, the officers recovered a single round of .45 caliber handgun ammunition. [Doc. 39 at 3].

         On May 28, 2015 the United States filed a one-count indictment charging that Mr. Morales-having been convicted of several felony crimes punishable by imprisonment for more than one year-unlawfully possessed a .45 caliber cartridge in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). [Doc. 2 at 1]. On February 7, 2016, Mr. Morales filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained during his January 28, 2015, arrest on unrelated state charges. [Doc. 23]. The United States fileda response [Doc. 24] and, following Mr. Morales' reply [Doc. 26], an amended response [Doc. 30]. On April 27, 2016, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion to suppress. At the conclusion of the hearing, having clarified that Mr. Morales does not dispute that the arrest warrant gave the officers probable cause to arrest him, the Court asked the parties to submit their closing arguments in writing and to include the applicable standard of law. See Docs. 31; 38. In their supplemental briefings, [Docs. 32, 33], the parties agreed that in light of the valid arrest warrant for Mr. Morales, the only issue in dispute was whether the task force's identification of Mr. Morales violated the Fourth Amendment. [Docs. 32 at 1; 33 at 2]. Mr. Morales' Motion therefore challenges only the basis the arresting officers had in identifying him as the individual specified in the arrest warrant.

         On July 12, 2016, this Court issued an order granting Mr. Morales' Motion to Suppress. [Doc. 37]. Following the entry of this Order, the United States moved this Court to reconsider its ruling on August 8, 2016. [Doc. 39]. Mr. ...


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