United States District Court, D. New Mexico
December 21, 2016
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
STEVEN MORALES, Defendant.
P. MARTINEZ United States Attorney
BOWLES Attorney for Defendant
A. HURTADO Assistant United States Attorney
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
VAZQUEZ United States District Judge.
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
light of the Court's revised interpretation of the
applicable law, the facts as presented by the United States,
both in its filings and at the evidentiary hearing on April
27, 2016, are restated as follows.
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].
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.
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.
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.
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].
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.
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.
Morales opposed the United States' motion on August 18,
2016. [Doc. 47].
the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure do not authorize a
motion for reconsideration, motions to reconsider in criminal
prosecutions are proper." See, e.g., United States
v. Randall, 666 F.3d 1238, 1241 (10th Cir. 2011)
(citation and internal quotations omitted). In particular,
"[a] district court should have the opportunity to
correct alleged errors in its dispositions." United
States v. Christy, 739 F.3d 534, 539 (10th Cir. 2014).
Tenth Circuit has held that a motion to reconsider may be
granted when the Court has misapprehended the facts, a
party's position, or the law. Servants of the
Paraclete v. Does, 204 F.3d 1005, 1012 (10th Cir. 2000).
Specific situations where circumstances may warrant
reconsideration include "(0an intervening
change in the controlling law, (2) new evidence previously
unavailable, and (3) the need to correct clear error or
prevent manifest injustice." Id. However,
"[a] motion to reconsider should not be used to revisit
issues already addressed or advance arguments that could have
been raised earlier." Christy, 739 F.3d at 539.
United States makes two arguments in support of its Motion
for Reconsideration. First, the government argues that the
Court misinterpreted the rule in Sanders v. United
States, 339 A.2d 373 (D.C. Ct. App. 1975), which does
not require the government to show how it used the GPS data
to locate Mr. Morales. [Doc. 39 at 5-6]. Second, the
government argues that the recent Supreme Court decision in
Utah v. Strieff, 136 S.Ct. 2056 (2016) constitutes
an "intervening change in the law" indicating that
suppression was not the appropriate remedy in this case.
[Doc. 39 at 10-12]. Because the Court agrees that it
previously misinterpreted the rule in Sanders, the
Court finds that there was a reasonable basis for identifying
Mr. Morales and, consequently, its previous railing was clear
error. Accordingly, the Court does not reach the
government's argument regarding Strieff.
Under the Fourth Amendment, There Was Sufficient Basis for
Mr. Morales' Identification.
suppress evidence as the fruit of an unlawful seizure, a
person must first show (I) that his seizure or detention
violated the Fourth Amendment, and then must show (2) that
there is a "factual nexus" between the unlawful
seizure and the challenged evidence. United States v.
Mosley, 743 F.3d 1317, 1323 (10th Cir. 2014), cert,
denied, 135 S.Ct. 184 (2014). Mr. Morales argued in his
Motion to Suppress and supplemental brief that although there
was a warrant for his arrest, the arresting officers lacked a
reasonable basis for identifying him at the time of his
arrest. [Doc. 23 at 6-7; Doc. 32 at 2-5]. In its previous
order, the Court explained that identifications during an
arrest pursuant to an arrest warrant are lawful if the
arresting officer "(1) acts in good faith, and (2) has
reasonable, articulable grounds to believe that the suspect
is the intended arrestee." Sanders, 339 A.2d at
379; see also United States v. McCray, 468 F.2d 446
(10th Cir. 1972). [Doc. 37 at 12].
Sanders, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
held that even when an officer mistakes the identity of the
defendant, evidence seized during the arrest is admissible if
the arresting officer acts in good faith and has reasonable,
articulable grounds to believe that the suspect is the
intended arrestee. 339 A.2d at 379. There, after observing
Mr. Sanders, the officer suspected that he was trying to
break into a car, so he asked Mr. Sanders for identification.
Id. at 375. Mr. Sanders provided the officer with
his identification card on which his last name was misspelled
as "Saunders[.]" Id. The officer sent Mr.
Sanders on his way and then radioed a dispatcher, providing
the misspelled last name from the identification card and the
correct date of birth. The dispatcher advised that there was
an arrest warrant out for someone with the same name,
matching the same physical description. Id. With
this new information, the officer approached Mr. Sanders
again and asked whether he had ever been arrested in the
county that issued the arrest warrant, and the defendant
replied that he had. Id. On this basis, the officer
patted down Mr. Sanders, found a pistol and ammunition, and
then arrested him. Id. After the arrest it was
discovered that the arrest warrant was for another man, but
Mr. Sanders was nevertheless charged for the unregistered gun
and unlawfully possessed ammunition that the officer had
seized from him. Id. In affirming the lower
court's denial of suppression of this seized evidence,
the court reasoned that
[W]here the warrant is constitutionally valid . . . the
seizure of an individual other than the one against whom the
warrant is outstanding is valid if the arresting officer (1)
acts in good faith, and (2) has reasonable, articulable
grounds to believe that the suspect is the intended arrestee.
Should doubt as to the correct identity of the subject of
warrant arise, the arresting officer obviously should make
immediate reasonable efforts to confirm or deny the
applicability of the warrant to the detained individual. If,
after such reasonable efforts, the officer reasonably and in
good faith believes that the suspect is the one against whom
the warrant is outstanding, a protective frisk pursuant to
the arrest of that person is not in contravention of the
Id. at 379 (citing, inter alia, United States v.
McCray, 468 F.2d 446 (10th Cir. 1972) (holding that
arrest was lawful where FBI agent was notified that person
named in arrest warrant was living at the specified address
and the defendant, after being warned of his rights, admitted
that his name was the same name given in the warrant));
see also U.S. v. Glover, 725 F.2d 120, 122 (D.C.
Cir. 1984) ("The arrest of a person who is mistakenly
thought to be someone else is valid if the arresting officer
(a) has probable cause to arrest the person sought, and (b)
reasonably believed the person arrested was the person
sought."). As the Supreme Court stated in Hill,
"[s]ufficient probability, not certainty, is the
touchstone of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment and
on the record before the court the officers' mistake was
understandable and the arrest a reasonable response to the
situation facing them at the time." Hill v.
California, 401 U.S. 797, 804(1971).
Court's previous Opinion held that the United States had
failed to present reasonable grounds for its identification
of Mr. Morales because "but for" the GPS
identification, Deputy Segotta would have been unable to
identify Mr. Morales. [Doc. 37 at 13 and 18]. This holding
misconstrued the meaning of the rule in Sanders
requiring "reasonable, articulable grounds to believe
that the suspect is the intended arrestee."
Sanders, 339 A.2d at 379. As the United States
points out, the "GPS data was not used to identify
Morales, " [Doc. 39 at 7], and indeed, "[o]fficers
could not have positively identified Morales using only the
GPS telephone data." Id. at 8. While the GPS
data enabled the officers to "make observations of the
people in the parking lot in order to actually identify
Morales[, ]" it did not form part of the basis for
believing that the man officers saw in the car was Mr.
United States has enumerated several observations that
allowed officers to identify Mr. Morales, the sum of which
shows that the officers had good faith and reasonable,
articulable grounds for believing that the man they decided
to arrest was Steven Morales.
Deputy Segotta identified Mr. Morales' father, Arturo
Morales. Deputy Segotta had been informed that Mr. Morales
was traveling with his father, and he was able to see that
the appearance of the driver of the car matched the
driver's license photo of Arturo Morales. [Doc. 38 at
20-1]. Deputy Segotta testified that his vantage point of the
car was less than 15 feet away and that he was able to see
both sides of Arturo Morales' face. [Docs. 39 at 9, n.3;
38 at 21 and 44], In light of this testimony, the Court
committed clear error by finding that Deputy Segotta did not
have enough information to identify Arturo Morales.
in addition to observing and identifying Arturo Morales,
Deputy Segotta noted that the car had a placard that read
"Jack Key Motors, " consistent with Deputy
Segotta's knowledge that Jack Key Motors was located in
Las Cruces and that Morales was from southern New Mexico and
had traveled to Albuquerque from Las Cruces. [Doc. 38 at 15].
Deputy Segotta observed an unknown individual with a tattooed
arm concealed in the backseat of the vehicle, consistent with
Deputy Segotta's understanding that Mr. Morales had a
"tattoo sleeve" on his arm. [Doc. 38 at 16-20], In
sum, as Deputy Segotta testified, "based on the fact
that the father was driving a vehicle that we believed had
come from Las Cruces, New Mexico, based off the identifying
information on the car, and that there was an adult male that
was tattooed heavily from the hand down, that there was a
very good likelihood that, inside that car, hiding in the
back seat, was our suspect." [Doc. 38 at 22]. Once
officers started converging on the car, Deputy Roberson, who
was closer to Mr. Morales at the time of this confrontation,
saw him through the windshield, testifying that "[i]t
looked like the subject that was-very similar descriptors, if
not the subject." [Doc. 38 at 63]. Deputy Roberson
testified that although he did not specifically recall seeing
Mr. Morales' photograph, he could not "recall if
there's ever been a time where I haven't seen a
picture of the subject that I'm about to arrest."
Id. at 66.
Court finds that under Sanders, the above testimony
indicates that the arresting officers had good faith and a
reasonable, articulable basis for believing that Mr. Morales
was the same man as the person described in the arrest
warrant. In particular, the rule in Sanders focuses
on instances in which officers were mistaken as to
an arrestee's identity. The fact that Mr. Morales is in
fact the same person named in the arrest warrant further
supports that the above observations by Deputies Segotta and
Roberson were made in a good faith effort to arrest the
correct person and formed a reasonable basis for believing
that Mr. Morales was the correct person.
Morales argues that because the government has not
specifically shown that the task force officers verified Mr.
Morales' identity during the arrest, Mr. Morales'
identification was improper under Sanders. [Doc. 32
at 3]. Indeed, upon further questioning by the Court, Deputy
Segotta clarified that once the task force vehicles moved in
to surround the vehicle, he did not play a role in
identifying Mr. Morales. [Doc. 38 at 52-56]. While Deputy
Segotta testified that steps are taken, upon arrest, to
confirm the identity of the arrestee, he did not have
personal knowledge of such steps being taken in this
instance. Id. at 58. Furthermore, during cross
examination by defense counsel, Deputy Roberson testified
that the task force officers approached the car with guns
drawn because "the decision had already been made to
arrest the person in the back of the car." Id.
at 68-9. The Court rejects the argument that the Fourth
Amendment required officers to do more to identify Mr.
Morales because, in fact, there was no mistake as to Mr.
Morales' identity. Sanders does not require that
officers take steps to confirm the identity of the arrestee
unless there is doubt as to the arrestee's identity.
Sanders, 339 A.2d at 379; Valdez v. U.S.,
58 F.Supp.3d 795, 817 (W.D. Mich. 2014). Because the correct
person was arrested, the Court will not find that the
government's failure to show that Mr. Morales'
identity was confirmed at the very moment of his arrest
amounts to a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
examination of State v. Lee, 294 N.W.2d 547 (Wis.
Ct. App. 1980), in which the Wisconsin Court of Appeals found
that the arresting officers' identification of the
defendant failed to satisfy the Sanders standard,
further supports the Court's conclusion that there was no
constitutional violation in Mr. Morales' identification.
In Lee, the warrant's description of the
arrestee was vague, stating only that the individual was
"a young white man." Id. at 685. Because
the warrant provided little basis for confirming that the
defendant was the person named in the arrest warrant, the
court held that "the police had no reasonable,
articulable grounds to believe that the suspect was the
intended arrestee . . . [the] description is so general that
it fits a very large group of ordinary young men."
Id. In holding that the defendant's seizure
violated the Fourth Amendment, the court further explained
that "[t]he officers in this case had doubt as to the
correct identity of the subject." Id. at 686.
comparison, the officers who arrested Mr. Morales had
physical descriptions and photographs of both Mr. Morales and
his father and information that they were potentially
traveling together [Doc. 38 at 12-13, 21], allowing them to
identify and arrest Mr. Morales. Upon seeing Arturo Morales
as well as a hidden male in the back of the car who had a
"tattoo sleeve" on his arm, the officers had much
more specific information with which to identify Steven
Morales than the "young white man1' description in
Lee. At the evidentiary hearing, defense counsel
pointed out while cross examining Deputy Segotta that a
tattoo sleeve is "not unusual." [Doc. 38 at 42],
Indeed, had a "tattoo sleeve" been the only basis
for identifying Mr. Morales, this basis would not be
sufficiently reasonable and articulable under
Sanders because it lacks a reasonable, let alone
sufficient, probability that the individual being arrested is
the person named in the warrant. See Hill, 401 U.S.
at 804 ("[s]ufficient probability, not certainty, is the
touchstone of reasonableness under the Fourth
Amendment"). However, because Deputy Segotta was also
able to identify Arturo Morales and observe that the car
likely originated in Las Cruces, the combination of these
observations gave rise to a "sufficient
probability" that the man in the back seat of the car
was Steven Morales. In sum, the connections that the officers
drew between what they observed and the descriptive
information they had been provided formed the reasonable and
articulable basis for identifying and arresting Steven
the testimony from Deputies Segotta and Roberson, describing
the observations they made and steps taken before arresting
Mr. Morales, fail to indicate a lack of good faith to arrest
the same person named in the arrest warrant. The Court finds
that, on the issue of whether officers were seeking to arrest
the person named in the arrest warrant, the testimonies of
Deputies Segotta and Roberson were credible. Although Mr.
Morales seems to argue that certain evidence was lacking to
verify the testimony, such as the driver's license photo
of Arturo Morales, [Doc. 32 at 4], this argument nevertheless
fails to suggest, and nothing in the record indicates, that
the task force officers were unconcerned with the identity of
the person they arrested.
Mr. Morales' arguments fundamentally misconstrue
Sanders, which does not require the task force
officers to go through certain steps to verify Mr.
Morales' identity while arresting him. Sanders
only requires that "the tentative identification of a
legitimate target was objectively reasonable."
Valdez, 58 F.Supp.3d at 817; see also Hill,
401 U.S. at 804. The Court agrees with Mr. Morales that
"[t]he Fourth Amendment protects citizens against
generalized, subjective decisions to arrest, as they could
lead to violations of innocent persons' rights, and
endanger the public." [Doc. 32 at 4]. However, as
discussed above, the decision to arrest Mr. Morales had a
sufficient basis and Mr. Morales was not "innocent"
because he was in fact the correct person specified in the
arrest warrant. Because the record does not raise doubt as to
whether the man being arrested was Mr. Morales, the Court
will not find that Mr. Morales' Fourth Amendment rights
were violated simply because officers may not have taken all
possible steps to confirm his identity while arresting him.
the GPS data, while directing the task force to the location
of Mr. Morales' arrest, did not provide the basis for Mr.
Morales' identification, which is the only aspect of Mr.
Morales' arrest being disputed. The task force identified
Mr. Morales based on Deputy Segotta's observations that
Arturo Morales was in the car, that there was a man with a
sleeve tattoo hiding in the car, that the car seemed to have
originated in southern New Mexico, and based on Deputy
Roberson's observation while approaching the car that Mr.
Morales was inside. Because the observations supporting the
task force's identification of Mr, Morales provide a
reasonable, articulable basis for the identification and fail
to suggest a lack of good faith in making the identification,
Mr. Morales' Motion to Suppress must be denied.
reconsideration, the Court revises its earlier statement of
the law and finds that although the GPS data may have
directed the task force to the location where they were able
to identify and arrest Mr, Morales, only the visual
observations made in the parking lot formed the basis of the
identification. Because the identification was made in good
faith and the observations formed a reasonable, articulable
basis for believing that the person arrested was the same
person named in the arrest warrant, the identification did
not violate Mr. Morales' Fourth Amendment rights.
Accordingly, the evidence seized during his arrest shall not
THEREFORE ORDERED that the United States Motion to Reconsider
[Doc, 39] is GRANTED and, as a result, Mr. Morales'
Motion to Suppress Evidence [Doc. 23] is DENIED.
 Upon close examination of Mr.
Morales' motion, cross examinations at the evidentiary
hearing, and supplemental briefs, the Court notes that except
as discussed herein, Mr. Morales does not dispute the United
States' factual presentation but rather seeks to identify
deficiencies in that showing. See, e.g., Doc. 23 at
1-3; Doc. 32 at 2; Doc. 38 at 25-52 (cross examination of
Deputy Ben Segotta, focusing on the way officers located Mr.
Morales using GPS information).