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United States v. Barraza-Rocha

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 8, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JESUS BARRAZA-ROCHA, and ARACELI LOPEZ-LOPEZ, Defendants.

          ORDER ADOPTING MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

          M. CHRISTINA ARMIJO, Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the United States' Objections to Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition of Defendant Araceli Lopez-Lopez's Motion to Suppress Statements [ECF No. 64] and Defendant's [sic] Joint Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition of Defendant's [sic] Joint Motion to Suppress [ECF No. 63]. The Court has considered the written submissions of the parties, the record in this case, the applicable law, and is otherwise fully advised. With regard to both Proposed Findings and Recommended Dispositions the Magistrate Judge entered [ECF No. 60 and ECF No. 61], the Court has conducted a de novo review of those portions to which objections have been made, 18 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and finds itself in agreement with the Magistrate Judge, as set forth more fully below.

         I. The United States' Objections to Grant of Defendant Araceli Lopez-Lopez's Motion to Suppress Statements

         The United States does not object to the Magistrate Judge's findings of fact. ECF No. 64 at 2. Instead, it argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that Defendant Lopez-Lopez's statements at issue should be suppressed because they were involuntarily obtained. Id.

         Specifically, the United States first argues that the Magistrate Judge failed to consider relevant precedent and, as a result, misapprehended the applicable legal standard. Second, the United States argues that the Magistrate Judge did not take into account the applicable burden of proof - that the government must only prove voluntariness by a preponderance of the evidence. The Court disagrees.

         The United States' argument that the Magistrate Judge applied the wrong legal standard is undermined by the fact that the United States and the Magistrate Judge rely on the same case as setting the correct legal standard. Both cite United States v. Lopez, 437 F.3d 1059, 1063 (10th Cir. 2006) for the proposition that a court must consider the totality of the circumstances and the “[r]elevant circumstances embrace both the characteristics of the accused and the details of the interrogation.” Compare ECF No. 61 at 5 to ECF No. 64 at 7. In making his recommendation, the Magistrate Judge carefully considered the totality of the circumstances. The Magistrate Judge noted that

weighing against a coercive environment is that the questioning was short and occurred not long after Defendant's arrest. Further, law enforcement never used an excessive show of force. Instead, law enforcement acted in a calm, professional, and polite manner, making sure Defendant was comfortable before and during questioning. See Sharp v. Rohling, 793 F.3d 1216, 1233 (10th Cir. 2015) (setting forth non-exhaustive list of factors to consider). Although Officer Moya made references to Defendant's children and the need to cooperate for their benefit prior to advising her of her rights, Officer Moya did advise Defendant of her Miranda rights and Defendant did waive these rights before she made any inculpatory statements.

ECF No. 61 at 13-14 (footnote omitted). On the other side of the balance, the Magistrate Judge noted

other factors that tend to demonstrate coercion are that Defendant was alone and detained at the time of her interview (Audio Tr. at 8-9), had only a ninth grade education (Hearing Tr. at 151), did not have any apparent familiarity with the criminal justice system and was emotional and concerned about her kids prior to and during questioning (Video at 1:49:30 - 1:50:00, Interview at 5:30 forward). Also significant are law enforcement's repeated warnings to Defendant regarding the gravity of her situation, the fact that the turning point in the interview occurred just after Officer Moya implied that not cooperating could have consequences with regard to her children, and the fact that this implication occurred just after Defendant provided a non-inculpatory statement. Transcript at 14-15.

ECF No. 61 at 13. The Magistrate Judge also carefully explained how the numerous statements law enforcement made to Defendant conveyed to her that “not cooperating would negatively impact her children, including possibly having them taken away.” ECF No. 61 at 7-12. The Court finds that, in weighing these factors, the Magistrate Judge engaged in the correct legal analysis and correctly determined that Defendant's post-arrest statements were not voluntarily given.

         The United States further asserts that the Magistrate Judge's characterization of the holding in Lynumn v. State of Illinois, 372 U.S. 528 (1963), was incorrect. The Magistrate Judge stated, “the Supreme Court has made clear that when law enforcement secures a confession after telling a defendant that she will lose her children if she does not cooperate, the confession must be suppressed.” ECF No. 61 at 5. The United States points out that other factors also existed to support the Supreme Court's decision in Lynumn. This is true. The Supreme Court pointed out that the threats to Lynumn

were made while she was encircled in her apartment by three police officers and a twice convicted felon who had purportedly ‘set her up.' There was no friend or adviser to whom she might turn. She had had no previous experience with the criminal law, and had no reason not to believe that the police had ample power to carry out their threats.

Id. at 534. As set forth above, however, many of these same additional factors exist in the present case. Defendant had no friend or advisor to whom she might turn. She had no apparent familiarity with the criminal justice system and had no reason not to believe that the police had ample power to carry out their threats. Although Defendant was not surrounded by three officers, most of the coercion occurred not in the familiar surroundings of her apartment, but while she was alone in an interview room at the police station. Further, she was in an emotional state, and after law enforcement had repeatedly warned her about the gravity of her situation. Thus, even if Lynumn requires more than the Magistrate Judge stated Lynumn requires, more existed in this case.[1] Balancing the factors as the Magistrate Judge did, the Court finds that the United States failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant Lopez-Lopez's confession was voluntary. Because the Court finds that the United States failed to meet its burden by a preponderance of the evidence, it overrules the United States' objection that the Magistrate Judge failed to apply the applicable burden of proof.

         II. Defendants' Objections to Denial of Defendants' Joint Motion to Suppress ...


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