United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ORDER ADOPTING MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S PROPOSED
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION
CHRISTINA ARMIJO, Chief United States District Judge
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.
The United States' Objections to Grant of Defendant
Araceli Lopez-Lopez's Motion to Suppress
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.
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.
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
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
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. 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.
Defendants' Objections to Denial of Defendants'
Joint Motion to Suppress ...