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United States v. Mora

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 8, 2018

MATHIAS MORA, Defendant.

          Devon M. Fooks, AFPD Attorney for Defendant Mora

          Norman Cairns ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Attorney for Plaintiff United States



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Mathias Mora's Motion to Reconsider Court's Denial of Defendant's Motion to Suppress. [Doc. 65]. The government opposes the motion. [Doc. 67]. Based upon the pleadings of the parties, the facts of this case and applicable law, Mr. Mora's motion is hereby denied.

         I. Background

         Mr. Mora has been charged with seven counts of transporting illegal aliens, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii), and one count of felon in possession of firearms in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). The charges arise from an October 27, 2016, incident which started when agents from the Department of Homeland Security (“HSI”) in Albuquerque received a call from Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office (“BCSO”) task force officers. The task force officers had fielded a call from a person reporting a semi-truck that was parked behind the Albertsons Market at the intersection of Rio Bravo and Isleta. The caller had seen between 30 and 60 people exiting the back of the semi-truck and walking around the parking lot. BCSO and HSI agents drove to the Albertsons, where they found 14 undocumented immigrants in the area. The semi-truck, however, was gone.

         Agents fanned out, searching for the missing vehicle. Shortly thereafter, it was located in the parking lot of the Walmart at the intersection of Coors and Rio Bravo. The cab was locked, but the rear trailer doors were not. Agents opened the doors of the trailer and found that it was empty except for a Sure Fine vegetable oil bottle filled with a yellow substance that smelled like urine. Based on the statement of the eyewitness and the evidence at the scene, agents believed that some of the people who had been inside the trailer were missing. Agents were able to determine from the license plate and the placards on the semi-truck that the truck belonged to Mr. Mora and the trailer belonged to Swingline Transport.

         Surveillance video from the Walmart was obtained. It showed the semi-truck pulling into the Walmart parking lot and parking. An individual later identified as Mr. Mora then emerged from the semi-truck, walked through the parking lot, and entered the store. Video from inside the store showed Mr. Mora picking up a 12-pack of Dos Equis beer, purchasing the beer and a package of tortillas, exiting the store, and walking toward the tractor-trailer before being picked up by a car.

         Based on information provided by Swingline Transport, HSI obtained Mr. Mora's home address and dispatched agents to his home. Shortly thereafter, Mr. and Mrs. Mora arrived home in a car that appeared to be the same car seen picking the individual up in the Walmart parking lot. The agents arrested Mr. Mora and detained Mrs. Mora. Mrs. Mora declined permission to search the house. Agents made a decision to conduct a sweep of the house for both security and humanitarian reasons. During the three-minute sweep, agents observed ammunition boxes and what appeared to be a gun safe. Later in the day, agents obtained and executed search warrants for the house and the semi-trailer. At the house, they found, inter alia, guns and ammunition.

         In support of his Motion to Suppress the gun and ammunition, Defendant asserted, inter alia, that the “protective sweep” of his house was unconstitutional and, therefore, any information gathered during the sweep could not be used to support the search warrant applications, that the affidavits submitted in support of the search warrants did not establish probable cause to search his house or trailer, and that any evidence seized from Defendant, including his post-arrest statements, must be suppressed as fruits of the poisonous tree. [Doc. 21].

         Sitting by designation, United States District Judge Michael J. Reagan conducted a hearing on the motion on August 10, 2017. On October 17, 2017, Judge Reagan entered a Memorandum Opinion and Order denying Mr. Mora's Motion to Suppress. [Doc. 50]. In so ruling, he rejected the government's argument that the sweep was justified on the basis of officer safety, because the evidence established there were safe havens outside the house where the officers could have interviewed, searched and arrested Mr. Mora without exposing themselves to harm. Id. at 11. However, citing Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978); Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398 (2006); and United States v. Najar, 451 F.3d 710 (10th Cir. 2006), Judge Reagan concluded the government had established that officers had reasonable grounds to believe there was an immediate need to protect the lives of the suspected undocumented immigrants.

         II. Applicable Law

         Motions to reconsider are proper in a criminal case even though the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure do not specifically provide for them. United States v. Randall, 666 F.3d 1238, 1241-42 (10th Cir. 2011). “A motion to reconsider may be granted when the court has misapprehended the facts, a party's position, or the law.” United States v. Christy, 739 F.3d 534, 539 (10th Cir. 2014) (citing Servants of Paraclete v. Does, 204 F.3d 1005, 1012 (10th Cir. 2000)). “Specific grounds include: ‘(1) an intervening change in the controlling law, (2) new evidence previously unavailable, and (3) the need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice.'” Id. (citing Servants of Paraclete, supra).

         III. ...

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