United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
preparation for trial, and in compliance with this
Court's June 18, 2018 Order (Doc. 40), Defendant Manuel
Chavez filed a Motion in Limine in Support of the Admission
of Defendant's Exhibit D into the Record (Motion) (Doc.
41). The United States filed a response opposing admission of
Defendant's Exhibit D (Response) (Doc. 42). Having considered
the parties' briefing, arguments, and relevant case law,
the Court will grant Defendant's Motion.
February 14, 2018, a federal grand jury returned an
indictment charging Defendant Manuel Chavez with being a
felon in possession of a firearm contrary to 18 U.S.C. §
922(g)(1). See Redacted Indictment (Doc. 12). The
charge stems from events that unfolded following a law
enforcement traffic stop of the vehicle Defendant was driving
in Albuquerque, New Mexico on January 8, 2018, that
ultimately ended with Defendant's arrest. On April 30,
2018, Defendant Manuel Chavez filed a Motion to Suppress
Search of Vehicle (Doc. 26), contending that Bernalillo
County Sheriff Office (BCSO) Deputy Chavez's entry into
the vehicle that Defendant was driving was an illegal
warrantless search that does not fall into a recognized
exception to the warrant requirement. As a result, Defendant
asks the Court to suppress any evidence, including, but not
limited to, the firearm found in the vehicle. One of the
arguments advanced by the United States in its response to
Defendant's motion to suppress was that even if the Court
were to find that law enforcement unlawfully seized the gun
from the car Defendant was driving, the evidence is still
admissible under the inevitable discovery doctrine.
See Resp. to D. Mot. to Suppress (Doc. 32 at 15).
Under the inevitable discovery doctrine, “illegally
obtained evidence may be admitted if it ultimately or
inevitably would have been discovered by lawful means.”
U.S. v. Christy, 739 F.3d 534, 540 (10th Cir. 2014).
The United States claims that deputies would have inevitably
discovered and seized the handgun as part of the vehicle
inventory conducted in preparation for towing the vehicle
under BCSO's Operating Procedures. (Doc. 32 at 15-16).
The United States claims that after a deputy
inventoried the vehicle, the registered owner, C.B., exited a
nearby residence and the vehicle was released to her. (Doc.
32 at 16). C.B. disclaimed ownership of the firearm.
13, 2018, the Court began a hearing on Defendant's
suppression motion that continued on June 15, 2018. During
the hearing, Defendant moved the Court to admit Defense
Exhibit D, a chart or table containing metadata extracted
from digital photographs the field investigator took during
inventory of the vehicle Defendant was driving. Defendant
suggested at the hearing that the metadata establishes that
law enforcement officials had contact with the vehicle's
registered owner before deputies starting taking
inventory photographs, thereby obviating the need for an
inventory search. The United States objected to admission of
Defense Exhibit D. After listening to brief argument from
both parties, the Court asked the parties to submit
additional briefing regarding admissibility of Defense
Motion, Defendant contends that the Court should admit
Defense Exhibit D for purposes of the suppression hearing
under Rule 402 of the Federal Rules of Evidence because
it is relevant for purposes of demonstrating to the Court the
time that deputies began the vehicle inventory search in
relation to law enforcement's discovery that C.B. was the
vehicle's registered owner. Defendant suggests that a
review of Defense Exhibit D in conjunction with the Computer
Aided Dispatch (CAD) log (Government Exhibit 21)
“indicates that law enforcement knew who the owner of
the vehicle was and that she was present on scene before the
inventory search took place.” (Doc. 41 at 2).
on his reading of the metadata extracted from the photographs
taken during the inventory search as depicted in Defense
Exhibit D, Defendant argues the vehicle inventory began
around 12:40:36 a.m. on January 8, 2018 and concluded at
approximately 12:49:10 a.m. (Doc. 41 at 2). Defendant then
reads the CAD log to suggest that at 12:36:00 a.m. an
individual requested information pertaining to a particular
driver's license number that came back at 12:36:46 a.m.
as belonging to C.B., the vehicle's registered owner.
(Doc. 41 at 3). The conclusion Defendant draws from this is
that deputies “clearly already had contact with [C.B.]
prior to the beginning of the inventory search” because
the license number could not have come from any source other
than directly from C.B. (Doc. 41 at 3).
United States opposes Defendant's request that the Court
admit Defense Exhibit D, first arguing that Defendant failed
to lay a foundation for its authenticity at the suppression
hearing in accordance with the Federal Rules of Evidence.
(Doc. 42 at 1). Citing to case law from other jurisdictions,
the United States argues that in most instances a qualified
expert is necessary to proffer testimony regarding metadata
extracted from digital images. See, e.g., United States
v. Wilkins, No. 15-00232-01-CR-W-HFS, 2016 WL 2616497
(W.D. Mo. Apr. 8, 2016) (concluding that expert testimony
regarding metadata presented at a suppression hearing would
be required before the court could rely on any of the
evidence). And in this instance, the United States asserts,
Defendant did not offer witness testimony to establish
reliability and authenticity of the proposed exhibit. (Doc.
42 at 9-12). Rather, the United States claims that
Defendant's conclusions about the timing of events rests
on three unsupported assumptions: (1) the metadata analysis
is correct; (2) the time settings on the camera that produced
the digital images coincided with the CAD system; and (3)
deputies could only have obtained C.B.'s license number
directly from C.B. (Doc. 42 at 9).
rules of evidence normally applicable in criminal trials do
not operate with full force at hearings before the judge to
determine admissibility of evidence.” U.S. v.
Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 172-73 (discussing, in part,
Fed.R.Evid. 104(a) and Fed.R.Evid. 1101(d)(1)); see also
U.S. v. Miramonted, 365 F.3d 902, 904 (10th Cir. 2004)
(noting that hearsay testimony otherwise inadmissible at
trial is admissible at suppression hearings in which a
district judge is trying to determine whether an arrest was
based on probable cause). “[T]his principle is based on
the assumption that more evidence should be included in a
pretrial hearing because the judge, unlike a jury, can give
the evidence such weight as his judgment and experience
counsel.” U.S. v. Conner, 699 F.3d 1225,
1227-28 (10th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). However, “[insofar as suppression
hearings are not constrained by some of the rules of
evidence, they compel consideration of relevant but otherwise
inadmissible evidence.” Id. at 1228.
Court agrees with the United States that Defendant has failed
to establish the authenticity and reliability of the metadata
and offers conclusions related to that metadata that appear
speculative. Nevertheless, the Court is not bound in a
suppression hearing by the rules of evidence applicable at
trial. Accordingly, the Court will grant Defendant's
Motion and admit Defense Exhibit D into the record for
purposes of the suppression hearing, but will only give it
“such weight as [the Court's] judgment and
experience counsel.” Id. at 1227-28. The Court
will also grant the United States' request that the Court
admit into the record Government's Exhibit 22, a
declaration of Deputy David Schlanger, which is attached an
exhibit to the United States' Response. (Doc. 42-1).
THEREFORE ORDERED that:
1. Defendant's Motion in Limine in Support of the
Admission of Defendant's Exhibit D into the Record (Doc.
41) is GRANTED. The Court will admit Defendant's Exhibit
D into the record for purposes of the suppression hearing;
2. The Court will also admit Government's Exhibit 22 into
the record for purposes of ...