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United States v. Quezada-Lara

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

July 30, 2018


          Jason Bowles Letitia Simms Attorney for Mr. Quezada-Lara

          ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Attorney for the United States



         This matter comes before the Court on defendant Juan Carlos Quezada-Lara's Motion to Suppress Evidence [Doc. 22]. The government opposes the motion. The Court conducted a hearing on the motion on March 30, 2018. Based upon the pleadings of the parties, the evidence presented during the hearing, and applicable law, Mr. Quezada-Lara's motion is hereby denied.

         I. Introduction

         On June 19, 2017, a vehicle driven by Mr. Quezada-Lara struck an FBI Task Force Officer while officers were attempting to apprehend him. Mr. Quezada-Lara then fled the scene. Later that day, Mr. Quezada-Lara's girlfriend reported that his vehicle had been stolen. The vehicle was eventually found abandoned.

         Based on information provided by the girlfriend, agents went to Mr. Quezada-Lara's residence in Albuquerque later that night. While there, they saw his girlfriend leave the residence. Agents made contact with her, and she told them that Mr. Quezada-Lara lived at the residence and she stayed there off and on. She gave agents her key to the residence and permission to search the premises for Mr. Quezada-Lara.

         Agents surrounded the residence and made contact with Mr. Quezada-Lara's grandfather, Martin Lara, who lives at the residence. Mr. Lara gave the agents both verbal and written permission to search the house. During the search of Mr. Quezada-Lara's bedroom, agents located two loaded firearms. Additional rounds of ammunition were found in a bedside drawer.

         On July 11, 2017, Mr. Quezada-Lara was indicted on one count of Assaulting, Resisting, and Impeding a Federal Officer in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 111, and one count of Prohibited Person in Possession of Firearm and Ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(3) and (5).

         In his Motion to Suppress, Mr. Quezada-Lara contends that his grandfather suffers from dementia, does not speak English very well, and did not have either actual or apparent authority to consent to the search. The government asserts that Mr. Lara had either actual or apparent authority to consent to the search, and that his consent was voluntarily given.

         II. Applicable Law

         The Fourth Amendment generally prohibits the government from making a warrantless entry into a person's residence to search for specific objects. Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177, 181 (1990). The general rule has exceptions, one of which is “situations in which voluntary consent has been obtained, either from the individual whose property is searched or from a third party who possesses common authority over the premises. United States v. Kimoana, 383 F.3d 1215, 1221 (10th Cir. 2004) (citing Rodriguez, supra). “Before a district court may admit evidence resulting from a consent search, it must determine from the totality of the circumstances that (1) the [individual's] consent was voluntary and (2) the search did not exceed the scope of the consent.” United States v. Sims, 428 F.3d 945, 952 (10th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted).

         The government, as the party asserting the officers had obtained consent to search from an individual having actual or apparent authority over the premises, bears the burden of proof. United States v. Cos, 498 F.3d 1115, 1124 (10th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

         III. Factual Background

         The search of Mr. Quezada-Lara's house occurred late on the night of June 19 and in the early morning hours of June 20, 2017, while law enforcement was looking for Mr. Quezada-Lara in connection with an assault on an officer earlier that day. [TR at pp. 4-5]. A few hours after the assault, Mr. Quezada-Lara's girlfriend had reported his car stolen to the Albuquerque Police Department, and provided law enforcement with his home address. Id. at 5. The car was registered to that address. Id.

         A. Testimony of FBI Agents Acee and Stemo

         FBI Special Agent Bryan Acee testified that around midnight, law enforcement established surveillance on the house, which was located at 10801 Cartagena Avenue in the South Valley area of Albuquerque. Id. at 6. Shortly after surveillance began, law enforcement observed a light blue SUV departing the property. Agent Agee recognized it because he believed it had picked up Mr. Quezada-Lara earlier in the day after he fled from agents. Id. Suspecting that Mr. Quezada-Lara might be in the car, the agent activated his lights and pulled the car over. Id. at 7. However, the only person in the car was Mr. Quezada-Lara's girlfriend, Jessica Artega. Id. at 7, 112. Agent Acee explained to her that law enforcement was looking for Mr. Quezada-Lara. Ms. Artega told him that she stayed at Mr. Quezada-Lara's house off and on, that she had brought food to the house for Mr. Quezada-Lara's grandfather that evening, [1] and that she was “50 percent sure [Mr. Quezada-Lara] himself was in the house.” Id. at 7-8. Additionally, she said that Mr. Quezada-Lara had a .45 pistol. Id. at 57. Ms. Artega told the agent that she had a key to the house, and she agreed to go back there with him. Id.[2] She also told him that the grandfather was hard of hearing. Id. at 9.

         Ms. Artega accompanied Agent Acee back to the house, but remained in his car with FBI Agent Nancy Stemo while agents approached the house. Id. at 57, 68. Agent Acee testified that although Ms. Artega had given him a key, he was reluctant to use it, and elected to knock and announce his presence first. He knew from his conversation with Ms. Artega that the grandfather was in the house, there was a good chance that Mr. Quezada-Lara was there, and the second suspect agents were looking for might also be there. Id. at 7-8. Based on these factors, and his concern for the safety of the officers and agents, he believed that it would be better to surround the location and call the person out. Id. at 8. The agents knocked on the front door and the windows and called out to the occupants of the house, but received no response. Id. at 7-8. Officers from the Albuquerque Police Department arrived and turned on their lights and spotlights. Id. at 8.[3] Law enforcement also used a public address system, but to no avail. Id.

         Ultimately, agents went to the back of the house and started knocking on the back door. Id. at 9. They saw the bedroom blinds in a window move, and Mr. Lara looked out. Id. Agent Acee testified that “it was pretty apparent to me that we'd woken him up, ” and he looked “startled.” Id. He stated that when Mr. Lara first opened the window blinds, agents had their weapons drawn, but once they saw him, they lowered their weapons and Agent Acee used a flashlight instead of his weapon light. Id. at 11-12. Speaking English, agents identified themselves and asked him to come to the back door. Id. at 10. However, Agent Acee became concerned that the individual might speak only Spanish, so he summoned Agent Stemo, who speaks Spanish fluently, to talk to him. Id. He said that although Mr. Lara initially seemed to be startled, he was cooperative and friendly. Id. Based on his observations, Mr. Lara appeared to understand what Agent Stemo was telling him. Id. at 11. Agent Stemo told Mr. Lara that they were with the FBI, and then-realizing that he might not know what “FBI” is-that they were the police. Id. at 85. She asked him if he could come to the back door and talk to them, and he nodded his head and then disappeared. 1l, 85.

         Using the house key Ms. Artega had provided to Agent Acee, other agents unlocked and opened the back door. Id. at 40. Agent Stemo moved from the window to the back door and called for Mr. Lara to come out. Id. at 40. All of the agents stayed outside. Id. at 40-41. Agent Stemo periodically peeked around the doorway to see if he was there, and eventually, he appeared in the hallway. Id. at 71. Agent Stemo reassured him they were the police, and continued to ask him to “come to us.” Id.

         Mr. Lara came out of the house and sat in a chair on the porch. Id. at 11. Agent Stemo gave Mr. Lara a brief summary of why police were there, telling him “his grandson had been involved in an incident earlier . . . and we were looking for him and we thought he might be inside the house.” Id. at 72. Through Agent Stemo, Agent Acee asked Mr. Lara if his grandson was in the house. Id. at 14. Mr. Lara said he had been there earlier in the day for a little while, and he mentioned his grandson had taken a shower. Id. at 14, 19. However, he did not know whether he was there now. Id. at 19. He gave agents verbal permission to clear the house and verify whether Mr. Quezada-Lara or the other defendant were there. Id. at 12, 72-73. At Agent Acee's request, Agent Stemo asked Mr. Lara who else was in the house. Id. at 44. Mr. Lara told the agents his daughter and a grandson lived there, but he didn't know who was home. Id. at 44-45. Agent Stemo then asked him if agents could go through the house and clear it and check it. Id. at 45-46. Mr. Lara said “yes” in Spanish. Id. at 46. Agent Acee then told the agents “that we had consent and to do a clear.” Id.

         During the initial safety clear, Agent Acee saw drug paraphernalia-specifically small plastic bags containing residue of what he believed was methamphetamine-on the dresser in the bedroom that Mr. Lara later identified as Mr. Quezada-Lara's. Id. at 15.[4]

         Agent Stemo testified that while she was talking to Mr. Lara on the back porch, he seemed to understand what she was telling him. Id. at 74. She believed he understood what she was telling him because he was responding to her questions with answers that were plausible and did not need her to explain anything. Id. He was responsive, his answers made sense to her, and they indicated to her that he understood what was being asked. Id. Mr. Lara did not seem scared, and was actually joking with her. Id. at 73. Agent Stemo testified:

At one point, I asked him how old he was, because he reminded me of my dad, actually. And he said 50, which I thought was not correct. I thought he was a little bit older. And then he smiled and he looked at me, and he grabbed my hand and started patting it. And based on my experience with my family, we tend to lie about our age and say that we're younger, as a joke.

Id. at 73-74.

         After the safety clear search, Mr. Lara, Agent Stemo and Agent Acee went into the kitchen and sat at the kitchen table. Id. at 12, 75.[5] Mr. Lara did not appear to be uncomfortable, and he carried on a conversation with Agent Stemo. Id. at 12-13. Mr. Lara told them he lived there with his daughter and his grandson. Id. at 76. Agent Stemo explained that agents were there because they believed his grandson had been involved in an accident where he ran over one of their task force officers. Id. at 78. She told him agents were looking for drugs or firearms, and he responded that he didn't have any guns and his daughter didn't like them. Id. at 78-79.

         When Agent Acee was in the kitchen with them, Mr. Lara spoke some English, but otherwise, he spoke only Spanish. Id. at 13. Agent Acee testified that Mr. Lara never gave him any indication that he was unwilling to cooperate; to the contrary, he was “hospitable.” Id. Mr. Lara offered Agent Acee something to eat. Id. at 13, 21. Agent Acee accompanied Mr. Lara to his bedroom to find something for him; Agent Acee couldn't remember if it was ...

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