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United States v. Baker

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 9, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ADONIS BAKER, Defendant.

          Letitia Carroll Simms Assistant United States Attorney United States Attorney's Office Albuquerque, New Mexico Attorneys for the Government

          Carey Corlew Bhalla, Joseph E. Shattuck Marco & Shattuck Albuquerque, New Mexico Attorneys for the Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendant's Appeal of Detention Order, filed March 5, 2018 (Doc. 51)(“Appeal”). The Court held a hearing on March 19, 2018. The primary issue is whether Defendant Adonis Baker presents a flight risk or is a danger to the community, and should therefore remain in custody pending trial, or whether the Court can furnish conditions of release that can reduce those risks to acceptable levels. The United States of America has shown, by clear-and-convincing evidence, that Baker is a danger to the community, and has shown, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Baker is a flight risk. The Court denies Baker's Appeal, thereby affirming the Honorable Laura Fashing, United States Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico's Order of Detention Pending Trial, see Order, filed September 29, 2017 (Doc. 15)(“Order of Detention”), and Magistrate Judge Fashing's Order Denying Motion to Release Defendant From Custody, filed January 2, 2018 (Doc. 46)(“Order Denying Motion to Release”).

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Court sets forth the facts as the United States alleges them in its Indictment, filed September 21, 2017 (Doc. 1)(“Indictment”), and as the United States Probation Office describes them in the Bail Report (disclosed October 13, 2017)(Doc. 24)(“Bail Report”), bearing in mind that Baker is presumed innocent of all charges, see Estelle v. Williams, 425 U.S. 501, 503 (1976)(“The presumption of innocence, although not articulated in the Constitution, is a basic component of a fair trial under our system of criminal justice.” (citing Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432, 453 (1895))). The Court recites the United States' version of the facts because the high burden of proof placed on the United States necessitates that it has a cogent, internally consistent version of events, [1] and not out of any predisposition to believe the United States' side of the story. See In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 365 (1970)(“[W]e explicitly hold that the Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged.”).

         The Bail Report indicates that Baker was born in Alabama and has lived in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area for the last four years. See Bail Report at 1-2. Baker has a father and a sister, who both reside in Birmingham, Alabama. See Bail Report at 2. Baker has daily contact with his sister and weekly contact with his parents. See Bail Report at 2. His mother is believed to reside in Indiana. See Bail Report at 2. Baker advises that he has been in a relationship for the past two years and that he has no children. See Bail Report at 2.

         Baker has been unemployed since 2013 and could not provide the name of his last employer. See Bail Report at 2. Baker does not have a United States of America passport and has never traveled outside of the United States. See Bail Report at 2.

         Baker has a 2013 conviction for a drug-related offense. See Bail Report at 3. He has a certificate of completion from the State of Alabama Department of Corrections Substance Abuse Program, granted on October 27, 2006. See Bail Report at 3. The Bail Report also references other documentation admitting past drug addiction. See Bail Report at 3. No. evidence suggests Baker has current or past mental health conditions. See Bail Report at 3.

         Since 2003, Baker has been charged with criminal conduct five times, not including the current charges. See Bail Report at 5-6. From 2003 to the present, Baker was charged with the following: (i) theft of property (April 2003); (ii) robbery (May 2003); (iii) assault/reckless endangerment (March 2005)(Baker's only charge for violent behavior); (iv) possession of marijuana less than two ounces and possession of a controlled substance less than twenty-eight grams (August 2012); and (v) improper use of evidence of registration, improper display of registration plate, and no driver's license (November 2015). See Bail Report at 5-6. Baker was convicted of the theft of property, the robbery, the misdemeanor possession of marijuana, and of improper display of his registration plate. See Bail Report at 5-6.

         At the hearing on the Appeal, on March 19, 2018, see Transcript of Detention Hearing (taken March 19, 2018)(Court)(“March 19 Tr.”)[2], the Court elicited details of Baker's past convictions from his counsel. See March 19 Tr. at 4:8-9 (Court). Baker alleges that his theft of property conviction was a petty theft, involving shoplifting from Walmart. See March 19 Tr. at 4:19-22 (Court). Baker also alleges that his robbery conviction was a purse snatching, committed by another individual while Baker drove the car involved in the crime. See March 19 Tr. at 4:23-5:2 (Baiz). Baker asserts that the circumstances of his assault/reckless endangerment charge are that he ran a few red lights, and then an officer stopped to investigate him and see whether the car he was driving was stolen. See March 19 Tr. at 5:10-13 (Baiz). There is no disposition for that charge mentioned in the Bail Report. See March 19 Tr. at 5:6-9 (Court). After Baker's robbery conviction, he was placed on probation and then his probation was revoked, because he had a dirty urine test due to cocaine use. See March 19 Tr. at 5:16-20 (Baiz). Baker asserts that his traffic-related offenses are that he was found to have a newly-purchased car that had not been registered with the DMV. See March 19 Tr. at 6:19-21 (Baiz). Baker has previously violated probation, and has had an active warrant since April 28, 2014, extraditable in Texas only, for a probation violation related to the possession of marijuana charge. See Bail Report at 5-6. Baker has also failed to appear, and in December 2015, the County of Bernalillo, New Mexico, issued a failure to appear bench warrant for Baker on his traffic-related offenses. See Bail Report at 6. Bernalillo County canceled the warrant in May, 2017, when he was convicted of improper display of his registration plate and ordered to pay fines and fees. See Bail Report at 6.

         Baker contends that, because he is a felon, he does not possess a firearm. See Transcript of Hearing at 3:20-21 (taken September 29, 2017)(Baiz)(“Sept. 29 Tr.”). At the September 29, 2017, detention hearing, however, Homeland Security Investigations Agent Morgan Langer testified that almost every alleged victim interviewed stated that Baker “was armed at all times.” Sept. 29 Tr. at 9:10-11 (Langer). Langer also testified that he found “some handgun ammunition” in Baker's apartment, although he did not find a firearm. See Sept. 29 Tr. at 9:21-10:1 (Langer, Court). Langer relayed what he had learned through his investigation of Baker: that Baker “targeted women that were often homeless, often drug-addicted, vulnerable women, and would use that to recruit them through force, coercion, threats, violence, into a life of prostitution where the proceeds from their prostitution activities would be turned over to Mr. Baker and some of his associates.” See Sept. 29 Tr. at 8:12-18 (Langer). Langer testified that there were reports of women who were drugged and awoke in different cities, including cities outside of New Mexico. See Sept. 29 Tr. at 8:23-25 (Langer). At least one victim reported Baker holding a gun to her head. See Sept. 29 Tr. at 11:2-4 (Simms, Langer). Another reported Baker holding her head under water. See Sept. 29 Tr. at 11:5-7 (Simms, Langer). Of the six named victims, three reported that Baker had committed acts of violence against them, and a fourth reported that Baker had threatened her with violence. See Sept. 29 Tr. at 15:2-4 (Langer). Langer testified that Baker used “physical violence, beatings with his hands . . . threats with a firearm . . . sexual violence” and rape against the victims. Sept. 29 Tr. at 10:19-11:1 (Simms, Langer). Langer reported that Baker lured the juvenile victim identified in the Indictment, a runaway from Phoenix, Arizona, into his car with drugs. See Sept. 29 Tr. at 22:7-11 (Langer). Langer alleges that, once the juvenile was in Baker's car, she noticed it had disabled locks. See Sept. 29 Tr. at 22:12-13 (Langer). Langer then asserts that Baker drove the juvenile from Phoenix to Albuquerque for the purpose of engaging in prostitution, but that Baker released her after she refused to engage in prostitution. See Sept. 29 Tr. at 22:13-16 (Langer). Langer testified that other victims reported that they were too afraid of Baker to cooperate in the investigation. See Sept. 29 Tr. at 23:5-12 (Simms, Langer).

         The twelve-count Indictment charges Baker with sex trafficking by means of force, threats, fraud, and coercion; coercion and enticement to engage in prostitution; transportation for prostitution; sex trafficking of a child; and transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. See Indictment at 1-6.[3] The United States asserts that the penalties Baker faces on at least four of the twelve counts in the original Indictment are a mandatory fifteen years in prison, that may run consecutively. See Sept. 29 Tr. at 26:9-12 (Simms).

         The United States Probation Office (“USPO”) recommends that Baker remain in custody, as it appears there “is no condition or combination of conditions that will reasonably assure the appearance of the defendant as required and the safety of the community.” Bail Report at 4. In support of its recommendation, the USPO alleges ten factors which indicate that Baker poses a danger to the community: (i) Nature of Instant Offense; (ii) Prior Arrests and Convictions; (iii) Substance Abuse History; (iv) Violent Behavior History; (v) Pretrial, Probation, Parole, or Supervised Release Status and Compliance; (vi) Criminal Activity While Under Supervision; (vii) History/Charge Involving a Child; (viii) History/Charge involving Sex Offense/Abuse; (viv) Safety Concerns for the Community or a Specific Individual; and (x) Criminal History. See Bail Report at 4. In the Addendum to the Bail Report, filed March 16, 2018 (Doc. 57)(“Addendum”), the USPO also cites the fact that three of the victims have not been located. See Addendum at 1.[4]

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On September 21, 2017, a federal grand jury returned the twelve-count Indictment in United States v. Baker, No. CR 17-2556 JB (D.N.M.)(Browning, J.). Magistrate Judge Fashing held a detention hearing on September 29, 2017. See Sept. 29 Tr. at 1. After the September 29, 2017, detention hearing, Magistrate Judge Fashing concluded that a rebuttable presumption arises under 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e)(3) that no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure Baker's appearance as required and the safety of the community, because there is probable cause to believe that Baker committed an offense involving a minor victim. See Order of Detention at 2. According to Magistrate Judge Fashing, Baker did not introduce sufficient evidence to rebut this presumption. See Order of Detention at 2. Additionally, weighing the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3142(g) and the information presented at the detention hearing, Magistrate Judge Fashing concluded that the United States proved by clear-and-convincing evidence that Baker is a danger to the community, and by a preponderance of the evidence that Baker is a flight risk. See Order of Detention at 2. Magistrate Judge Fashing noted Baker's previous failure to appear in court as ordered, his lack of stable employment, his history of violence or use of weapons, the lengthy period of incarceration which he will face if he is convicted of the present charges, and the weight of the evidence against him, in supporting her conclusions that Baker is a flight risk and a danger to the community. See Order of Detention at 2-3.

         Following the Order of Detention, Baker filed a Motion to Release Defendant from Custody, filed December 20, 2017 (Doc. 42)(“Motion to Release”). In the Motion to Release, Baker asserts that he has a minimal criminal history, family members in Birmingham who are willing to serve as third-party custodians, and that he has an employment history pre-dating 2013. See Motion to Release at 3. Baker requests that “he be allowed to live and work in Birmingham and reside with his father and grandmother as he is not either a danger to the community or a flight risk.” Motion to Release at 3.

         The United States filed a response to the Motion to Release. See United States' Response to Defendants' Motion to Release Defendant from Custody, filed December 28, 2017 (Doc. 45)(“Response to Motion to Release”). In the Response to Motion to Release, the United States argues that a rebuttable presumption arises under 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e)(3) that there is no condition or set of conditions that will reasonably assure Baker's appearance as required and the safety of the community, because there is probable cause to believe Baker violated 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591 and 2423, both offenses involving minor victims. See Response to Motion to Release at 1-2. Specifically, the United States asserts that Baker “is alleged to have lured a minor into his vehicle in Arizona, and drove her to New Mexico while she was passed out under the influence of drugs, so that she could work as a prostitute for him.” Response to Motion to Release at 1-2. The United States argues that Baker did not put forth sufficient information in his Motion to Release to overcome the presumption in his case. See Response to Motion to Release at 2. The United States argues that Baker's proposed living arrangements in Alabama do not overcome the rebuttable presumption against release, because the nature of the charges against Baker indicate “he will drive hundreds of miles from city to city to victimize women by forcing them into prostitution.” Response to Motion to Release at 2. The United States asserts that Baker failed to advance any reason why his proposed living arrangement would overcome the presumption in favor of detention in his case. See Response to Motion to Release at 2.

         The United States argues that Baker is a flight risk, because he has minimal ties to New Mexico, a history of failure to appear, and an outstanding misdemeanor warrant in Texas (demonstrating his unwillingness to appear in court), and is facing a mandatory minimum of fifteen years' incarceration on multiple charges. See Response to Motion to Release at 2.

         The United States also argues that Baker is a danger both to the community and to the victims, because, the United States alleges, Baker regularly possessed a firearm, used physical violence, threats, and drugs to control women, and trafficked women -- including a minor -- using force, fraud, and coercion. See Response to Motion to Release at 2-3. Finally, the United States argues that, because Baker is facing a long period of incarceration, he has an interest in finding and silencing his victims. See Response to Motion to Release at 2-3.

         First, although Magistrate Judge Fashing stated that Baker's criminal history is not significant, she asserted that it does not demonstrate that he is not a flight risk or a danger to the community, and it is not sufficient to rebut the presumption in favor of detention. See Order Denying Motion to Release at 2-3. In support, Magistrate Judge Fashing highlighted that Baker's criminal history includes a probation revocation on his robbery conviction from May, 2006, a probation violation with an active warrant from 2012, and a failure to appear on a misdemeanor charge in December 2015.

         Second, Magistrate Judge Fashing cited to the victims' reports of violence and threats of violence testified to at the detention hearing by Langer. See Order Denying Motion to Release at 3. Magistrate Judge Fashing noted that Counts 1 and 2 of the Indictment allege that Baker engaged in the conduct testified to at the hearing, as far back as 2012. See Order Denying Motion to Release at 4. According to Langer's testimony, Baker has been unemployed since 2013, and has an apartment in Albuquerque, a residence in Phoenix, and traveled to Phoenix, Colorado Springs, Las Vegas, and elsewhere during the investigation. See Order Denying Motion to Release at 4. Magistrate Judge Fashing also notes that the United States represented at the hearing that at least four of Baker's charged offenses carry a minimum sentence of fifteen years of incarceration. See Order Denying Motion to Release at 4.

         Magistrate Judge Fashing denied the Motion to Release, concluding that, considering the testimony that Langer provided at the detention hearing, the fact that Baker

has family members in Alabama who may be willing to serve as third-party custodians, and that he has an employment history prior to 2013, has no material bearing on whether Baker is a flight risk or a danger to the community. This information is also insufficient to overcome the presumption that Baker is both a flight risk and a danger.

         Order Denying Motion to Release at 4. Accordingly, Magistrate Judge Fashing declined to reopen the detention hearing and denied Baker's request for release. See Order Denying Motion to Release at 4.

         1. Baker's Appeal.

         Baker appeals the Order of Detention and the Order Denying Motion to Release. See Appeal of Detention Order, filed March 5, 2018 (Doc. 51)(“Appeal”). Baker argues that circumstances in his case are such that the rebuttable presumption under 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e) “is overcome and the Court should release Baker from custody.” Appeal at 2. Baker first cites to his minimal criminal history, the willingness of his father and grandmother to serve as third party custodians, and his employment history before 2013. See Appeal at 4. As Magistrate Judge Fashing stated in the Order Denying Motion to Release:

All the reasons that Baker gives for his release -- that he “has a minimal criminal history, ” that he is from Birmingham, Alabama and has family members there who are willing to serve as third party custodians, and that he has a history of employment before 2013, Doc. 42 at 2-3 -- were known to Baker on September 29, 2017 (the day of his detention hearing), and he could have presented this information to the Court then. Indeed, the Court considered Baker's criminal history at the detention hearing, and although that history is not significant, it was not sufficient to rebut the presumption that he is both a flight risk and a danger to the community.

         Order Denying Motion to Release at 2.

         Baker argues that the facts of the Indictment alleging that he was involved in allegations in 2012 are false. See Appeal at 5. Baker asserts he was living in Beaumont, Texas and working at Subway Sandwiches, until at least 2013, and therefore could not have been involved in the “acts in the indictment between June 2012 and June 2013.” Appeal at 5. Baker also asserts that the alleged victim “principally” responsible for the allegations of violence against women, V.A., never stated during her interview with Baker's defense team that she was afraid of Baker. Appeal at 5. Baker further asserts only one audio recording of an interview with a government witness has been disclosed to him thus far in discovery. See Appeal at 5. In that recording, “Jessica, ” one of the victims, repeatedly stated to a police officer, despite being prompted to say that she felt coerced, that she was “not afraid of Baker and that she was engaging as a sex worker because she wanted to, not because she was forced. She also stated that Baker would not do anything violent because he was a ‘caring person.'” Appeal at 5.

         Finally, Baker asserts that he is not a danger, and argues that the “clear and convincing evidence” standard that the United States must meet requires “proof that the particular defendant actually poses a danger to the community, not that the defendant in theory poses a danger.” Appeal at 6 (citing United States v. Patriarca, 948 F.2d 789, 792 (1st Cir. 1991)). Because Baker asserts that the allegations that witnesses are afraid of him are false, Baker contends that he does not actually pose a danger to the community, and therefore that the United States has not established dangerousness by clear-and-convincing evidence as required to support his pretrial detention. See Appeal at 6.

         Alleging that, based on a consideration of the § 3142(g) factors, he “does not pose a risk of danger to the community, nor is he at risk of non-appearance” such as could not be managed by the imposition of reasonable conditions, Baker requests that he “be allowed to live at La Pasada Halfway House” pending trial. Appeal at 6. In conclusion, Baker requests that the Court “set this matter for a hearing as soon as possible; reverse the Magistrate Judge's order of detention in this cause [sic]; enter an order setting reasonable conditions of release; and provide for such other and further relief to which the Court may find Baker to be justly entitled.” Appeal at 8.

         2. The United States' Response.

         The United States requests that the Court deny Baker's Appeal, as he “did not introduce sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption of detention, and has offered no new evidence that circumstances have since changed.” Response at 1. The United States argues that there “are no conditions that will reasonably assure Defendant's presence at future hearings, or assure the safety of the community.” Response at 1.

         The United States first asserts that the information Baker presents in his Appeal regarding his criminal history, family ties, and employment background is not new. See Response at 3-4. The “Magistrate found such information does not have a material bearing on whether the Defendant is a flight risk or a danger to the community. Not only is this information not new, but it was considered by the Magistrate upon the Defendants [sic] Motion for Release.” Response at 4 (citing Order Denying Motion for Release at 3-4).

         The United States notes that, when Baker refers to the acts in the Indictment between June 2012 and June 2013, he is referring to “Counts 1 and 2, which actually allege a period from June 2012 through June 3, 2015.” Response at 4. The United States maintains that, even if Baker was living and working in Texas until 2013, he could still be found guilty of these counts, because they allege a period until 2015. See Response at 4.

         The United States takes the position that it is untrue that V.A. never said that she was afraid of Baker during her interview with Baker's defense team, and furthermore, the United States argues that this fact is “irrelevant to the weight of the evidence.” Response at 4. The United States argues that whether a victim is currently scared of a defendant is not necessarily probative of whether the defendant ever used force, fraud, or coercion to compel victims to work as prostitutes. See Response at 4-5. Moreover, the United States relays that, upon V.A.'s information and belief, she was specifically asked ...


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