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United States v. Trujillo

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 21, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
GABRIEL TRUJILLO, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARTHA VÁZQUEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Reconsider his Motion to Suppress Evidence and Supporting Memorandum. [Doc. 32] The Court, having considered the Motion, relevant law, and being otherwise fully informed, finds that the motion is not well-taken and will be DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Mr. Trujillo was charged in a two-count Indictment with Possession with Intent to Distribute 50 Grams and More of a Mixture and Substance Containing Methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B), and Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of Drug Trafficking Crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). [Doc. 11] On January 11, 2018, Mr. Trujillo filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence, seeking to exclude evidence seized by law enforcement authorities following a traffic stop and subsequent inventory search of his vehicle on December 6, 2017. [Doc. 15] On January 24, 2018, the United States filed a Response in opposition to Mr. Trujillo's Motion to Suppress. [Doc. 17]. On January 26, 2018, Mr. Trujillo filed a Reply to the United States' Response. [Doc. 19].

         The Court held an evidentiary hearing on May 8, 2018, and took the Motion under advisement. [Doc. 25] Deputy Mitchell Skroch, Drug Enforcement Agent Jeffrey Mauldin, and Captain Andrea Taylor testified at the May hearing. [See Doc. 30 (Hearing Transcript (“Tr.”))]

         Deputy Skroch testified about the arrest and search of Mr. Trujillo. [See generally Tr. at 6-22] He read Mr. Trujillo the Miranda warning upon placing him under arrest. [Tr. at 16:21- 17:2, 24:2-19] Deputy Skroch discussed his knowledge of Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department's policy on towing procedures and inventory searches, and how he applied it when determining whether to search Mr. Trujillo's locked green backpack. [Tr. at 19:5-13, 24:21- 25:25] Finally, Deputy Skroch was presented with a lock and key, and used the key to open the lock that would otherwise not open. [Tr. at 26:1-27:3].

         Defense did not object to the demonstration. Mr. Trujillo, through counsel, cross-examined Deputy Skroch about his pursuit, arrest, and search of Mr. Trujillo. [See generally Tr. at 29-33] He also questioned Deputy Skroch about the department's inventory search policy. [See generally Tr. at 33-38] Defense did not alert the Court that the lock presented was not the lock that he believed Deputy Skroch damaged in order to open Mr. Trujillo's green backpack. Defense did question the deputy as to how the key presented at the hearing had been inventoried, but asked no follow up questions of Deputy Skroch when he stated he did not personally find the key. [Tr. at 40:19-21]

         The Court then inquired why Deputy Skroch believed the lock had been damaged when, at the hearing, the lock appeared to function as designed. [Tr. at 39:19-40:15] He explained that he pulled on the lock and believed “it broke, ” so that is what he noted in his report. [Tr. at 39:23- 40:1, 40:7-8]

         Drug Enforcement Agent Jeffrey Mauldin testified that the lock and key came into his possession on the morning of the incident and remained in his possession up until the hearing. [Tr. at 42:18-43:20]. Defense counsel did not object to Agent Mauldin's testimony, nor cross-examine him. [Tr. at 44:5, 46:21] The Court questioned Agent Mauldin about where he found the lock and key, and whether he had knowledge that the lock was believed to be damaged. [Tr. at 44:6-46:17] Agent Mauldin found the key on the table on the morning of the incident. He did not check the lock before submitting the affidavit [Tr. at 46:4-6], and stated that it had not been checked until the Friday before the hearing when both counsel and Agent Mauldin viewed it in Agent Mauldin's office. [Tr. 46:10-13]

         Captain Andrea Taylor testified on direct examination regarding the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department's inventory search procedures and training, as well as the policies behind them. [See generally Tr. at 47-52, 57] Mr. Trujillo, through counsel, cross-examined Captain Taylor on the same, paying particular attention to whether the Department had a written policy on opening or breaking locks before bringing containers or locks to evidence. [See generally Tr. at 54-56; see 55:17-56:5] The Court then questioned Captain Taylor about whether Mr. Trujillo's arrest was mandatory or discretionary. [Tr. at 58:7-8, 22-23] Captain Taylor responded that the arrest was discretionary, and that the factors that go into the determination of whether to arrest are also discretionary. [Tr. 58:24, 59:15-24]

         On October 29, 2018, the Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order denying the exclusion of statements and evidence found after an inventory search of Mr. Trujillo's vehicle on December 6, 2017. [Doc. 31] In addition to finding that the lock in question was not damaged, the Court concluded that Deputy Skroch was following clear policies by the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department that requires officers to conduct a complete inventory of all property before a vehicle is towed or items are entered into evidence. [Doc. 31 at 11] The Court found Deputy Skroch's testimony credible, and found no reason to believe that he was “rummaging in order to discover incriminating evidence.” [Doc. 31 at 14 (citing Florida v. Wells, 495 U.S. 1 (1990))]

         On October 31, 2018, Mr. Trujillo filed the instant Motion to Reconsider his Motion to Suppress Evidence and Supporting Memorandum. [Doc. 32] The government filed a Response on November 7, 2018. [Doc. 35] Defense did not file a Reply.

         DISCUSSION

         It is well-established in this Circuit that, although the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure do not expressly authorize a motion for reconsideration, such motions are proper in criminal cases. See United States v. Christy, 739 F.3d 534, 539 (10th Cir. 2014); see also United States v. Christy, 810 F.Supp.2d 1219, 1249 (D.N.M. 2011) (Browning, J.) (stating that in the criminal context, “courts ordinarily apply the same standards as those used in civil cases” for motions to reconsider), aff'd, 739 F.3d 534 (10th Cir. 2014). A district court thus may amend its interlocutory orders prior to entry of final judgment. See, e.g., Van Skiver v. United States, 952 F.2d 1241, 1243 (10th Cir. 1991) (“The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not recognize a ‘motion to reconsider.' Instead, the rules allow a litigant subject to an adverse judgment to file either a motion to alter or amend the judgment . . . or a motion seeking relief from the judgment.”); Trujillo v. Bd. of Educ. of Albuquerque Pub. Sch., 212 Fed.Appx. 760, 765 (10th Cir. 2007) (“A district court has discretion to revise interlocutory orders prior to entry of final judgment.”). Hence, “[w]hen a party seeks to obtain reconsideration of a non-final order, the motion is considered ‘an interlocutory motion invoking the district court's general discretionary authority to review and revise interlocutory rulings prior to entry of final judgment.'” Wagner Equip. Co. v. Wood, 289 F.R.D. 347, 349 (D.N.M. 2013) (quoting Wagoner v. Wagoner, 938 F.2d 1120, 1122 n.1 (10th Cir. 1991)). The Court's authority, then, is sustained by the ...


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