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United States v. Torres

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 5, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
RONALD WILLIAM TORRES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING MOTION TO SUPPRESS

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant's Objections (Doc. 41) to the Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition (“PF&RD”) (Doc. 38). The Magistrate Judge recommended denial of Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 18). Following a de novo review of the parties' briefing (Docs. 18, 27, 34), the evidentiary record, and the applicable law, the Court adopts the findings and conclusions of the PF&RD except as stated below, and therefore denies the Motion.

         I. Legal Standard

         A. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)

         This case was referred to the Magistrate Judge to conduct hearings and perform legal analysis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), (b)(3), and Va. Beach Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n v. Wood, 901 F.2d 849 (10th Cir. 1990). (Doc. 25). Under the referral provision of § 636(b), the Court's standard of review of a magistrate judge's PF&RD is de novo. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). When resolving objections to the magistrate judge's PF&RD, “[t]he district judge must consider de novo any objection to the magistrate judge's recommendation. The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommendation, receive further evidence, or resubmit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b)(3). “[A] brief order expressly stating the court conducted de novo review is sufficient.” Northington v. Marin, 102 F.3d 1564, 1570 (10th Cir. 1996) (citing In re Griego, 64 F.3d 580, 583-84 (10th Cir. 1995)).

         B. Fourth Amendment

         Where a criminal defendant files a Fourth Amendment-based motion to suppress, the Government bears the burden of showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the criminal defendant's Fourth Amendment rights were not violated. United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 177 (1974). However, “[t]he proponent of a motion to suppress has the burden of adducing facts at the suppression hearing indicating that his own rights were violated by the challenged search.” United States v. Eckhart, 569 F.3d 1263, 1274 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting United States v. Allen, 235 F.3d 482, 489 (10th Cir. 2000)). In ruling on a motion to suppress, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the Government. See United States v. Matthews, 458 Fed.Appx. 717, 722 (citing United States v. Myers, 308 F.3d 251, 255 (3d Cir. 2002)).

         II. Objections to Findings of Fact

         Defendant makes a number of objections to the findings of fact contained in the PF&RD, which the Court will address in turn. Except as explicitly stated below, the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's findings of fact. (Doc. 38 at 1-6).

         1. Defendants objects to the Magistrate Judge's findings that Officer Arturo Morales was in the vehicle conducting surveillance with Officer Lujan on the date in question (Doc. 41 at 3). Although Officer Morales' involvement was described in the Government's Response brief, (Doc. 27), his name was not mentioned during the December 6, 2018 hearing or in any of the submitted exhibits. Because Officer Morales' name does not appear in the record, Defendant's objection to this finding is sustained. However, none the legal conclusions in the PF&RD relied on the observations of Officer Morales and thus this amended finding does not affect any of those conclusions.

         2. Defendant objects to the Magistrate Judge's finding that “Officer Morales observed a white SUV, ” again because Officer Morales' name does not appear within the record. (Doc. 41 at 3). This objection is essentially the same as the first and is therefore sustained.

         3. Defendant objects to the finding that “‘the officers' saw the female passenger approach the duplex, ” because Officer Lujan did not have a clear view, could not see the east side of the duplex, and did not see the passenger entering an apartment. (Doc. 41 at 3). To the extent the Magistrate Judge found that Officer Morales saw the female passenger approaching the duplex, the objection is sustained. However, the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's findings with respect to Officer Lujan.

         Whether Officer Lujan observed the passenger entering the apartment is irrelevant to the finding that he observed her “approach[ing] the duplex.” (Doc. 38 at 2). Officer Lujan could have observed the passenger approaching the duplex (a building) without seeing her enter a specific apartment. Indeed, the Magistrate Judge found that Officer Lujan saw the passenger approach the duplex but was “unable to see which apartment she entered.” (Doc. 38 at 2).

         As to Officer Lujan's observation of the passenger approaching the duplex, the Court does not agree with Defendant's assertion that Officer Lujan did not have a clear view of the east side of the duplex. Officer Lujan stated in his hearing testimony: “I had a clear, free and unobstructed view of the whole east side, the direction of where that apartment was.” Tr. at 8. He later repeated, in response to defense counsel's questioning about the two intervening buildings in the area, “I had a clear view.” Tr. at 20. Officer Lujan's only uncertainty was with respect to the apartment the passenger entered, not the building she approached. Also in response to defense counsel's questioning about the building, Officer Lujan stated, “I'm most certain that the female did not enter the building with the green roofs. She entered the other one.” Tr. at 19. “The other one” referred to the target building under surveillance. Defendant presents no argument that Officer Lujan's testimony on these points was not credible and the Court finds it credible. Officer Lujan admitted that he did not have a clear view of whether she entered the target apartment. Tr. at 19. This statement in no way undermines his stated conclusion that the passenger approached the target duplex. Defendant's objection is overruled as it pertains to observations made by Officer Lujan.

         4. Defendant's fourth objection appears to be substantively identical to his third. Accordingly, for the same reasons, it is overruled except with respect to any findings about Officer Morales' involvement.

         5. Defendant objects to the Magistrate Judge's “implication that the passenger entered an apartment.” (Doc. 41 at 3). Specifically, Defendant objects to the following phrase in the PF&RD: “Though they were unable to see which apartment she entered, Officer Lujan explained in his testimony that only the target apartment was occupied at the time; the other was vacant.” (Doc. 38 at 2). Defendant argues, once again, that Officer Lujan did not have a clear view, that he did not see the passenger approach or enter an apartment, and that he could not see the east side of the duplex.

         As explained previously, Officer Lujan testified that he had a “clear view” of the east side of the duplex. Tr. at 8. He expressed certainty about which building the passenger approached, but admitted that he could not see which of the two apartments she approached. Tr. at 19. The findings of the PF&RD were that the female passenger approached the duplex, that Officer Lujan could not see which of the two apartments the passenger approached, and that the other apartment in the duplex was unoccupied. These facts of record fully support the conclusion that the passenger entered, or at least approached, the target apartment. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's finding and overrules Defendant's objection.

         6. Defendant next objects to the Magistrate Judge's omission of a finding that Officer Lujan could not see the east side of the duplex where the doors are located. (Doc. 41 at 3). Again, Officer Lujan testified that he had a clear view of the east side of the duplex. Tr. at 8. The Magistrate Judge's findings were that Officer Lujan had a view of the passenger approaching the duplex, but did not have a view of which apartment she approached or entered. (Doc. 38 at 2). These findings are both consistent with the record, and do not omit the fact that Officer Lujan could not see the two apartment doors. This objection is accordingly overruled.

         7. Defendant objects to the Magistrate Judge's omission of a finding that Officer Lujan could not see if the passenger approached or entered the target apartment. (Doc. 41 at 4). The Magistrate Judge found that Officer Lujan could not clearly see which apartment the passenger approached or entered, and added the additional relevant information that only the target apartment was occupied. (Doc. 38 at 2). ...


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