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United States v. Baca

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 18, 2019

ISRAEL BACA, Defendant.


         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Israel Baca's Motion to Suppress, filed February 15, 2019. (Doc. 35). Defendant seeks to suppress statements made before and after his arrest and the evidence found in a black Mercedes Benz on April 23, 2018, in Hobbs, New Mexico. The United States responded on March 1, 2019. (Doc. 45). The Court held an evidentiary hearing on this Motion on March 5, 2019, and continued the hearing on March 8, 2019. Having considered the briefs, applicable law, evidence and arguments of counsel, the Court denies Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 35).

         I. Standard of Review

         When a criminal defendant files a Fourth or Fifth Amendment-based motion to suppress, the United States bears the burden of showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the criminal defendant's 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)); see also United States v. Eylicio-Montoya, 18 F.3d 845, 850 (10th Cir. 1994) (stating “Constitutional rights are personal and may not be asserted vicariously”)). In ruling on a motion to suppress, courts must view the facts in the light most favorable to the United States. United States v. Matthews, 458 Fed.Appx. 717, 722 (10th Cir. 2012) (citing United States v. Myers, 308 F.3d 251, 255 (3d Cir. 2002)).

         II. Background

         On April 23, 2019, at approximately 10:00 a.m. Hobbs Police Department Detective Sergeant Ahmaad White received a tip that Defendant was in a specifically described parking lot, with his wife, in a stolen black vehicle and in possession of two firearms, and that Defendant's wife had a warrant out for her arrest. Detective White followed up and went to the location where he observed Defendant in a black Mercedes Benz in a parking lot at 300 East White St. in Hobbs, New Mexico. Detective White requested assistance and instructed uniformed officers to approach Defendant and determine whether the vehicle was stolen.

         Hobbs Police Department Officer Scott Russell and others responded to the call and encountered Defendant standing near the driver side door of a blue Jeep Renegade, parked near the black Mercedes. The driver's door and trunk of the Mercedes were open. Officers turned on their emergency lights and approached Defendant. A woman sat in the passenger's seat of the Jeep. Defendant closed the driver's door of the Jeep and began walking back toward the Mercedes.

         Officer Russell ordered Defendant, “Come here, ” and in response Defendant stopped and walked toward the officers. Defendant said he was cleaning the Mercedes for his friend, Michael Giesick, who owned the vehicle. Defendant also said he had not been driving the Mercedes. Officer Russell asked Defendant if he was armed. Defendant said he did not have a firearm on his person. Officer Russell conducted an exterior pat-down of Defendant and confirmed that Defendant was not armed. Officers ran a records check on the Mercedes and determined that it had not been reported stolen, though they also found it was not registered to Michael Giesick.

         Officers confirmed that the woman in the passenger seat of the Jeep, Defendant's spouse, Ashley Rodriguez, had a warrant out for her arrest. As a result, officers arrested Rodriguez. Upon removing Rodriguez from the Jeep, officers noticed an empty gun holster on the seat where Rodriguez had been sitting. Officers then ran the Jeep through law enforcement databases and learned that the Jeep had been reported stolen. As a result, they searched the Jeep.

         Officers handcuffed Defendant and transported him to the substation to question him about the Mercedes and Jeep. Detective Jason Guy advised Defendant of Miranda rights at the substation. Defendant signed a written waiver of his rights and agreed to speak with Detective Guy.

         Officer Russell remained at the parking lot and reported observing a firearm situated between the driver's seat and center console inside the Mercedes. As a result, he swore to a search warrant affidavit for the search warrant. Officers sealed the Mercedes and towed the vehicle to the Hobbs Police Department lot. A subsequent search of the Mercedes revealed a .45 HiPoint firearm and ammunition.

         The Court held a suppression hearing on March 5 and March 8, 2019, at which Detective White, Detective Guy, Hobbs Police Department Sergeant Travis Jackson, and Officer Russell testified. The parties submitted video exhibits, which the Court has reviewed, including Officer Russell's body cam (Exhibit 1), Officer Russell's dash cam (Exhibit 2), Detective Guy's body cam (Exhibit 3), Sergeant Jackson's body cam (Exhibit 11), Hobbs Police Department Officer Brandon Solomon's body cam (Exhibit 12), and Officer FNU Torres' body cam (Exhibit 13).

         Additional facts are discussed below in relation to each issue raised.

         III. Discussion

         Defendant raises multiple issues relating to his seizure, detention, search of the Mercedes and his statements. The Court addresses each issue in turn.

         A. Seizure of Defendant

         Defendant argues that Officer Russell and others violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable seizure when officers encountered him at the parking lot. Defendant contends the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to seize or detain Defendant at any point during the encounter.

         The United States argues the encounter was consensual at all times until officers handcuffed Defendant. Even if the encounter was not consensual, the United States argues that officers had reasonable suspicion to detain Defendant based on the tip received by Detective White and additional information discovered during the encounter.

         A defendant bears the burden of establishing when he was seized for Fourth Amendment purposes. United States v. Hernandez, 847 F.3d 1257, 1263 (10th Cir. 2017). The United States then bears the burden of proving the reasonableness of the officer's suspicion supporting any such seizure. Id.

         1. Whether Defendant was seized within the Meaning of the Fourth Amendment

         “[L]aw enforcement officers do not violate the Fourth Amendment by merely approaching an individual on the street or in another public place, by asking him if he is willing to answer some questions, [or] by putting questions to him if the person is willing to listen.” Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 434 (1991). In determining whether an encounter between a police officer and a citizen is consensual, “the crucial test is whether, taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that he was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business.” Id. At 437 (quotation omitted). “[T]he test allows officers to make inquiries so long as they don't throw their official weight around unduly.” Hernandez, 847 F.3d at 1263-64 (quoting United States v. Tavolacci, 895 F.2d 1423, 1425 (D.C. Cir. 1990)). A non-exhaustive list of factors to consider when determining whether a reasonable person would feel free to terminate his encounter with police include:

the location of the encounter, particularly whether the defendant is in an open public place where he is within the view of persons other than law enforcement officers; whether the officers touch or physically restrain the defendant; whether the officers are uniformed or in plain clothes; whether their weapons are displayed; the number, demeanor and tone of voice of the officers; whether and for how long the officers retain the defendant's personal effects such as tickets or identification; and whether or not they have specifically advised defendant at any time that he had the right to terminate the encounter or refuse consent.

Id. at 1264 (quoting United States v. Lopez, 443 F.3d 1280, 1284 (10th Cir. 2006). “Although no single factor is dispositive, the strong presence of two or three factors may be sufficient to support the conclusion a seizure occurred.” Lopez, 443 F.3d at 1284-85 (quotation omitted).

         The Court concludes that the encounter between Defendant and officers was not consensual. The encounter occurred during the day in a public parking lot, Defendant was within the view of persons other than law enforcement officers, and the officers did not physically restrain Defendant. However, the officers suddenly and rapidly arrived at the scene, their emergency lights activated. Within minutes of Officers Russell and Solomon, at least one more officer arrived. Officer Russell stepped out of his vehicle and ordered, “Come here a minute.”[1] Defendant complied with that order. Officer Russell then explained to Defendant why officers were there and that they wanted to run the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the Mercedes. Officer Russell patted down the Defendant for weapons and found none.

         Officer Solomon, who was driving a police SUV, parked his vehicle facing the Mercedes, thereby impeding the egress from the area. Officer Russell parked his police cruiser closer to the Jeep Renegade. The manner and location in which officers parked their vehicles and blocked the exit routes for the Jeep and the Mercedes further indicate that a reasonable person would not consider themselves at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about their business. The evidence shows Defendant was seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. 2. Whether Reasonable Suspicion Supported the Seizure of Defendant “A . . . stop must be justified at its inception and, in general, the officer's actions during the stop must be reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that initially justified it.” United States v. Lopez, 849 F.3d 921, 925 (10th Cir. 2017). “Authority for the seizure . . . ends when tasks tied to the . . . infraction are-or reasonably should have been-completed.” Rodriguez v. United ...

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