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United States v. Laurezo

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 2, 2019




         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Jade Tiffany Laurezo's Motion to Suppress Statements, (Doc. 27), filed November 27, 2018, and the United States' Response to Defendant's Motion to Suppress Statements, (Doc. 34), filed December 18, 2018. On December 19, 2018, United States District Judge Kenneth J. Gonzales referred this matter to the undersigned to make findings of fact, conduct legal analysis, and recommend an ultimate disposition. (Doc. 35). On February 12 and 13, 2019, the Court held an evidentiary hearing. (Doc. 49); (Doc. 50); (Doc. 51). Following the hearing, both Ms. Laurezo and the Government submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. (Doc. 56); (Doc. 58).

         After considering the parties' filings, the record, and the relevant law, the Court RECOMMENDS that Ms. Laurezo's Motion to Suppress Statements, (Doc. 27), be DENIED.

         I. Statement of Facts

         a. Ms. Laurezo's Background & Relationship with Dain Adams

         Ms. Laurezo is a native of the Philippines and speaks two native Filipino languages, Tagalog and Karay-a. (Doc. 56 at 1). She also speaks “broken” English and at times she has trouble expressing herself. Id. Ms. Laurezo has a bachelor's degree in avionics technology from a university in the Philippines and she was previously employed as an aircraft mechanic instructor. (Doc. 50 at 52); (Doc. 58 at 13). Prior to the commencement of the criminal investigation underlying this case, Ms. Laurezo had no experience with the American criminal justice system. (Doc. 50 at 34); (Doc. 56 at 2).

         In early June 2017, Ms. Laurezo met Dain Adams, a United States citizen, through an online dating application called Tinder. (Doc. 50 at 7); (Doc. 58 at 2). In August 2017, Ms. Laurezo travelled to the United States for a brief visit to meet Dain Adams and his family. (Doc. 58 at 2). Between June 2017 and July 2018, the couple communicated regularly using Viber, an internet messaging application. (Doc. 50 at 7-8); (Doc. 58 at 2). Dain Adams and Ms. Laurezo sent messages on Viber in English, with a few Tagalog words “here and there.” (Doc. 50 at 8); (Doc. 58 at 2).

         In March 2018, Ms. Laurezo returned to the United States to live temporarily with Dain Adams and his parents, Donnie and Marsha Roberson, at their home in Roswell, New Mexico. (Doc. 58 at 2-3). While in the United States, Ms. Laurezo studied in pursuit of a Federal Aviation Administration certificate to train aircraft maintenance personnel for U.S. based customers. Id. at 10. Over the course of her three-month visit, Ms. Laurezo developed a close relationship with Dain Adams' parents and referred to Donnie Roberson as “Dad” and Marsha Roberson as “Mom.” (Doc. 50 at 44); (Doc. 58 at 3) (citing Doc. 50 at 30-31) (as Donnie Roberson testified, “We [the Robersons] welcomed her into our home whenever she and my son developed a relationship. She was a part of our family.”).

         b. The June 2018 Search and July 2018 Request for an Interview

         On June 27, 2018, law enforcement officials from the Chaves County Sheriff's Department executed a search warrant in connection with a child pornography investigation being conducted at the Roberson's 3809 Zinnia Road residence in Roswell, New Mexico. (Doc. 51 at 25). Upon arrival, law enforcement knocked and announced their presence and were met at the front door by Marsha Roberson. (Doc. 58 at 2). Ms. Laurezo and the Robersons were ordered to stand outside of the residence while the officers conducted their search. (Doc. 56 at 2). Eight law enforcement officers entered the premises to execute the warrant, aiming their handguns and assault rifles at Ms. Laurezo and the Robersons. (Doc. 50 at 24, 34); (Doc. 56 at 2). After seizing a number of electronic devices, including Ms. Laurezo's Samsung DUOS cellphone, the occupants were permitted to return inside. Id. Before leaving, the officers confirmed that Dain Adams lived at the residence but was not at home at the time of the search. (Doc. 56 at 2); (Doc. 58 at 2).

         On July 3, 2018, Sergeant Hector Ramirez and Deputy Will Seely with the Chaves County Sherriff's Department returned to the 3809 Zinnia Road residence to inquire if Ms. Laurezo would consent to an interview with law enforcement officials at the Sheriff's Department. (Doc. 50 at 23-24); (Doc. 56 at 2). Ms. Laurezo recognized Deputy Seely as one of the law enforcement officers who pointed a gun at her when the 3809 Zinnia Road residence was searched on June 27, 2018. (Doc. 50 at 37); (Doc. 56 at 2). When Deputy Seely and Sergeant Ramirez returned to the 3809 Zinnia Road residence in their police uniforms, Ms. Laurezo was afraid and did not know what was happening. (Doc. 50 at 37-38); (Doc. 56 at 2). After conferring with Donnie Roberson, Ms. Laurezo agreed to speak with law enforcement at the Sheriff's Department. (Doc. 50 at 24); (Doc. 56 at 2). Although she was offered a ride by Deputy Seely, Ms. Laurezo chose to drive separately with Donnie Roberson. (Doc. 50 at 24-25); (Doc. 56 at 2-3).

         After confirming that Ms. Laurezo would meet them at the Sheriff's Department, Sergeant Ramirez and Deputy Seely waited outside for approximately 15 minutes in two separate marked patrol units for Ms. Laurezo and Donnie Roberson to leave the house. (Doc. 56 at 3); (Doc. 58 at 4). Ms. Laurezo testified that before going to the Sheriff's Department, she wanted to visit her neighbor's house to use the telephone. (Doc. 50 at 39); (Doc. 56 at 2). Law enforcement officials had seized all the electronic devices capable of accessing the internet from the 3809 Zinnia Road residence, leaving Ms. Laurezo unable to communicate with anyone outside the residence. (Doc. 56 at 2); (Doc. 50 at 37-38) (Ms. Laurezo testified, “[F]rom June 27th until that day, I don't have contact with anybody, because I don't have my phone with me. I don't have phones at home. And I can't tell my family what happened about that day when I was so afraid, when they pointed gun at me….”). Despite her desire to use the telephone, Ms. Laurezo was intimidated by the presence of law enforcement officers waiting for her and she felt she had to immediately proceed to the Sheriff's Department. (Doc. 56 at 2). She ultimately decided to forego a visit to her neighbor's home and instead proceeded directly to the Sheriff's Department. Id.

         As they drove, Donnie Roberson took a number of turns that were outside the direct route, in an attempt to see if law enforcement would follow their vehicle. (Doc. 50 at 25); (Doc. 56 at 2). Despite Donnie Roberson's choice of route, Sergeant Ramirez followed the vehicle in his marked patrol unit until Ms. Laurezo was dropped off at the Sheriff's Department. Id. Donnie Roberson testified that he thought if he did not drive to the Sheriff's Department to deliver Ms. Laurezo, law enforcement officials would have forced Ms. Laurezo to drive with them. (Doc. 50 at 25).

         c. The July 2018 Interview with Law Enforcement

         Prior to Ms. Laurezo's arrival at the Sheriff's Department, Detective Valderaz contacted Supervisory Detention and Deportation Officer Subia to determine whether criminal charges would affect her visa status. (Doc. 58 at 3). When she arrived, Ms. Laurezo was instructed to wait in the receiving area. (Doc. 50 at 40); (Doc. 56 at 2). Sergeant Ramirez then escorted Ms. Laurezo to an interview room in a secure area of the building and closed the door. (Doc. 50 at 40-41). Shortly thereafter, immigration officials entered the room and questioned Ms. Laurezo for fifteen to twenty-five minutes, inquiring about the nature of her visit to the United States. (Doc. 50 at 43); (Doc. 56 at 2). The immigration officials never read Ms. Laurezo her Miranda rights and never explained their purpose in questioning her. (Doc. 50 at 41-42); (Doc. 56 at 4); (Doc. 58 at 4). The officials never told Ms. Laurezo why she had been called to the Sheriff's Department and proceeded to ask personal questions about her family, marital status, children, and criminal history. (Doc. 50 at 41-43); (Doc. 58 at 4). During the interview, Ms. Laurezo asked to use the restroom and was accompanied by a uniformed law enforcement official. (Doc. 50 at 48, 64-65); (Doc. 56 at 7).

         After her interview with the immigration officials, Ms. Laurezo was escorted to another room in the Sheriff's Department where Detective Valderaz and Sergeant Perham were seated awaiting her arrival. (Doc. 50 at 43-44). Ms. Laurezo recognized both Detective Valderaz and Sergeant Perham as two of the men that had participated in the execution of the search warrant and pointed a gun at her. Id.; (Doc. 56 at 4). Detective Valderaz and Sergeant Perham questioned Ms. Laurezo for roughly one hour and forty minutes. (Doc. 56 at 7); (Doc. 58 at 11).

         Throughout the interview, Ms. Laurezo expressed confusion about her Miranda rights and the American criminal justice system. (Doc. 50 at 45-47); (Doc. 56 at 4). After being presented with the Advice of Rights form, Ms. Laurezo stated, “I don't understand this. I-to be honest, I-I feel like I don't know because-yeah. I think-what will be the consequences if I talk to you is again?” (Doc. 56 at 6). When asked by Sergeant Perham, “Do you know what your rights are while you're in this country, ” Ms. Laurezo responded, “I'm here for a visit and to take exams.” Id. at 5.

         Ms. Laurezo later testified that she did not feel free to leave and she did not understand the Advice of Rights form the officers read to her. (Doc. 50 at 45-48); (Doc. 56 at 5). In addition, Ms. Laurezo asked Detective Valderaz to explain the meaning of the words “graduate” and “rapport.” (Doc. 56 at 7). After the interview, Ms. Laurezo stated she also did not understand the meaning of the terms “court of law, ” “imprisonment, ” “trial, ” or “attorney.” Id. at 5. When asked why she did not terminate the interview or leave, she explained, “This is my first time that I was in this situation. And in my country, if you are - if the police - or you're in a room and you are talking to a police, it's a sign of disrespect if you stop or if you just leave. So at that time, I was waiting for them to just say, ‘Okay. This is done. This is over.'” (Doc. 50 at 47-48); (Doc. 56 at 7).

         Eventually, Ms. Laurezo signed a waiver relinquishing her Miranda rights and agreed to talk with the detectives. (Doc. 36-1 at 15-16). During the interview, Ms. Laurezo made inculpatory remarks regarding video evidence found on her Samsung DUOS cellphone. (Doc. 36-1 at 56, 70-77). At the close of the interview, Ms. Laurezo was placed under arrest for possession of child pornography. (Doc. 36-1 at 114-15).

         II. Procedural Posture

         On October 17, 2018, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Ms. Laurezo with one count of Production of Visual Depictions of a Minor Engaging in Sexually Explicit Conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a), (e) and § 2256, and one count of Possession or Access with Intent to View Visual Depictions of Minors Engaged in Sexually Explicit Conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B), (b)(2) and § 2256. (Doc. 20); (Doc. 21). At her arraignment on November 6, 2018, Ms. Laurezo pled not guilty to both counts and the case was assigned to the Honorable Kenneth J. Gonzales. (Doc. 23). Shortly thereafter, on November 27, 2018, Ms. Laurezo filed the present motion to suppress her statements from the July 3, 2018, interview with law enforcement. (Doc. 27).

         III. Analysis

         Ms. Laurezo argues that her statements made to law enforcement officers on July 3, 2018, should be suppressed because she was subjected to a custodial interrogation and she did not voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waive her Miranda rights. (Doc. 27 at 2-5). In response, the Government alleges Ms. Laurezo was not in custody during the interview, and as such her statements are not protected by the Fifth Amendment. (Doc. 34 at 4-6). Even if she was in custody, the Government argues, Ms. Laurezo knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently forfeited her Miranda rights and chose to speak with law enforcement. (Doc. 34 at 6-9).

         a. Custodial Interrogation

         For inculpatory statements to be suppressed, the defendant must demonstrate that her Fifth Amendment rights have been violated. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 460-61 (1966). The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects an individual from being “compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” U.S. Const. Amend. V. This protection is afforded to all individuals when they are subject to custodial interrogation. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444. An individual is “in custody” if they are “under formal arrest” or have their ...

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