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United States v. Palacios

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

May 31, 2017




         Defendant, Hector Lopez Palacios, is charged in a two-count indictment for being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5) and § 924(a)(2), and for illegal reentry after having been deported subsequent to a felony-conviction in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326(a) and (b) (1)[1] Pending before the court are defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence (Docket Entry No. 17), Supplemental Motion to Suppress Evidence (Docket Entry No. 22), and Second Supplemental Motion to Suppress Evidence (Docket Entry No. 25). On May 24, 2017, the court held a hearing on the defendant's motion and supplemental motion to suppress. The government presented one witness, Officer Jesus Medina, and both parties presented oral arguments. At the end of the hearing the court took the two motions under advisement and gave the parties until May 26, 2017, to submit supplemental briefing. For the reasons stated below defendant's motion, supplemental motion, and second supplemental motion to suppress evidence will be denied.

         I. Factual Background

         On February 27, 2017, defendant was arrested at 4005 Hollister, Houston, Texas 77055. Glenn Miller, a private citizen, detained defendant by placing him in handcuffs and holding him for Houston Police Department ("HPD") officers after hearing gunshots and seeing the defendant discharge a weapon into the air. Miller placed the firearm out of the defendant's reach until HPD officers arrived. When HPD officers R. Munoz and A. Baker arrived they recovered and inventoried the defendant's wallet, which contained an expired driver's license and a Mexican passport. Officers Munoz and Baker arrested the defendant for being a felon in possession of a weapon. Neither Officer Munoz nor Officer Baker gave the defendant warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 86 S.Ct. 1602 (1966) .

         During the booking process at the Harris County Detention Center, the defendant was interviewed by Enforcement and Removal Operations ("E.R.O.") Officer Jesus Medina ("Medina"). Officer Medina did not give the defendant Miranda warnings. Officer Medina interviewed the defendant in Spanish by asking the defendant questions about his identity and immigration status needed to complete United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Form 1-213, Record of Deportable/Inadmissible Alien. Defendant told Medina that he was born in Mexico, he is a citizen of Mexico, he has not served in the United States military, he has previously-been deported, did not fear returning to Mexico, and did not want his consulate notified.

         II. Analysis

         Defendant's motion to suppress seeks to suppress

[a]ll incriminating evidence including the .357 Smith and Wesson pistol, spent cartridges, and unused round; passport, statements by Mr. PALACIOS LOPEZ to Houston Police Officers as well as all evidence obtained by Deportation Officer Jesus Medina including any written material, reports, or summaries . . . .[2]

         Defendant's Supplemental Motion to Suppress Evidence states that the defendant "seeks to suppress all statements made to . . . Office[r] Jesus Medina . . . [and] any written material, reports, or summaries created by . . . Officer Jesus Medina as a result of the interview with . . . Officer Jesus Medina."[3] At the May 24, 2017, hearing, defense counsel stated that because defendant did not make any statements to the arresting HPD officers, and because counsel could find no law supporting defendant's request to suppress physical evidence recovered at the scene of his arrest (i.e., the pistol, spent cartridges, unused round, and passport), the defendant was now seeking to suppress only statements made to Medina and any reports or materials derived from those statements.

         Defendant argues that the court should grant his motions to suppress because

the initial Miranda violation by Houston Police Officers justifies the suppression of all incriminating evidence. Additionally, Mr. PALACIOS LOPEZ was deprived of the Miranda warnings a second time when interviewed by the deportation officer. . . The Miranda violation also contravenes the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. CONST, amends IV, V, XIV, Miranda.[4]

         Defendant argues that his statements to Medina should be suppressed because "any statements to . . . Medina were not voluntary, "[5] and alienage is an element of the offenses with which he is charged.[6]

         The government does not contest that Medina questioned the defendant while he was in custody without providing him Miranda warnings. Asserting that Medina merely questioned the defendant to determine if an immigration detainer was required and not to investigate the defendant for the criminal activity with which he was eventually charged, the government argues that exceptions to Miranda support the denial of the defendant's motions to suppress.

         Citing Pennsylvania v. Muniz, 110 S.Ct. 2638 (1990), the government argues that Officer Medina's questions fall within the "routine booking question" exception that exempts from Miranda's coverage questions to secure the "'biographical data necessary to complete booking or pretrial services.'"[7] Citing Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Lopez-Mendoza, 104 S.Ct. 3479, 3483-84 (1984), and United States v. Hernandez-Mandujano, 721 F.3d 345, 351 (5th Cir. 2013), the government argues that "[c]ase precedent forecloses any argument that Defendant's identity and A-file are suppressible. . . "[8] The government also argues that "the discovery of [defendant's] wallet and passport during inventory of his person [subsequent to his] arrest was a lawful method to determine the identity of a defendant in custody."[9] Finally, citing Nix v. Williams, 104 S.Ct. 2501, 2508-09 (1984), the government argues that the defendant's statements to Medina are not subject to suppression because "any information discovered by . . . Medina would have been discovered alternatively, due to the information he had independent of the Defendant's statements. . ."[10]

         A. Applicable Law

         In Miranda, 86 S.Ct. at 1612, the Supreme ...

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