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United States v. De la Cruz

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 19, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
RENATO DE LA CRUZ, Defendant, Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. Richard G. Stearns, U.S. District Judge]

          Eduardo Masferrer, with whom Masferrer & Associates, PC was on brief, for appellant.

          Robert E. Richardson, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Carmen M. Ortiz, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

          Before Torruella, Selya and Thompson, Circuit Judges.

          SELYA, Circuit Judge.

         In this criminal appeal, the appellant strives to convince us that we ought to overturn his convictions for theft of public money, use of a falsely obtained social security number, and aggravated identity theft. We are not persuaded: neither the appellant's quest for suppression of evidence nor his challenge to the district court's jury instructions has merit, and the record reveals that the government's case rests on a durable foundation. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         We start with a sketch of the facts and the travel of the case. To the extent that we rehearse the facts, whether here or in greater detail in connection with our discussion of particular issues, we take them in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, consistent with record support. See United States v. Maldonado-García, 446 F.3d 227, 229 (1st Cir. 2006).

         The appellant's true name is Renato De La Cruz. The appellant is a citizen of the Dominican Republic who entered the United States illegally sometime in 1993. Not long after, he went to New York City, where he paid a man $1, 500 for identity documents in the name of "Alberto Pena." These documents matched the identity of a real Alberto Pena (also a native of the Dominican Republic, who became a lawful permanent resident of the United States).

         Once the appellant had procured Pena's identity documents, he was able to obtain a Dominican passport from the Dominican embassy and a "green card" from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. In December of 1994 - four days before the real Pena applied for a social security number - the appellant used Pena's name, date of birth, parentage, and alien number to apply for and receive a social security number. Shortly thereafter, the appellant - apparently nervous about his physical proximity to the real Pena (who was residing in New York) - moved away, eventually relocating to Massachusetts.

         While in Massachusetts, the appellant worked intermittently for a general contractor. At various times from December of 2010 through October of 2012, the appellant received unemployment benefits, including 21 weeks of federally-funded extension benefits. Because an alien is eligible for such unemployment benefits only if he is authorized to work in the United States, the appellant had to use his social security number to secure his benefits. The federally-funded benefits that the appellant received amounted to $11, 340, and the appellant does not dispute that these benefits comprised public funds within the purview of 18 U.S.C. § 641.

         On December 18, 2012, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested the appellant. A federal grand jury subsequently returned a three-count indictment charging him with theft of public money, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641 (count 1); use of a falsely obtained social security number to obtain benefits, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 408(a)(7)(A) (count 2); and aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A (count 3). A superseding indictment tracked this three-count structure.

         In due course, the appellant moved to suppress statements made on the date of his arrest. Through a supplemental motion, he also sought suppression of any physical evidence gathered at that time. The government opposed these motions. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the motions. See United States v. De La Cruz, No. 13-10022, 2014 WL 1515410 (D. Mass. Apr. 18, 2014). The appellant moved for reconsideration, but to no avail. See United States v. De La Cruz, No. 13-10022, 2014 WL 1796654 (D. Mass. May 5, 2014).

         On June 25, 2014 - following a three-day trial - a jury found the appellant guilty on all three counts. The appellant filed a post-trial motion for judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c) as to counts 1 and 3, which the district court rejected. See United States v. De La Cruz (De La Cruz III), No. 13-10022, 2014 WL 3925497 (D. Mass. Aug. 12, 2014). The court sentenced the appellant to concurrent one-month terms of immurement on the first two counts and a consecutive 24-month term of immurement on count 3. This timely appeal followed.

         II. ANALYSIS

         We divide our discussion of the issues into three segments, corresponding to the components of the appellant's asseverational array.

         A. Suppression.

         To place the suppression issues into perspective, we think it useful to embellish the barebones account provided above. In the process, we accept the facts as supportably found by the district court. See United States v. Romain, 393 F.3d 63, 66 (1st Cir. 2004).

         On December 18, 2012, a supervisory ICE officer, Andrew Graham, accompanied by fellow ICE officers, sought to arrest the appellant as a person unlawfully present in the United States. Because the appellant was the subject of an ongoing Department of Labor (DOL) criminal investigation, a DOL agent and a representative of the Social Security Administration also went along.

         The cadre of officers and agents proceeded to an apartment building in Salem, Massachusetts, believing that the appellant resided there with a girlfriend (Mayra Espinal). Graham and another ICE officer went to the front door of Espinal's apartment. When the appellant came to the door, Graham - speaking across the threshold - employed a ruse and told him (falsely) that the officers were concerned that he might have a gun. The appellant consented to a frisk and told officers that they could enter the apartment. Once inside, Graham arrested the appellant.

         After retrieving additional clothing for the appellant, the officers escorted the appellant into a hallway outside the apartment. They were joined by Christina Rosen, the DOL agent. Graham asked the appellant whether he preferred his Miranda warnings, see Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 479 (1966), to be read to him in English or in Spanish. The appellant elected to hear them in English. Graham then read the appellant his Miranda rights from a preprinted card. Standing in the hallway, the appellant made a number of admissions: he related his true name, acknowledged that he had no lawful right to be in the United States, and disclosed his purchase of Pena's identity information.

         Roughly 20 minutes after being given his Miranda warnings, the appellant was transported to the ICE office in Burlington, Massachusetts. Upon his arrival, he was processed administratively, and an ICE officer explained that he was under arrest for immigration violations and that he would have to appear before an immigration judge to determine his status. To that end, he was given a notice to appear in the immigration court, which explained, inter alia, his right to be represented by an attorney at no expense to the government. The officer made it clear, however, that he was only serving the appellant with paperwork anent the immigration matter and that other officers would process him with respect to criminal charges.

         After his administrative processing concluded, the appellant was taken to a different interview room.[1] Agent Rosen introduced herself and explained that a criminal investigation was being conducted into the appellant's suspected theft of identity and misuse of public funds. She further explained that the agents in attendance were criminal investigators, not immigration officers. The appellant received his Miranda rights once again, and he signed a form acknowledging that he understood those rights and was willing to waive them.

         The appellant proceeded to make a number of admissions. He recounted how he had obtained the Pena identity documents; admitted that he used these documents to get a passport, green card, and social security number; and described how, as Pena, he had collected unemployment benefits in Massachusetts. Those admissions were memorialized in a statement transcribed by Agent Rosen and signed by the appellant.

         Against this factual backdrop, the appellant musters three arguments in support of his assertion that the district court erred in denying suppression. First, he submits that the ICE officers acted outside their authority when they arrested him without an administrative arrest warrant and, thus, his subsequent statements should be suppressed as the fruit of an illegal arrest. Second, he submits that the officers' warrantless entry into the apartment offended the Fourth Amendment because he did not validly consent to their entry. Finally, he submits that his Miranda waiver at the ICE office should be disregarded because he was provided with intervening and conflicting administrative warnings. We address these arguments sequentially, pausing first, however, to frame the standard of review.

         In reviewing the denial of a suppression motion, we assay the district court's conclusions of law de novo and its factual findings, including its credibility determinations, for clear error. See United Statesv.Feliz, 794 F.3d 123, 130 (1st Cir. 2015). The fact-based aspect of this review is "highly deferential." United Statesv.Floyd, 740 F.3d 22, 33 (1st Cir. 2014). "If any reasonable view of the evidence supports the denial of a motion to ...


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