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United States v. Medina

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 27, 2017

LUIS MEDINA, Defendant.


          George Z. Singal, United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Luis Medina's Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 34). The Court held an evidentiary hearing on March 17, 2017. After considering the evidence and arguments presented at the hearing, as well as the Government's Response in Opposition (ECF No. 38), the Court DENIES the Motion for the reasons explained below.


         The following facts are drawn from the record in this case, including the testimony of Troopers O'Leary and Dupont at the evidentiary hearing on the motion. The incident underlying Defendant's Motion arose from an ongoing investigation into fraudulent driver's licenses in New Hampshire. Specifically, an employee of the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) allegedly took cash bribes to supply fraudulent licenses to persons using false supporting documents. In April 2016, New Hampshire State Trooper James O'Leary, who was assigned to investigate these fraudulent licenses, first identified a potential fraudulent license in the name of “Miguel Roldan” with a Manchester, New Hampshire, address. Using the telephone number on Roldan's license application, O'Leary performed an open source search and found the Facebook page of a “Lima Medina, ” from the Dominican Republic.[1] The Facebook page was in English and included a photograph depicting a man standing next to the rear of a vehicle registered in New Hampshire to Miguel Roldan. (See Hr'g Ex. 1.)

         On April 22, 2016, O'Leary received word from DMV personnel that “Miguel Roldan” had come into the DMV office in Manchester in an attempt to renew his license or registration. O'Leary and another State Trooper, Richard Dupont, headed in separate vehicles to the Manchester DMV office with the intent of making contact with Roldan. Both troopers were in uniform with visible, holstered weapons. O'Leary drove a marked cruiser and Dupont was in an unmarked vehicle. While en route, at about 3:00 p.m., O'Leary looked to his left at an intersection in Manchester and spotted the man in the Facebook photo stopped at an opposite traffic light in a Honda Odyssey minivan.[2] O'Leary made a U-turn, drove up behind the minivan, activated his flashing lights, and pulled the minivan over into the parking lot of a Friendly's restaurant. Dupont followed directly behind.

         O'Leary approached the minivan and asked the driver, in English, to shut off the engine and step out. When the driver complied, O'Leary, again in English, asked him his name, and the man verbally identified himself as Miguel Roldan. The man was in fact the Defendant, Luis Medina. O'Leary was certain that this was the man depicted on the Facebook page. O'Leary also noted that Medina appeared to be in very good physical shape.

         O'Leary placed Medina in handcuffs, explaining to him in English that he was not under arrest and was only being detained. He asked Medina in English if he understood, and Medina said that he did. Dupont approached while Medina was being handcuffed, checked him for weapons, and found none. Dupont also asked Medina in English if he understood that he was not under arrest, and Medina answered, “Yes.” O'Leary asked him in English if he had ever been arrested before, and he answered, “No.” At some point during these initial interactions, two plainclothes Manchester detectives who happened to witness the stop exited an unmarked cruiser and approached the scene.

         O'Leary returned to his cruiser to contact an interpreter, because he believed that further questioning would best be conducted in Spanish, and to ask a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Officer, Joseph Anoli, to respond to the scene. Meanwhile, one of the Manchester police officers asked Medina in English if he had a driver's license or other identification. Medina responded by pointing his head towards the open driver's-side door and indicating in broken English that his license could be found in the vehicle. Dupont pointed towards the vehicle and confirmed in broken Spanish that the license was inside. Medina responded that Dupont could enter the vehicle and retrieve a wallet on the front passenger seat. Dupont retrieved the wallet and opened it in front of Medina, who verbally and gesturally indicated that his license was in the left-side pocket. Dupont removed a driver's license and various ID cards from the wallet, all in the name of Miguel Roldan. Medina then indicated that he wanted Dupont to retrieve his paycheck from above the driver-side visor. Dupont confirmed that Medina wanted him to retrieve items from the visor and pulled a stack of papers, including a paycheck in Roldan's name. After examining the papers, Dupont placed them back on the driver's seat.[3]

         With the aid of an interpreter on speakerphone, O'Leary then asked Medina several questions outside of the marked cruiser. Based on the fact that “Miguel Roldan” had previously indicated to the DMV that he was from Puerto Rico, O'Leary asked Medina questions, through the interpreter, about living in Puerto Rico and his contacts with relatives there. Among other statements, Medina claimed that he had spoken with his mother in Puerto Rico recently on the phone but did not have her telephone number. O'Leary also asked Medina to identify the number of stars on the Puerto Rican flag, which Medina was unable to do. This confirmed Trooper O'Leary's suspicions that Medina was not being truthful about his identity.

         ICE Officer Anoli arrived on the scene around 3:30 p.m., at which point Medina was fingerprinted. After a five-minute wait for the fingerprint results to process, the results revealed Medina's identity.[4] O'Leary asked Anoli to read Medina the Miranda warnings in Spanish and Medina invoked his right to remain silent.[5] See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Medina was then arrested and placed in the back of O'Leary's cruiser. In general, the troopers testified that Medina's demeanor during the stop was calm, that he did not hesitate to answer their questions, and that he did not indicate in any way that he had any problem understanding what the troopers were saying to him or what was occurring.

         Within fifteen to twenty minutes of Medina's arrest, O'Leary and Dupont performed an inventory search of Medina's vehicle pursuant to standard police department policy and seized several items of evidentiary value, including the papers and identification documents in the name of Miguel Roldan. The vehicle was towed pursuant to department policy and Medina was transported to police barracks. As part of processing at the barracks, Medina was asked to reveal his name and date of birth via a Spanish interpreter.[6]


         Medina seeks to suppress (1) statements he made before he was given the Miranda warnings; (2) the false identity papers seized from his vehicle; (3) the results of the fingerprinting; and (4) his answers to the booking questions at police barracks.[7] The Court considers each category of evidence and Medina's related arguments in turn.

         A. Medina's Statements

         Medina argues that he was in custody once he was handcuffed and therefore that any statements made in response to police questioning before he was given the Miranda warnings are inadmissible in the Government's case-in-chief. The Government contends that “anything [Medina] said prior to the discovery of his true identity was not the result of custodial interrogation and is therefore admissible.” (Gov't Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Suppress (ECF No. 38), Page ID # 76.) Given that the troopers admittedly asked Medina questions that elicited various potentially incriminating statements, the Court must determine if Medina was in custody for purposes of Miranda.[8]

         A person temporarily detained pursuant to a traffic stop is not in custody for purposes of Miranda. United States v. Campbell, 741 F.3d 251, 265-66 (1st Cir. 2013). Further, an officer conducting a traffic stop “may ask the detainee a moderate number of questions to determine his identity and to try to obtain information confirming or dispelling the officer's suspicions, ” Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 439 (1984), and may ask the person to exit his vehicle without converting the stop into an arrest, United States v. Fernandez, 600 F.3d 56, 59 (1st Cir. 2010). However, a traffic stop may become a “de facto arrest, ” which requires that a suspect be given Miranda warnings before being interrogated. United States v. Rabbia, 699 F.3d 85, 91 (1st Cir. 2012). Because “[t]here is no bright line that distinguishes a valid Terry stop from a de facto arrest, ” a court must consider “in light of the totality of the circumstances, whether a reasonable person in the suspect's position would have understood her position to be tantamount to being under arrest.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). “Whether a Terry stop has escalated into a de facto arrest depends on a number of factors, including, inter alia, the location and duration of the stop, the number of police officers present at the scene, the degree of physical restraint placed upon the suspect, and the information conveyed to the suspect.” Id.; see also United States v. Pontoo, 666 F.3d 20, 30 (1st Cir. 2011) (“Evaluating whether the scope of an investigatory stop is reasonable demands careful consideration of the totality of the circumstances.”)

         Although “[o]fficers' temporary use of coercive measures, such as handcuffs . . . [is] not dispositive, ” United States v. Candelario-Santana, 834 F.3d 8, 18 (1st Cir. 2016), “the level of physical control officers exercise over a suspect carries the most weight in determining whether such suspect was in custody, ” United States v. Davis, 773 F.3d 334, 340 (1st Cir. 2014) (quotation marks omitted). In general, the use of handcuffs on a suspect is “among the most recognizable indicia of a traditional arrest.” Rabbia, 699 F.3d at 93 (quotation marks omitted). Therefore, when a suspect is handcuffed, the government “must be able to point to some specific fact or circumstance that could have supported a reasonable belief that the use of such restraints was necessary to carry out the ...

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