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United States v. Rojas

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division

October 10, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
YOIRLAN TOME ROJAS, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING MAGISTRATE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION CONCERNING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

MARK W. BENNETT, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

A. Procedural Background

On March 20, 2014, a Superseding Indictment was returned against defendant Yoirlan Tome Rojas charging him with using a counterfeit access device, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(1) (Counts 1 & 2), possession of fifteen or more counterfeit access devices, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(3) (Count 3), money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1) (Count 4), and aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1) (Counts 5 & 6).

On September 9, 2014, Rojas filed a motion to suppress in which he seeks to suppress all evidence seized as a result of the search of his apartment and an adjacent storage closet pursuant to search warrants. Rojas contends that it was unlawful when police stopped him and entered onto the curtilage of his home. He also alleges the police violated his 5th Amendment rights when they asked him his address. He further contends that the search warrants lacked probable cause. Rojas finally argues that the Leon good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule, see United States v. Leon , 468 U.S. 897 (1984), should not apply because law enforcement officers could not have acted in good faith reliance on the search warrants.

The prosecution filed a timely resistance to Rojas's motion. Rojas's motion to suppress was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Leonard T. Strand, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). On September 29, 2014, Judge Strand conducted an evidentiary hearing and subsequently filed a Report and Recommendation on October 3, 2014, in which he recommends that Rojas's motion to suppress be denied. In his Report and Recommendation, Judge Strand concluded that the police were justified in conducting a Terry stop of Rojas. Judge Strand also found that the police were justified in following Rojas into the driveway and that the driveway was not within the protected curtilage of the home. Judge Strand, alternatively, concluded that even if the driveway qualified as part of the house's curtilage, the police did not violate Rojas's rights when they pulled into the driveway and initiated a Terry stop at that location did not violate Rojas's rights. In a second alternative determination, Judge Strand concluded that Rojas had failed to prove that he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the driveway. Judge Strand further determined that, based on the additional information learned during the Terry stop, the police had probable cause to arrest Rojas for credit card fraud. Judge Strand further determined that asking Rojas his address did not violate Rojas's Fifth Amendment rights because asking such a routine processing type question did not constitute interrogation. Judge Strand also concluded that, based on the totality of circumstances, probable cause supported the state judge's issuance of the first search warrant for Rojas's apartment. Likewise, based on the totality of circumstances, Judge Strand found that probable cause supported the state judge's issuance of the second search warrant for Rojas's storage closet adjacent to his apartment. Judge Strand noted that the police's seizure of the keys for the storage closet fell within the scope of the first search warrant and was not improper. He also concluded that the police's insertion of a key into the storage closet door, in order to confirm that the keys were for that closet, was not a search. Judge Strand further determined that the police's seizure of three VISA gift guards pursuant to the second search warrant was lawful. Finally, Judge Strand concluded that, if the search warrant applications were not supported by probable cause, the Leon good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies because the law enforcement officer obtaining the search warrants acted in reasonable reliance on the state magistrate's determinations of probable cause for issuance of the warrants. Therefore, Judge Strand recommended that Rojas's motion to suppress be denied.

On October 8, 2014, Rojas filed objections to Judge Strand's Report and Recommendation. The prosecution filed a timely response to Rojas's objections on October 9, 2014. I, therefore, undertake the necessary review of Judge Strand's recommended disposition of Rojas's motion to suppress.

B. Factual Background

In his Report and Recommendation, Judge Strand made the following factual findings:

On November 6, 2013, SLPD was contacted by an individual in Colorado who reported that his credit card had been used at the Storm Lake Wal-Mart store without his permission. A SLPD officer went to the store, spoke with the store's loss prevention manager and gathered video surveillance evidence and receipts concerning the transaction at issue. The in-store video shows a man in tan Carhart-style coveralls using numerous credit cards to purchase gift cards at two different registers. The parking lot video shows the same suspect driving a two-toned (dark over gray) Chevy truck. The truck has certain distinguishing features, including a dark stripe on the gray portion, a box or tank in the truck bed, adjacent to the cab, a black grill, chrome mirrors and after-market rims. Based on this information, the investigating officer posted a bulletin in the station alerting all SLPD officers to be on the lookout for a Hispanic male suspect driving the Chevy truck. Def. Ex. E. The bulletin included still photos of the suspect and the truck. Id .
On November 12, 2013, SLPD Officer Matt Younie was on patrol and observed a distinctive Chevy truck that appeared to match the truck described in the bulletin. Younie testified he recognized the truck because of several features, including the two-tone paint, the tank or box in the bed of the truck, the chrome mirrors and the wheel rims. At that time he was unable to see the driver of the truck. However, he followed it without activating his emergency lights until the truck pulled into a residential driveway off East 4th Street in Storm Lake. The driver parked the truck two or three car lengths from the street and got out of the vehicle. Younie pulled into the driveway behind the truck and saw that the driver was wearing tan Carhart-style coveralls.
Younie approached the driver and asked for his driver's license. The driver complied. The license identified the driver as defendant Yoirlan Tome Rojas and listed his address as 801 Erie Street, Apartment 8. Younie told Rojas that the truck and a suspect who looked similar to him were implicated in a credit card scheme at Wal-Mart. He then advised Rojas that he would need to come to the police station to answer questions. Rojas asked to speak with his wife for a moment and was permitted to do so. Rojas walked up to the porch of the home and had a brief conversation with a female occupant.
After this conversation, Younie escorted Rojas to the squad car and placed him into the back seat. Younie testified that he did not place handcuffs on Rojas because he was being cooperative. While Rojas was getting into the car, Younie asked him for the address of their current location so he could request a tow for the truck. Rojas initially answered with his own address: 801 Erie Street, Apartment 8. Younie then clarified the question and Rojas stated that the address was 1708 Rose Lane. Younie did not ask additional questions during the drive to the station. Once there, Rojas was placed in an interview room. After being advised of his Miranda rights, Rojas invoked his right to refuse to answer questions. In response to routine booking-process questions, however, he stated that his address was 801 Erie Street, Apartment 8.
After bringing Rojas to the police station, Younie fielded a call from an individual in Michigan who reported that a fraudulent credit card transaction had occurred on September 13, 2013, at the same Storm Lake Wal-Mart store. Younie followed up on the report, contacting the Wal-Mart loss prevention ...

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