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United States v. Valquier

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 23, 2019

United States of America Plaintiff - Appellee
Alfredo Valquier Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: May 16, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Nebraska - Omaha

          Before COLLOTON, MELLOY, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.


         Defendant Alfredo Valquier ("Valquier") appeals following his conviction for conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. He argues the district court[1] plainly erred by admitting statements he made prior to receiving Miranda warnings and by admitting others' statements in violation of the Confrontation Clause. We reject his arguments and affirm the judgment of the district court.


         Officers discovered over thirty-five pounds of methamphetamine during a traffic stop. The driver of the vehicle, Blanca Avila De Vega, agreed to participate in a controlled delivery in Omaha. Alejandro Buendia-Ramirez and Valquier's brother, Carlos Valquier ("Carlos"), arrived at the delivery location with a bag containing over $90, 000, which they exchanged for a portion of the drugs. Officers arrested Carlos and Buendia-Ramirez, gave them Miranda warnings, and interviewed them. Carlos directed officers to a house he claimed to have recently rented and signed a form consenting to a search of the house. Carlos also indicated that his brother was involved but did not give the officers Valquier's name.

         After officers arrived at the rental house, established a perimeter, and began a search, Valquier arrived at the house. Officers approached Valquier, placed him in handcuffs, and asked him to sit on the curb. Soon, a federal investigator named Vincik arrived. Vincik asked Valquier who he was and what he was doing. Valquier gave Vincik his name and stated he was considering renting the house. Recognizing Valquier's last name and believing him to be untruthful regarding his purpose, Vincik accused Valquier of being involved in the drug sales and coming to the house to retrieve drugs or money. In response, Valquier "kind of hung his head." Vincik then read him his Miranda warnings and placed him in a squad car. The house was mostly empty, making it obvious that no one was living there. In an empty television cabinet, however, officers found $19, 000. Officers concluded the conspirators were using the house as a stash house.

         Valquier was charged with conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. He moved to suppress testimony describing the statements and gestures he made to Vincik outside the rental house prior to receiving his Miranda warnings. A magistrate judge recommended denying the motion, holding that although Valquier was in custody, the questions Vincik asked did not rise to the level of an interrogation. The magistrate judge interpreted the questions as akin to permissible and benign requests for information not related to an investigatory purpose. Valquier failed to object to the report and recommendation, which the district court subsequently adopted in full.

         At trial, Vincik and other officers testified as did two co-conspirators, Avila De Vega and Buendia-Ramirez. Valquier renewed his objections as raised in his motion to suppress. In addition, he objected to many facets of the officers' and co-conspirators' testimony on hearsay or foundation grounds. He asserted no objections based on the Confrontation Clause.

         An officer described the initial traffic stop, the discovery of the drugs, and the controlled delivery. Officer Vincik testified next. Over objections, Vincik testified that Carlos told officers he had rented the house and consented to a search of the house and that the landlord of the property stated Carlos had rented the house. The prosecution introduced a signed consent form, and Officer Vincik testified that the signature on the search consent form was Carlos's signature even though Vincik had not witnessed Carlos sign the form. Vincik described Valquier's pre-Miranda statements at the rental house and Valquier's act of "hanging his head" after Vincik accused him of being involved with drugs. In addition, Vincik explained that all co-conspirators were arrested with one or more phones, some of which were inexpensive "burner phones." Finally, Vincik testified that forensic searches of the phones revealed that Valquier's phone had called Buendia-Ramirez's phone twice before the controlled delivery and several times shortly after Buendia-Ramirez's arrest.

         Buendia-Ramirez testified that he came to Nebraska from Mexico believing he would have work as a painter. He explained that a man in Mexico named El Tio had paid for him to come to Nebraska. Soon after arriving, he realized there was no painting job-Valquier picked him up from the airport, took him to a hotel, and paid for a room. There, several people, including Valquier and Carlos, began bringing money to the room. Buendia-Ramirez stated that Valquier and Carlos brought a total of approximately $15, 000-$20, 000 in smaller amounts and told him to count and hold the money. At one point, Valquier and Valquier's mother took him to the rental house where he spent a night. Buendia-Ramirez also testified that, at El Tio's instruction, Buendia-Ramirez took money to the transaction that ultimately turned out to be the controlled delivery. Buendia-Ramirez described the $90, 000 used for the transaction as accumulated funds brought to Buendia-Ramiriez by Valquier, Carlos, their mother, and others.

         Avila De Vega testified that she had delivered drugs to Valquier in Omaha on a separate occasion prior to the controlled delivery. Another officer, Officer Reisz also testified. He had been involved in arranging, and was present for, the controlled delivery. He testified about the controlled delivery and his investigation. Over objection, he testified that the rental-house landlord had stated that Carlos rented the house. Also over objection, he testified that he talked to the manager of the hotel where Valquier had first rented a room for Buendia-Ramirez. The ...

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