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United States v. Villa

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina

December 20, 2019




         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Indictment for Violations of His Fifth and Sixth Amendment Rights to a Speedy Trial [Doc. 9] and the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Based on Due Process Violations [Doc. 13]. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on the Defendant's Motions on November 8, 2019.


         On June 7, 2018, the Defendant was arrested by Macon County Sheriff's deputies on state charges of possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana. On June 8, 2018, the Defendant was charged in a federal criminal complaint with possession of firearms by an alien who is unlawfully within the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5), and illegal entry, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a). [See No. 1:18-mj-00067-DLH, Doc. 1: Complaint]. On June 20, 2018, the Defendant was charged in a Bill of Indictment with the § 922(g)(5) violation. [See Criminal No. 1:18-cr-00086-MR-WCM, Doc. 9: Indictment]. On June 20, 2018, the criminal complaint against the Defendant was terminated, and No. 1:18-mj-00067-WCM was closed.[1]

         On August 16, 2018, the Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress, challenging the legality of both the traffic stop and the subsequent search of his residence that occurred on June 7, 2018. [Id., Doc. 16]. The Government filed a Response in opposition on September 11, 2018. [Id., Doc. 24].

         The Magistrate Judge held an evidentiary hearing on the Defendant's Motion to Suppress on December 4, 2018. While the matter was under advisement with the Magistrate Judge, the Defendant filed a series of motions to continue the trial, resulting in a trial setting of June 25, 2019. [Id., Docs. 41, 42]. On June 7, 2019, the Defendant filed a “Notice of Defendant's Assertion of Speedy Trial Rights and Request for Resolution of Suppression Motion.” [Id., Doc. 43].

         On June 10, 2019, the Magistrate Judge filed his Memorandum and Recommendation concerning the suppression motion, making findings granting the motion in part with respect to evidence recovered from Defendant's residence and otherwise denying the motion to suppress. [Id., Doc. 44]. On June 17, 2019, the Government filed a motion to continue the trial for the ends of justice, but the Defendant did not join the motion or consent to another continuance. [Id., Doc. 45]. The Court granted the motion on June 18, 2019. [Id., Doc. 46].

         On June 24, 2019, both parties filed objections to the Memorandum and Recommendation. [Id., Docs. 47, 48]. On July 12, 2019, the District Court overruled the parties' objections and adopted the Memorandum and Recommendation in whole. [Id., Doc. 49].

         On August 6, 2019, Defendant was charged in a Bill of Indictment in a separate case with being an alien in the United States illegally and after having been removed and subsequent to the commission of an aggravated felony, in violation of 8 U.S.C. §§ 1326(a) and (b)(2) (“aggravated reentry”). [See Doc. 1]. On August 21, 2019, the Government moved to dismiss the Bill of Indictment in Criminal No. 1:18-cr-00086-MR-WCM. [See Criminal Case No. 1:18-cr-00086-MR-WCM, Doc. 50]. The Court granted the Government's Motion and dismissed the case without prejudice. [Id., Doc. 51].

         The Defendant now moves to dismiss the Bill of Indictment in the present action for violations of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to a speedy trial [Doc. 9] and for violation of his due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution resulting from the Government's alleged vindictive prosecution [Doc. 13]. The Government responded to both motions [Docs. 16, 17], and the Defendant filed replies [Docs. 19, 20]. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on these motions on November 8, 2019. Following the hearing, the parties were allowed the opportunity to file supplemental briefs. The parties filed their supplemental briefs on November 27 and December 11, 2019, respectively. [Docs. 30, 32, 35, 36]. These matters are now ripe for disposition.


         On June 7, 2018, Macon County Sheriff's Office deputies conducted a surveillance operation focusing on the Defendant as the subject of an ongoing narcotics investigation. [See Criminal No. 1:18-cr-00086-MR-WCM, Doc. 44 at 3, 20]. The officers' interactions with the Defendant that day led to his state arrest, initially on misdemeanor drug charges. [Id. at 13]. During the initial traffic stop of the Defendant, he presented documents indicating that he was a Mexican citizen and told the officers that he was not a licensed North Carolina driver because of his immigration status. [See id., Doc. 34 at 66, 113]. The Defendant also told the officers that he had been in the United States since he was 17 years old. [Id. at 114]. The Defendant was brought to the Macon County Detention Center on the state charges, processed for booking, fingerprinted by the county, and held overnight. That same evening, Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Klarisa Zaffark (SA Zaffark) interrogated the Defendant about his immigration status via telephone. Defendant told SA Zaffark that he had entered the United States illegally, but he did not disclose that he had been previously removed by immigration officials and had thus illegally reentered at some point.

         The next day, Detective Josh Stewart with the Macon County Sheriff's Office obtained a federal criminal complaint against the Defendant, alleging the previously described firearms and illegal entry charge. On June 8, 2018, Defendant made his initial federal appearance on the complaint, and a preliminary hearing and detention hearing was set for June 13, 2018. On June 12, 2018, a Pretrial Services Report was issued. [See No. 1:18-mj-00067-DLH, Doc. 5]. The report contained an entry indicating an arrest of the Defendant in 2008 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and listed a “charge” of “Entry without Inspection” and “Alien Removal Under Section 212 and 237.” [Id. at 3]. The disposition of this entry stated: “Disposition unknown.” [Id.]. Two apparent felony convictions appeared on the report as well. One offense indicated a conviction in Cherokee County, Georgia on April 15, 2008, and listed as its disposition “[f]ine, probation 3 years and 7 years confinement.” [Id.]. Another offense indicated a conviction in Cobb County, Georgia on June 9, 2011, and listed as its disposition “3 years confinement.” [Id.]. However, the records gathered at the initiation of the case by the case agent, Detective Stewart, did not show any prior felony convictions for the Defendant. Later, counsel for the Government learned that the reason that the prior convictions were not located by Detective Stewart was because the records pertaining to the Defendant's prior convictions are listed under the names “William Escamilla Villa” (Cherokee County, Georgia) and “Willian [sic] Villa Escamilla” (Cobb County, Georgia). Thus, the case agent did not discover any immigration-related documents when he searched using the name “Francisco Escamilla Villa.” Those records were later discovered to be under the name “William Villa-Escamilla, ” a/k/a “Willian Villa-Escamilla.” The Pretrial Services Report did not indicate that Defendant went by any names besides “Francisco Escamilla Villa.” In fact, no case agent reports or discovery records indicated anything about the Defendant's prior removal.

         At the probable cause and detention hearing held on June 13, 2018, probable cause was found and the Defendant waived the detention hearing.

         As noted above, the Grand Jury returned a Bill of Indictment against the Defendant as to the single count of possession of firearm while being an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States. At that time, counsel for the Government did not have any proof of a felony conviction by the Defendant or a removal of the Defendant by ICE, and Detective Stewart as the case agent was not investigating these matters. With respect to the illegal entry charge, counsel for the Government believed that he could not proceed to indictment on that offense because it was not actually a continuing offense, the offense was almost certainly completed in a state at the Mexican border, and therefore venue was lacking in the Western District of North Carolina. For these reasons, counsel for the Government decided not to indict the Defendant for illegal entry, and the case proceeded on the firearms charge alone.

         In June 2019, while the suppression motion was still under advisement with the Magistrate Judge, counsel for the Government began conducting a review of the case file in anticipation of a possible trial during the June 25, 2019 trial term. In the course of doing so, counsel for the Government asked SA Zaffark to look further into methods of proving the Defendant's alien status. SA Zaffark discovered that the Defendant's fingerprints had never been checked against existing records in ICE databases. On June 18, 2019, with a potential trial only a week away, [2] SA Zaffark received the Defendant's fingerprint cards from the United States Marshals and ran them through ICE databases for a possible match. On June 20, 2019, her search resulted in a “hit” for the first time based on a fingerprint match. The Government thus first learned on that date that the Defendant had been removed previously under the name “William Villa-Escamilla, ” a/k/a “Willian Villa-Escamilla.” At this time, SA Zaffark was able to obtain partial immigration removal records for the Defendant.

         Through the same search, on June 20, 2019, SA Zaffark located records pertaining to apparent felony convictions for the Defendant out of Georgia. SA Zaffark turned the criminal history records and partial immigration records over to the United States Attorney's Office, and such records were later produced in discovery. SA Zaffark then ordered the remaining records pertaining to the Defendant's removal, which records are known as an “A-file.” The A-file documents are the original and essential documents required to support a removal indictment. The A-file showed that the Defendant was removed by an immigration officer at the Hidalgo, Texas port of entry on December ...

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