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United States v. Villa

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

December 20, 2019




         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Defendant's Motion to Suppress [Doc. 11]. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on the Defendant's motion on November 8, 2019. The parties filed supplemental briefs on November 22 and November 27, 2019, respectively. [Docs. 29, 31].

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Defendant's Arrest

         Unless otherwise noted, the following is a summary of the factual findings made by the Magistrate Judge in his Memorandum and Recommendation following the suppression hearing held in Criminal No. 1:18-cr-00086-MR-WCM. In adopting the Magistrate Judge's Memorandum and Recommendation, this Court adopted these factual findings as a whole. As conceded by the Defendant [see Doc. 12 at 1], the parties are now precluded from relitigating these factual issues.

         In the spring or early summer of 2017, law enforcement began investigating the Defendant for suspected trafficking and distribution of methamphetamine. As of a year later, no arrest had been made and no search warrant had been requested for the Defendant's residence.

         On June 7, 2018, deputies from the Macon County Sheriff's Office observed the Defendant leaving his residence in a vehicle. Shortly thereafter, the deputies conducted a lawful traffic stop of the Defendant for speeding, driving left of center, and driving without a valid driver's license. [Criminal No. 1:18-cr-00086-MR-WCM, Doc. 44: Memorandum and Recommendation at 3, 20]. A deputy smelled marijuana as he approached the driver's side window. [Id. at 6]. The Defendant admitted that he did not have a North Carolina driver's license because of his immigration status, but instead produced Mexican identification documents or an international driver's license.[1] [Id. at 6; Id., Doc. 34: Transcript at 66, 113]. The Defendant admitted that he had recently “hit the marijuana pipe, ” and the deputy seized a marijuana vape pen from the Defendant following a lawful, consensual search of his person. [Id. at 7, 24-25]. The Defendant asked a deputy if he was in trouble for the marijuana they found, and, at that time, the deputy responded that the Defendant was not under arrest for it. [Id. at 8].

         The conversation continued, during which the Defendant offered to allow the deputies to search his home to prove that there were no drugs there. [Id. at 9-10]. The deputies traveled with the Defendant to his home located about a mile away from the site of the vehicle stop and searched it after obtaining written consent. [Id. at 10-13]. The officers found and seized additional marijuana vape pens and several firearms. [Id. at 13].

         Following the search of his home, the deputies arrested the Defendant and charged him with state drug law violations for the drug paraphernalia and marijuana seized from both his person and his home. [Id.]. The Defendant was transported to the Macon County Detention Center, where he was fingerprinted as part of the routine booking process. [See Doc. 24-1; Doc. 28 at 44, 46-47, 69].[2]

         Detective Josh Stewart contacted Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Klarisa Zaffark (“SA Zaffark”) to investigate the Defendant's immigration status. [Doc. 28 at 49]. Detective Stewart told SA Zaffark that “he had an individual in custody who had stated he was not a citizen of the United States.” [Id. at 87]. Detective Stewart placed the Defendant on the speakerphone at the Macon County Detention Center so that SA Zaffark, who is a fluent Spanish speaker, could ask the Defendant about his immigration status. [Id.].

         SA Zaffark did not advise the Defendant of his Miranda rights. [Id. at 86, 87, 88]. SA Zaffark asked the Defendant where he was born, and he told her that he was born in Mexico. [Id. at 73]. SA Zaffark asked the Defendant if he was a United States citizen, and he said that he was not and that he did not have any legal immigration status. [Id.]. SA Zaffark asked the Defendant if he had ever come in contact with an immigration officer, and he stated that he had. [Id. at 89]. SA Zaffark then lodged an Immigration Detainer with respect to the Defendant. [Id. at 90; see also Def. Ex. 5: Immigration Detainer].

         B. The Defendant is Charged in Federal Court

         On June 8, 2018, the Defendant was charged in a Criminal Complaint in this Court with possession of a firearm by an illegal alien, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5), and the petty offense of illegal entry, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a). [No. 1:18-mj-00067-DLH, Doc. 1: Complaint]. That same day, the Defendant was arrested and made an initial appearance. At that time, the Defendant was processed by the United States Marshals for booking, and his fingerprints were taken. On June 13, 2018, preliminary and detention hearings were conducted. Probable cause was found, and Defendant waived his right to a detention hearing.

         On June 20, 2018, the Grand Jury returned a one-count Bill of Indictment charging the Defendant only with the firearms violation under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5). [Criminal No. 1:18-cr-00086-MR-WCM, Doc. 9]. The Defendant ...

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