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United States v. Escobar-Benitez

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

December 3, 2013

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Primativo Escobar-Benitez, Defendant.

ORDER

DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

Defendant Primativo Escobar-Benitez has filed a motion to suppress. Doc. 27. The motion is briefed, and the Court held an evidentiary hearing on November 27, 2013. This order includes facts agreed to by the parties and factual findings from the testimony and exhibits presented during the hearing. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny the motion to suppress.

I. RELEVANT FACTS.

On April 2, 2013, investigators with Homeland Security Investigations ("HSI") executed a federal search warrant on apartment 192 of the complex located at 3838 East Camelback Road in Phoenix, Arizona. The apartment was being used as a "stash house" for illegal aliens being smuggled into the country, and a total of 16 undocumented persons were apprehended. The person responsible for operating the stash house, Lucio Castillo-Castillo, subsequently advised investigators that another apartment in the same complex was used as a stash house. Castillo-Castillo identified two adjacent apartments as possibilities, including apartment 98. After speaking with management at the apartment complex, HSI investigators decided to inquire at apartment 98.

On April 18, 2013, at approximately 6:15 a.m., agents conducted a "knock and talk" at apartment 98. Two agents approached the front door and knocked. A male voice, speaking Spanish, asked "who is it?" The agents responded in Spanish that they were police officers and would like to speak with the persons inside. Two minutes passed with no further communication and no visual contact with any occupants.

Multiple HSI agents had stationed themselves behind the apartment before the knock and talk was initiated. These agents stood outside a block wall that enclosed a rear patio. The agents who knocked on the front door notified the agents in back as they were about to initiate the knock and talk.

The agents in back saw the back door of the apartment open quietly. Two males emerged and began running across the patio toward a partially-open gate in the block wall. Agents standing just outside the gate and wall pointed their guns at the two men and commanded them to stop. One of the men, later identified as Defendant, stopped just short of the gate. The other ran back into the apartment, leaving the back door ajar.

Agents directed Defendant to walk through the gate, where they placed him in handcuffs. Agents then gave loud commands to the other individual to exit the apartment. When the individual did not do so, agents entered the patio, surrounded the back door, and again gave commands for the individual and anyone else in the apartment to exit. When nobody exited, agents entered through the open back door and proceeded room-by-room to clear the premises. They found the individual who had run back into the apartment hiding in a bathroom, and another 11 adults hiding in two closets. All occupants eventually admitted that they were illegal aliens.

Agents secured the apartment and applied for a search warrant. Upon receiving the warrant at approximately 4:30 p.m., agents searched the apartment and found various items of evidence relevant to this case.

Defendant contends that the agents seized him unlawfully when they commanded him to stop, directed him to walk through the gate, and then placed him in handcuffs. Defendant also contends that agents violated the Fourth Amendment when they entered the apartment without a search warrant and discovered the persons hiding inside.

II. STOP OF DEFENDANT.

Defendant asserts that he was within the curtilage of the apartment when he was stopped by HSI agents, that he therefore was within his home for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, and that agents cannot execute an investigative stop inside a home. Because the agents did not have probable cause to arrest him, Defendant contends, his detention in the patio area violated the Fourth Amendment.

The government argues that the stop and detention were lawful. The government also argues that Defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the apartment, and that his Fourth Amendment rights therefore could not have been violated by the ...


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