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United States v. Castaneda

United States District Court, D. Arizona

July 22, 2016

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Ruben Lee Castaneda, Defendant.


          Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge

         Defendant Ruben Lee Castaneda (“Mr. Castaneda”) moves to suppress the fruits of a warrantless search and un-Mirandized questioning that took place at the scene of his arrest on July 9, 2015. (Doc. 16.) Mr. Castaneda also moves to suppress his recorded statements made to El Mirage Police Department (“EMPD”) officers during his interrogation at the police station following his arrest. (Doc. 17.) The Court held a suppression hearing on July 14, 2016. For the following reasons, the motions are granted in part and denied in part.


         On the morning of June 9, 2015, EMPD Officers Madeya and Lazinsky riding in a patrol car and Officer Chairez riding in a separate patrol car witnessed Mr. Castaneda on a bicycle with a black backpack attached to its handlebars travelling westbound in an eastbound lane of traffic. Mr. Castaneda then turned down an alley, and walked his bicycle through a hole in a church’s chain link fence, set the bicycle against a storage shed, and then spoke with an individual about ninety feet away and out of sight of the bicycle. The three Officers convened and determined that Mr. Castaneda’s conduct appeared to be an attempt to avoid the Officers; they decided to initiate contact. Officer Madeya determined his name and discovered that an outstanding valid misdemeanor arrest warrant had been issued against Mr. Castaneda for failing to appear for a prior shoplifting charge. Officer Madeya arrested and handcuffed Mr. Castaneda on the warrant.

         Soon after, Officers Chairez and Lazinsky stated their intent to retrieve Mr. Castaneda’s bicycle. As they were walking away, Officer Lazinsky asked Mr. Castaneda “if there was anything on the bicycle that he needed to know about.” Officer Chairez allegedly heard Mr. Castaneda mention something about a joint; Officer Lazinsky heard no response. As the two Officers left, Officer Madeya took Mr. Castaneda to his patrol car. On the way, Officer Madeya allegedly heard Mr. Castaneda mumble that “he found something in the alley, ” that he thought it was a “rifle or something, ” and that it had “wood and screws.”

         When Officers Chairez and Lazinsky arrived at the bicycle, they observed the backpack attached to the handlebars with a brown towel protruding from it; a rope wrapped around the towel was clipped to the handlebars. Officer Lazinsky, without first procuring a valid warrant to search the backpack, untied the rope, peered inside the towel, and observed what he described as a piece of wood consistent with the stock of a long gun. The Officers brought the bicycle back to Officer Madeya’s location. Officers Madeya and Lazinsky then pulled the wrapped towel from the backpack, and searched the contents of the towel. It contained a sawed-off shotgun.

         Officers Madeya and Lazinsky transported Mr. Castaneda to EMPD headquarters and began the booking process preparatory to his transfer to the Maricopa County jail. Part of that process involves inventorying an incoming defendant’s property. (Suppression Hearing, Gov. Ex. 1 at 21.) The Officers, thus, searched the remainder of the backpack and found, in addition to the shotgun, shotgun shells, drug paraphernalia, and other miscellaneous items. According to testimony, once inventoried, the Officers account for the property according to the policies of the EMPD and the Maricopa County jail. Any personal property that is evidence of a crime is booked by the EMPD into evidence. Otherwise, some limited items of personal property accompany the defendant to jail, while all other property is held by the EMPD for safe-keeping. Here, the Officers listed any suspicious property, as well as items prohibited from or too large to accompany Mr. Castaneda to jail (e.g., his backpack), as either “evidence” or “safe-keeping” on an EMPD item submission form. (Gov. Ex. 3.) The Officers also recorded the personal items Mr. Castaneda could take to jail on a Maricopa County arrest/booking record. (Gov. Ex. 2.)

         At the station, Officers Madeya and Lazinsky questioned Mr. Castaneda. The interrogation was videotaped. At the beginning of the questioning, Officer Madeya read Mr. Castaneda his Miranda rights off of a card. When asked if he understood his rights, Mr. Castaneda, with his head down on the table, did not initially respond. However, upon prompting by the Officers, Mr. Castaneda responded “Yes. Yes, Sir.” The Officer then asked if, in light of his rights, he wanted to talk. Again Mr. Castaneda provided an unintelligible initial response, but when prompted, said “yeah.”

         The interrogation lasted for approximately 30 minutes. The Officers asked Mr. Castaneda about the shotgun and the drug paraphernalia found in his backpack as well as the statements he made to Officer Madeya allegedly about the shotgun. After being told that the Officers found a “meth pipe” or “meth” in his backpack, Mr. Castaneda stated: “You got me probably using now.” Mr. Castaneda also, at one point, noted that he had been restoring bicycles “all day long 83 hours.” While at times Mr. Castaneda could recall details about his past and the events leading up to his arrest that day, at other times he only provided seemingly unintelligible answers.

         On October 13, 2015, Mr. Castaneda was indicted for being a previously convicted felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2).


         I. Physical Evidence Found In Mr. Castaneda’s Backpack

         The Fourth Amendment guarantees “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. Searches conducted without a warrant “are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment-subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.” Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967). “The burden of proving that a warrantless search or seizure falls within an exception to the warrant requirement is on the government.” United States v. Scott, 705 F.3d 410, 416 (9th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). The government must prove the exception by a preponderance of the evidence. See United States v. Vasey, 834 F.2d 782, 785 (9th Cir. 1987).

         The “exclusionary rule-the rule that often requires trial courts to exclude unlawfully seized evidence in a criminal trial-[is] the principal judicial remedy to deter Fourth Amendment violations.” Utah v. Strieff, 136 S.Ct. 2056, 2061 (2016) (citation omitted). The rule excludes both the “primary evidence obtained as a direct result of an illegal search or seizure” as well as “evidence later discovered and found to be derivative of an illegality, ” otherwise known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree.” Segura v. United States, 468 U.S. 796, 804 (1984); see Strieff, 136 S.Ct. at 2056. There are ...

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