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United States v. Avila-Padilla

United States District Court, D. Arizona

July 12, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Cesar Avila-Padilla, et al. Defendants.



         Currently pending before the Court is Defendant Avila-Padilla's Motion to Compel Disclosure (Doc. 66). This motion was joined by Defendant Alegria. Notice of Joinder (Doc. 69). The Government has filed its response and Defendant replied. Govt.'s Response to Mot. to Compel Discl. (Doc. 80); Def. Avila Padilla's Reply to Mot. to Compel Discl. (Doc. 91). Defendant Cesar Ivan Avila-Padilla is charged with one (1) count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute fentanyl. Defendant Santos Francisco Alegria is charged with one (1) count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute fentanyl and one (1) count of possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute. Indictment (Doc. 35).

         On June 12, 2019, oral argument was held before Magistrate Judge Macdonald regarding the motion. Minute Entry 6/12/2019 (Doc. 104). The Court took the matter under advisement, and requested that the Government submit relevant unredacted statements for in camera review. The motion is ripe for adjudication. . . .


         On August 19, 2017, Defendant Alegria was the driver of a light-colored Ford Equinox carrying Defendant Ortiz-Ramos and the redacted Defendant. An Arizona Department of Safety Trooper conducted a traffic stop of the vehicle. Once the car came to a stop, Defendant Ortiz-Ramos and the other backseat passenger fled on foot. Defendant Ortiz-Ramos was carrying a backpack, which he abandoned in the desert. A search of the abandoned backpack revealed approximately 20, 265 fake OxyContin pills containing fentanyl. Defendant Alegria and the front seat passenger remained in the vehicle until their arrest. Inside the Equinox, agents discovered multiple cellular telephones, as well as keys belonging to another vehicle, which was registered to Defendant Avila-Padilla.

         Search warrants were later obtained for all of the seized cellular telephones, and the telephones were subsequently searched. The telephones allegedly revealed connections and drug trafficking related communications between the Defendants and others related to drug trafficking. The evidence from the telephones also allegedly establish Defendant Avila-Padilla as an organizer who was directing his co-conspirators and overseeing the distribution of fentanyl to Kentucky. On September 19, 2018, the Defendants were indicted in this cause of action.

         The parties have signed disclosure agreements, which permit more extensive disclosure than that required under the law, and the Government asserts that it has disclosed some evidence that extends beyond the charges. On March 25, 2019, defense counsel requested a number of disclosure items regarding the warrant for the aerial surveillance of the ranch, the statements of the four (4) individuals in the Equinox after the traffic stop, and the standing issue-such as information regarding Dennis Mullins, the Equinox's registration, the informants' identities, and statements from the informants and occupants of the Equinox. On March 29, 2019, the Court set a “discovery/disclosure/notice/request deadline” for April 12, 2019. On April 11, 2019, the Defense sent a more formal and detailed request, which included requests for the same information as before and, in addition, materials related to the Miranda/Massiah issue, such as manual and training materials for law enforcement agents conducting interrogations. At the same time, the Government disclosed a compact disc containing recordings of the four (4) Equinox occupants' interviews, information regarding the Equinox's registration, and cellular telephone downloads. On April 19, 2019, the deadline for the Government to respond to the remainder of Defendant's disclosure requests lapsed.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Defendant's motion originally sought disclosure related to the allegedly illegal traffic stop, the sufficiency of his Miranda waiver, and related to air surveillance. See Def. Avila-Padilla's Mot. to Compel. Since the filing of the motion to compel and related motions to suppress, Defendant Avila-Padilla has withdrawn his motion to suppress related to the traffic stop, and Defendant Alegria joined. See Mot. to Withdraw (Doc. 98); Order 6/7/2019 (Doc. 99); Not. of Joinder (Doc. 100). At oral argument, it was clarified that Defendants seek the identity of the Confidential Informant identified as Mr. “X, ” who gave statements on March 26 & 27, 2018 and described in pages Bates No. 1-86 through 1-92. Defendants also seek “any and all policies, manuals, training materials, or similar documents produced by Homeland Security Investigations or the agencies in charge of the Task Force Officers regarding (1) the procedure for notifying an accused of his charges, (2) the procedure for making a promise during an interrogation, and (3) the procedure for communicating with non-English speakers.” Defs.' Mot. to Compel (Doc. 66) at 7.

         A. Legal Standards

         1. Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 16

         Rule 16, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides, “[u]pon a defendant's request, the government must permit the defendant to inspect and to copy or photograph books, papers, documents, data, photographs, tangible objects, buildings or places, or copies or portions of any of these items, if the item is within the government's possession, custody, or control and . . . the item is material to preparing the defense.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(a)(1)(E)(i). “Materiality is a necessary prerequisite to discovery.” United States v. USDC, Central Dist. of Cal., Los Angeles, Cal., 717 F.2d 478, 480 (9th Cir. 1983) (citations omitted). “Materiality is a ‘low threshold; it is satisfied so long as the information . . . would have helped' to prepare a defense. United States v. Soto-Zuniga, 837 F.3d 992, 1003 (9th Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v. Hernandez-Meza, 720 F.3d 760, 768 (9th Cir. 2013)). However, “[m]ateriality means more than that the evidence in question bears some abstract logical relationship to the issues in the case. There must be some indication that the pretrial disclosure of the disputed evidence would . . enable[] the defendant significantly to alter the quantum of proof in his favor.” United States v. Maniktala, 934 F.2d 25, 28 (2d Cir. 1991) (citations omitted). “An abstract logical relationship to the issues in the case is not, however, sufficient to force the production of discovery under rule 16.” United States v. George, 786 F.Supp. 56, 58 (D.D.C. 1992) (quotations and citations omitted). “The documents at issue must play an important role in uncovering admissible evidence, aiding witness preparation, corroborating testimony or assisting impeachment or rebuttal.” Id. (quotations and citations omitted).

         2. Informer's Privilege

         “The government has a qualified privilege to withhold from disclosure the identity of persons who furnish information of violations of law to officers charged with enforcement of that law.” United States v. Amador-Galvan, 9 F.3d 1414, 1417 (9th Cir. 1993) (citing Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 59, 77 S.Ct. 623, 627, 1 L.Ed.2d 639 (1957)). “The purpose of the privilege is the furtherance and protection of the public interest in effective law enforcement.” Roviaro, 353 U.S. at 59, 77 S.Ct. at 627. Furthermore, “[t]he privilege recognizes the obligation of citizens to communicate ...

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