Friday, June 11, 2010

No Suppression---the Decor Was Telling



United States v. Hinojosa, No. 08–1393 (6th Cir. June 9, 2010) (published).

Bench trial. Defendant convicted of sexual exploitation of a child and CP charges. Appealed denial of motions to suppress evidence.

Issues:

* Were the police entry into his home and the arrest based on a non-existent warrant constitutional violations requiring suppression?

* Was uninvited and warrantless intrusion into the home (which enabled the police to observe evidence used to obtain a search warrant) a constitutional violation?

* Should evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant have been suppressed because of constitutional violations involved in obtaining the warrant?

Affirmed.

Background:

Defendant became a target in an international CP investigation. Undercover Canadian officials communicated with the defendant on-line; defendant claimed to have engaged in sexual activities with his 13-year-old daughter. Defendant transferred to the agents CP, including CP he claimed showed him and his daughter. ICE agents ran the defendant’s criminal history. LEIN and NCIC reports differed. LEIN report indicated an outstanding warrant.

Despite inconsistencies in the reports, officers went to defendant’s house to execute the outstanding warrant. Defendant’s then-wife answered the door. Officers requested permission to enter and she granted it. Officers followed the wife to the bedroom, found defendant, and arrested him (on the way, the officers recognized the decor from the videos). Defendant waived his Miranda rights and confessed.

At the evidentiary hearing and bench trial, the defendant did not let his attorney present evidence or argue. District court denied the motions to suppress, convicted the defendant, and sentenced him to 1,440 months.

Conclusions:

* Resolution of the issue of the non-existent warrant (it was for someone else) was unnecessary, because even assuming that the officers’ reliance on the warrant was unreasonable the defendant could not obtain relief. The officers had consent to enter the residence; the arrest warrant was not a prerequisite for the entry.

* Despite having the arrest warrant, the officers sought and received consent from the defendant’s wife prior to entering the residence, and again before proceeding from the entryway of the residence to the bedroom.

* Based on the totality of the encounter, the initial interrogation did not present a custodial environment such that Miranda warnings were required prior to questioning. The defendant’s pre-Miranda statements were properly included in the affidavit for the search warrant (executed later).

* At the time of the defendant’s arrest, the officers were aware of the information gathered prior to entering the residence and the corroborating facts learned while inside (e.g., the decor) and the defendant’s responses to their initial questioning. The district court correctly determined that probable cause to arrest the defendant existed independent of the mistaken arrest warrant.

* Following the valid arrest, the officers immediately advised the defendant of his Miranda rights, and he waived these rights. The defendant did not argue that this waiver was involuntary or coerced. So, these post-arrest statements were properly included in the affidavit for the later search warrant.

* The officers received consent to enter the house and to proceed down the hallway and into the bedroom. Everything that the officers observed was in plain view from their lawful position, so no constitutionally improper search occurred. The officers did not violate the defendant’s constitutional rights by observing the decor of his residence, and those observations were properly included in the later search-warrant affidavit.

* Prior to entering the residence, the officers had established that: 1) videos and images involving child pornography were transferred to undercover agents from a specific IP address; 2) the IP address was registered to the defendant at a Lansing, Michigan, address; and 3) the defendant resided at that Lansing address. This evidence would have established the required "fair probability" that evidence of criminal activity would be found inside the defendant’s residence, and it would have justified the issuance of a search warrant.

* Defendant questioned why a search warrant was not initially sought by the agents if probable cause existed prior to the entry. The appellate court found, however, that the agents’ prudence in seeking a search warrant does not negate the existence of probable cause.

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