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United States v. De La Vega

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

April 2, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTOPHER DE LA VEGA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          J. P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge

         1. INTRODUCTION

         Defendant was indicted on February 27, 2018 with one count of production of child pornography, one count of distribution of child pornography, and one count of extortion. (Docket #1). On September 11, 2018, Defendant filed a motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b)(3)(C) to suppress statements he made to police in a custodial interrogation occurring on February 14, 2018. (Docket #38).

         Magistrate Judge William E. Duffin has recommended that the motion be granted. (Docket #42 and #50). The recommendation came in two parts due to the government's attempt to introduce new evidence after receiving the first recommendation. (Docket #44). The government has objected to both parts of the recommendation. (Docket #51). For the reasons explained below, the Court will overrule the government's objection, adopt Magistrate Duffin's recommendations, and grant Defendant's motion to suppress.[1]

         2. RELEVANT FACTS

         The parties have filed a formal stipulation as to most of the relevant facts. (Docket #36). As to any others relied on in the recommendation, the parties have not lodged any objections. See (Docket #51 and #52). The Court will, therefore, adopt the facts as stated in the recommendation. Because they were concisely described in the recommendation, and in the interest of brevity, the Court will not repeat those facts here. The Court will also generously consider the audio recording of Defendant's interrogation, despite the magistrate judge's determination of its inadmissibility, (Docket #50 at 1-4), which was likewise not objected to, see (Docket #51).

         3. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When reviewing a magistrate's recommendation, the Court is obliged to analyze the recommendation de novo. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Thus, the Court can “accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate.” Id. In other words, the Court's de novo review of Magistrate Duffin's findings and recommendations is not limited to his legal analysis alone; rather, the Court may also review his factual findings, and accept, reject, or modify those findings as it sees fit based upon the evidence. Id.

         4. ANALYSIS

         The Court agrees with the entirety of Magistrate Duffin's analysis in the recommendations, including his discussion of the relevant legal principles and precedent. (Docket #42 at 5-17). The disagreement between Defendant also failed to request leave to file his opposition out-of-time. See Id. The government, in turn, did not file a reply brief or otherwise complain about Defendant's late submission. The Court will, therefore, accept Defendant's tardy opposition and rule on the objection on the seemingly incomplete state of the briefing. the parties, and between the government and the magistrate judge, lies solely on the applicability of this case's facts to the existing case law. Thus, in keeping with the theme of brevity, this Court will assume familiarity with the magistrate judge's analysis and conclusions. It will move directly to analyzing the seven specific objections raised by the government to the recommendation.

         First, the government notes that the magistrate judge did not determine who bears the burden of proof on Defendant's motion; whether Defendant must establish that he was in custody, or whether the government must show that he was not in custody. This is both true and irrelevant. It appears that Defendant does bear the burden to show that his interrogation was “custodial.” See United States v. Patterson, 826 F.3d 450, 455 (7th Cir. 2016); United States v. Lennick, 917 F.3d 974, 977 (7th Cir. 1990). But because the facts in this case are undisputed, the burden becomes one of persuasion, not proof. The recommendation is unequivocal that Defendant was in custody based on the undisputed facts presented as applied to relevant precedent. This Court's view is the same, regardless of any pre-existing burdens on either party.

         Second, the government asserts that the magistrate judge's emphasis on the forceful nature of the officers' entry into Defendant's home was misplaced. In particular, the government argues that the officers entered the home based on a valid search warrant, did so forcefully in order to achieve surprise and avoid destruction of evidence, and lawfully detained Defendant's family until the search was completed. The government suggests that “an unlawful or overly-muscular seizure suggests overreach, but following lawful procedure shows restraint. This entry was aggressive but lawful, and would not necessarily cause a reasonable person to believe that he was not free to leave.” (Docket #51 at 4).

         This Court agrees with the magistrate judge that none of these observations are relevant to the determination of whether Defendant was in custody for the purposes of Miranda. Defendant's motion to suppress is directed solely at his custodial interrogation, and so the lawfulness of the search warrant and its execution is not before the Court. Moreover, the government provides no legal support for its conclusion that following a “lawful procedure, ” namely complying with the Fourth Amendment's requirement for searches to be reasonable, weighs against a finding of custody under Miranda. Whether a search is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, and whether a person subjected to such a search would believe they are in custody, are two entirely separate inquiries. Here, numerous officers stormed Defendant's home in the early morning, pointed guns in his face, and handcuffed him. The forcefulness of the search weighs heavily in favor of custody.

         Third, the government states that Defendant did not believe the officers were there to arrest him, but rather his stepfather, who was an illegal alien. According to the government, this weighs in favor of non-custody, as a reasonable person believing that they were not the target of the police action would feel somewhat freer to leave. Magistrate Duffin agreed, at least for the initial period of police contact. However, the magistrate judge found, and this Court agrees, that after the ...


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