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United States v. Garcia


June 25, 2009



This matter came on for hearing on June 23 and 24, 2009, on defendant's motion to suppress statements. The court heard the testimony of witnesses and the arguments of counsel. Because the prosecuting attorney could not resist interrupting while the court was attempting to state its findings of fact and conclusions of law orally on the record, the proceedings were adjourned, the motion was taken under submission, and the court now makes its findings and conclusions in writing as follows.

On October 2, 2007, Forest Service Officer Gregory Knox was flown in by helicopter to assist in the eradication of a marijuana garden near California Highway 32 in the Lassen National Forest. After he was informed that several Hispanic males had run away from the garden, he was involved in the search for the suspects.

At about 6:30 that evening a passing motorist informed Knox that a Hispanic male was observed hitchhiking toward Chico on the side of the highway. Knox proceeded to the area and encountered defendant, Javier Garcia.

1. The Initial Stop of Defendant was Legal

Officer Knox had been information that there was a marijuana garden in the area. There is a question as to how far away it was from where he encountered defendant, but five to eight miles seems to be the testimony.

He had information that five Hispanic males were seen leaving the area the preceding day. He knew that some of them had fled to a creek. When he encountered defendant, defendant was wet, he was carrying a blanket, and he smelled of marijuana, not marijuana smoke, but the kind of smell that comes from growing marijuana plants. At that point, he was entitled to stop and ask defendant who he was, and he did that.

Defendant told one story about his car having broken down further up the road. Knox knew that was not true because he had just been up that road, and there was no car broken down. Defendant then changed his story and said that he was with somebody, and that he got abandoned and he wanted to get to Chico to make a telephone call.

At that point, in the court's view, there were not only reasonable grounds for detention, there would have been probable cause to arrest.

2. The Subsequent Detention was Legal

The court finds that the detention of approximately 20 minutes on the side of the road was not an unreasonable period of time. The court has had occasion to try to talk to defendant, and it is difficult to get information from him. It is difficult to communicate statements to defendant. Further, Knox had to get instructions from Forest Service Special Agent Anthony Magarrell as to what to do with defendant. The detention was reasonable.

3. Defendant was in Custody While in the Car

Special Agent Magarrell communicated with Knox by radio, through another officer, and advised him to transport defendant to Red Bluff. The court finds that after defendant was placed in Officer Knox's vehicle, he was in custody. The court frankly does not believe that under the circumstances these officers would have intended simply to take these men and give them a free ride an hour and a half away to Red Bluff when they knew exactly what Magarrell and Knox and apparently the other officers knew about this marijuana garden. They had been there, they had seen it.

They knew that five Hispanic males had fled, some of them were even part of that chase, and here they encountered Hispanic males wandering around in that area with no other explanation for why they should be there. They talked to them, and two or three of them admitted they were illegal aliens. The court cannot believe that law enforcement officers under those circumstances would say, "Do you want a ride? We'll take you back to Red Bluff, and then we'll drop you off so that you illegal aliens can go about your business and these other individuals, when we have probable cause to arrest, can go free."

Instead, the court finds it most probable that Agent Magarrell intended to have the suspects transported to Red Bluff in order to interrogate them, turn at least the illegal aliens over to immigration authorities, and/or place them under arrest.

Further, defendant was placed in shackles in Officer Knox's vehicle. It is hard to believe that after he was fleeing from the scene of a crime he had committed he would volunteer to go with a law enforcement officer to Red Bluff, which was some 90 miles way in the opposite direction from Chico where he wanted to go when he was stopped by Officer Knox. It is hard to believe particularly that he would want to go there in shackles.

4. Defendant was Interrogated by Officer Knox

The court finds that it was not Knox's intention to interrogate the defendant. Knox is not an investigator. He is an officer, whose duties do not ordinarily involve the interrogation of suspects. Further, the defendant was in the car with Knox for approximately one and one-half hours. During that time there were only the few admissions that were discussed in this hearing. The court has its own experience in attempting to communicate with defendant, and as shown here in court, defendant can be led to say just about anything. If Knox had intended to interrogate defendant, one would have thought this defendant would have made many more incriminating statements than he did.

"Interrogation is 'express questioning' by the police, or 'any words or actions on the part of the police . . . that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect.' Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 300-01, 100 S.Ct. 1682, 64 L.Ed.2d 297 (1980 (footnote omitted.)" United States v. Hernandez, 476 F.3d 791 (9th Cir. 2007).

In the vehicle on the way to Red Bluff, defendant asked Knox a number of questions. Knox also asked defendant some questions. Most of the questions Knox asked defendant could fairly be characterized as conversation rather than interrogation. However, he should have known that some of his questions, such as where did he get the blanket and whether he knew the two other Hispanic males, were of the type that would be reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response. As a result, the court finds that, although Knox did not intend to interrogate defendant, he did in fact interrogate him within the meaning of the law. Knox did not advise defendant of his Miranda rights before interrogating him.

5. Defendant was Subsequently Interrogated by Special Agent Magarrell

About a half hour after arriving in Red Bluff, defendant was interrogated by Special Agent Magarrell. It is undisputed that Magarrell properly advised defendant of his Miranda rights, that defendant indicated that he understood them, and that defendant voluntarily agreed to answer Magarrell's questions. There is no evidence that Magarrell coerced any statements from the defendant or that his statements were involuntary. However, the court does not find that any curative steps were taken to assure defendant that anything that he said in the car would not be used against him. This does not mean, however, that Knox's failure to advise defendant of his Miranda rights in the vehicle taints the statements made by defendant in the interview by Magarrell.

6. There was no Deliberate Two-Step Method of Interrogating Defendant

The court is uncertain as to whether Magarrell specifically instructed Knox not to interrogate defendant, but the court is satisfied that Magarrell did not instruct Knox to interrogate him. The court does not find that there was a plan or conscious decision on the part of Magarrell or Knox to first interrogate defendant to gain admissions without advising him of his rights and then to use those admissions to their advantage in reinterviewing the defendant after later advising him of his rights.

In Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298 (1985), cited by counsel, the Supreme Court distinguished between conduct that actually infringed the defendant's constitutional rights and conduct that amounted to no more than a departure from the prophylactic standards laid down in Miranda. In the case of the former, the Supreme Court pointed out that the Wong Sun doctrine would require the suppression of the fruits of that actual infringement of the defendant's constitutional rights. In the case of the latter, however, the Supreme Court said in the absence of any coercion or improper tactics, the failure to comply with Miranda in the initial interview would not taint a subsequent voluntary statement or confession.

Here the court does not find that Officer Knox's conduct was intended to violate the defendant's constitutional rights. Nor does the court find that any of defendant's statements to Knox were coerced in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Therefore, under Elstad, any failure of Knox to advise defendant of his constitutional rights did not affect statements made by defendant to Magarrell subsequently after Garcia was advised of his rights as per Miranda.

The plurality decision of the Supreme Court in Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004), relied upon by defendant, creates an exception to Elstad only where law enforcement officers deliberately use a two-stage interrogation process, withholding the Miranda warning until after the defendant confesses and then having him repeat the confession after the warning is later given. Otherwise, Elstad applies. See United States v. Wauneka, 842 F.2d 1083, 1086-87 (9th Cir. 1988); United States v. Leon Guerrero, 847 F.2d 1363, 1366 (9th Cir. 1988).

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the statements made by defendant to Officer Knox while in the vehicle on the way to Red Bluff are hereby SUPPRESSED, but the motion to suppress evidence of the statements made to Special Agent Magarrell after defendant was advised of his Miranda rights is hereby DENIED.


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