UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
May 9, 2011
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
CRISTINO RODRIGUEZ MORA AND ADAN LOPEZ CRESPO, DEFENDANTS.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
On Thursday, April 14, 2011, the parties appeared before this Court regarding Defendants' Motion to Suppress. Specifically, Defendants requested an evidentiary hearing, or in the alternative, requested the Court suppress statements and evidence related to a search conducted on Defendants' "residence," in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights, and the rights established by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).
In July 2010, law enforcement identified an approximately 1500-plant marijuana grow in Six Rivers National Forest. In the 5 early hours of July 22, 2010, agents entered an encampment near the 6 plants, and with their weapons drawn, ordered the sleeping 7
Defendants to show their hands in Spanish. Defendants were placed 8 in handcuffs and law enforcement inquired as to whether there were 9 other people in the encampment and if any guns were present. Neither Defendant was read their Miranda rights until after this initial interrogation took place. As officers pulled Defendant Mora from his sleeping bag, they found a loaded .22 caliber pistol under him. In response to the preliminary interrogation, Defendant Crespo volunteered that there was another firearm located underneath the sleeping platform where the Defendants had been sleeping. Law enforcement did not have a search warrant.
In their motion, Defendants raise two issues: (1) any answers Defendants provided to law enforcement before they were read their rights should be suppressed in violation of Miranda; and
(2) Defendants had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the "dwelling," making a warrantless search improper.
While generally a defendant in custody is entitled to be
2 informed of his constitutional rights before any interrogation, a 3 public safety exception exists. Any custodial statement obtained 4 in absence of Miranda need not be suppressed if law enforcement 5 obtained the statement in light of an objectively reasonable need 6 to protect either the police or the public from immediate danger. 7
See United States v. DeSantis, 870 F.2d 536, 539 (9th Cir. 1989) (citing New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 659-59 (1984)). In the 9 instant case, the questions posed to and answered by the Defendants were only to protect the other officers and ensure the surrounding area was properly secure. The questions were not designed to trick or incriminate Defendants. See DeSantis, 870 F.2d at 540. Therefore, Defendants' statements do not merit suppression.
The crux of the dispute regarding the Fourth Amendment surrounds the nature of the dwelling, or the raised platform upon which Defendants were sleeping. To determine whether a warrantless search violates the Fourth Amendment, courts must examine whether there was a "subjective expectation of privacy," and if the expectation is "objectively reasonable." United States v. Sandoval, 200 F.3d 659, 660 (9th Cir. 2000).*fn1
The Court considered pictorial and video evidence of the area 2 in question. The "dwelling" was simply a sleeping platform wedged 3 between two trees, obscured within the vegetation of the tree 4 canopy. The platform was covered by a tarp held with rope between 5 trees that served as a shelter from the elements and created a sort 6 of open-air encampment. There were no sides, doors, or windows, 7 and nothing of a quasi-permanent nature included in the structure. 8
As stated on the record, the Court's review indicates that the tarp over the platform was nothing more than akin to an umbrella, covering Defendants from the elements. The sleeping area as constructed did not, and could not, constitute a structure with any subjective or objectively reasonable expectation of privacy.
For the reasons stated above, Defendants' Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 18) is DENIED.