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United States v. Laborin

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 22, 2015



KIMBERLY J. MUELLER, District Judge.

On April 22, 2015, the parties appeared for hearing on defendant Jason Laborin's motion to suppress evidence. Sherry Haus, Assistant United States Attorney, appeared for the government; Jesse Ortiz appeared for defendant, who was present in custody. For the reasons set forth below, the court DENIES defendant's motion.


Defendant is charged with possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), with a criminal forfeiture allegation based on 18 U.S.C. § 924(d)(1) and 28 U.S.C. § 2461(c). Indictment, ECF No. 7. The charges stem from a federal supervised release compliance search conducted at defendant's residence on July 22, 2013. King Report at 3, ECF No. 26.

Defendant began a term of supervised release in connection with a previous conviction on April 27, 2012. Lutke Decl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 16-1. The conditions of his supervised release included that defendant "shall not possess a firearm, destructive device, or any other weapon, " "shall permit a probation officer to visit him [] at any time at home or elsewhere, " and "shall submit to the search of his person, property, home, and vehicle by a United States Probation Officer, or any other authorized person under the immediate and personal supervision of the probation officer, based upon reasonable suspicion, without a search warrant." United States v. Laborin, No. 2:06-CR-00193-DLJ, ECF No. 32 at 3.

Miranda Lutke, defendant's probation officer, was contacted by Special Agent David Sieber of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on July 19, 2013. Lutke Decl. ¶ 7; see also Sieber Decl., ECF No. 16-2 at 3. Sieber informed Officer Lutke that the FBI had a "credible source" stating defendant was "dealing large amounts of methamphetamine and was keeping it at his residence, " and that defendant had ties to the Nuestra Familia and Norteño gangs. Id. Based on this information and Officer Lutke's previous knowledge of defendant's affiliation with "Varrio Gardon Sacra, a Norteño gang set, " id. ¶ 8, she investigated the tip. Specifically, she contacted the Bureau of Prisons and submitted a data inquiry to its database system to determine whether defendant had been in contact with any inmates. Id. ¶ 9(b). She discovered defendant had been in extensive contact with an inmate who was a known gang member, and had wired the inmate $600 in the previous year. Id. ¶ 9(c). Based on this information, and the terms of defendant's supervised release, Officer Lutke sought approval to search defendant's residence for evidence of violations of supervised release. Id. ¶ 11.

The search itself is described in the narrative summaries of Officer Justin King and Agent Christopher Mouzis, at the time assigned to the FBI's Safe Streets Task Force. King Report, ECF No. 26; Mouzis Report, ECF No. 16-4. The Sacramento Sherriff's Department, the Safe Streets Task Force and the United States Probation Office conducted the search on July 22, 2013. King Report at 4. The search team attempted unsuccessfully to contact defendant at about 8:55 a.m., at the address he reported as his residence in his monthly supervision report. Lutke Decl. ¶ 11. Search team members were able to reach defendant by telephone and they requested he come to the residence. Id. At approximately 9:30 a.m., defendant was observed walking toward the residence, and he was detained for the search in accordance with the officers' standard practice for safety purposes, handcuffed in a police vehicle. Sieber Decl. ¶ 14; see also Mouzis Decl. ¶ 5. Defendant told officers he did not have keys to the residence; ultimately officers entered through an open window. King Report at 4. During the search, defendant's mother Maggie Laborin, who also lived at the residence, arrived. Id. Officers asked her if she knew of any weapons or contraband in the house, and she told officers she was holding a gun for someone. Id. She directed officers to a purse in her bedroom closet, which contained a canvas pouch with a black pistol inside. Id. Also in the handbag was a firearm suppressor. Id. Maggie Laborin was questioned, and she told officers the gun belonged to her son, the defendant. Id. at 5. Upon the discovery of the gun, at approximately 10:22 a.m., defendant was read his Miranda rights. Mouzis Report, ECF No. 16-4. "It was about this time" when defendant saw his mother being detained by officers; he became "upset, " and asked officers to let his mother go, stating that the gun was his. Id .; see also King Report at 5.


A. Search of the Residence

Defendant contends the warrantless search was without reasonable suspicion or probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Def.'s Mot. at 6. Accordingly, he says, the evidence obtained during the search and any statements by him or his mother should be suppressed. Id. The government argues suppression is improper because reasonable suspicion justified the search. Opp'n at 1.

Because defendant was on supervised release, he has a diminished expectation of privacy. United States v. Lofton, 244 F.Appx. 113, 114 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing United States v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112, 122 (2001)). As noted above, the terms of defendant's supervised release expressly allow for a warrantless search of himself, his property, or his home if officers have "reasonable suspicion" that defendant is engaged in criminal activity. In order to determine whether reasonable suspicion exists, a court must consider the totality of the circumstances and the probability, rather than the certainty, of criminal conduct. United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417 (1981); see also United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 8-10 (1989) (reasonable suspicion depends on the "totality of the circumstances-the whole picture"; several facts may, when considered together, add up to reasonable suspicion). The officer must be aware of "specific, articulable facts which, when considered with objective and reasonable inferences, form a basis for particularized suspicion." United States v. Montero-Camargo, 208 F.3d 1122, 1129 (9th Cir. 2000) (quotations omitted). Tips from informants, combined with a defendant's previously known gang affiliation, can support reasonable suspicion. United States v. Asprilla, No. CR 10-0348, 2011 WL 845919, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 8, 2011), aff'd, 473 F.Appx. 570 (9th Cir. 2012). Reasonable suspicion is determined from the perspective of an experienced law enforcement officer under the totality of the circumstances. See United States v. Alvarez, 899 F.2d 833, 837 (9th Cir. 1990).

Here, the reliability of the tip from a credible source was bolstered by defendant's previously-known gang activity and his confirmed contemporaneous communications with an inmate affiliated with a gang. Lutke Decl. at 3. The officers had reasonable suspicion justifying the search of defendant's residence.

B. Defendant's Detention

Defendant argues his detention during the search, while he was handcuffed, placed in a police vehicle and questioned by Sgt. Mouzis, amounted to an arrest without probable cause. Even if he was not arrested, defendant argues his detention violated the Fourth Amendment. Def.'s Mot. at 9, 11.

"[O]fficers may constitutionally detain the occupants of a home during a... probation compliance search, " Sanchez v. Canales, 574 F.3d 1169, 1173 (9th Cir. 2009), as long as they have probable cause to believe that the probationer resides at the address, Motley v. Parks, 432 F.3d 1072, 1079 (9th Cir. 2005) (en banc). The detention of occupants in handcuffs for up to two to three hours, when justified by law enforcement's safety interests, has been held constitutionally reasonable. See Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93, 100 (2005).

A case from a sister court, Halbert v. Cnty. of San Diego, No. CIV 07CV1607-L(WVG), 2010 WL 1292163, at *7 (S.D. Cal. Mar. 30, 2010), is useful for comparison purposes. In Halbert, defendant challenged his handcuffed detention and interrogation, which lasted between one and two hours, as constitutionally unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The court, relying on Muehler, found the search and detention reasonable because there was no evidence the questioning prolonged detention, or that the defendant was held longer than necessary to conduct the search. 2010 WL 1292163, at *7.

Here, defendant was detained for slightly more than fifty minutes during officers' search of his residence. The detention was consistent with standard practice to protect officer safety where, as here, defendant was suspected of gang affiliation and possession of a firearm. Upon identification of a firearm in the residence, defendant was read his rights. Within a very short time, upon seeing his mother being detained, defendant admitted the firearm was his, establishing probable cause for charging him with a violation of his supervised release terms. Given these circumstances, the officers' questioning did not prolong the detention. No evidence supports a finding that he was held longer than necessary to conduct the search and to question him.

Defendant's detention during the search did not violate the Fourth Amendment

C. Challenge to Maggie Laborin's Statements

Defendant also moved to suppress all statements made by Maggie Laborin, arguing they stemmed from an unconstitutional search. At hearing, defendant conceded he does not have standing to challenge the method by which Ms. Laborin's statements were obtained. The court deems this aspect of defendant's motion withdrawn.


Defendant's motion to suppress on Fourth Amendment grounds is DENIED.


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