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United States v. Fuentez

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 25, 2019



          ROSEMARY M. COLLYER United States District Judge

         When executing a search warrant for defendant Samiro Fuentez' room as part of an unrelated criminal investigation, Metropolitan Police Department officers found a pistol in a gun box at the bottom of a large laundry bag. The officers seized the pistol. Several months later, they arrested Mr. Fuentez on a charge of felon in possession of a firearm. Mr. Fuentez now moves to suppress the pistol as the product of a warrantless seizure, as well as incriminating statements made after his arrest that the government would reserve for impeachment. Because the pistol was evidence of a crime and because his statements were uncoerced, the Court will deny his motion to suppress the pistol and grant in part and deny in part his motion to suppress his statements.

         I. FACTS[1]

         In the course of investigating an alleged sexual assault, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) obtained a valid search warrant on November 17, 2017, to search the two-story townhome in Northeast where Mr. Fuentez lived with his family, including minor children. MPD officers executed that warrant four days later, on the morning of November 21, 2017.

         They were particularly interested in Mr. Fuentez' bedroom and with collecting biological, electronic, and documentary evidence related to the alleged assault. To that end, the warrant authorized:

Processing of the crime scene and the collection of evidence, [t]o include photography and diagrams. The collection of DNA, bedding to include gray blanket, washcloths, towels, napkins, all cellular phones, computers, electronic tablets, cameras and video recording equipment, documents that would link Samiro Fuentez to the other suspects in this crime.

         Mr. Fuentez was not present for the beginning of the search but his room was identified by his mother.

         When the officers entered Mr. Fuentez' room they saw a Glock magazine speed loader on a bedroom bureau and a box of ammunition atop a nearby radiator. While searching for biological materials consistent with the warrant the officers also emptied several large laundry bags, in one of which they found an unlocked gun box with the Glock logo printed on the side. Inside the box was a 9mm Glock 43 pistol with one round in the magazine. Cf. United States v. Taylor, 497 F.3d 673, 680 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (“We accordingly reaffirm that gun cases and similar containers support no reasonable expectation of privacy if their contents can be inferred from their outward appearance.”). The officers seized the pistol.

         Because Mr. Fuentez had a prior felony, he could not legally possess a firearm. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1); D.C. Code § 22-4503. On this basis, MPD obtained an arrest warrant for Mr. Fuentez on May 30, 2018, which they executed without incident on June 3, 2018. Mr. Fuentez was then taken to MPD headquarters where he invoked his Miranda rights. However, as two MPD officers were walking Mr. Fuentez to his cell, the three got to talking. At some point during the conversation the officers mentioned that Mr. Fuentez' home had been shot at that morning and asked Mr. Fuentez “what he was going to do about it.” Mot. to Suppress Statements [Dkt. 17] at 1 (quoting discovery disclosures). Mr. Fuentez responded, “That's why I need my gun back.” Id.

         Mr. Fuentez now moves to suppress the pistol and derivative evidence, as well as his statement. The government opposes. The Court held a hearing on November 8, 2019, and received post-hearing supplemental briefing from the parties. The motions are ripe for review.[2]


         A. Tangible Evidence

         The Fourth Amendment guarantees “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. “Time and again” the Supreme Court “has observed that searches and seizures conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment-subject only to a few specifically established and well delineated exceptions.” Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, 372 (1993).

         One such exception to the warrant requirement is the plain view doctrine. “It is well established that under certain circumstances the police may seize evidence in plain view without a warrant.” Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 465 (1971). But this exception has conditions. For example, “not only must the item be in plain view; its incriminating character must also be ‘immediately apparent.'” Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128, 136 (1990) (quoting Coolidge, 403 U.S. at 466). That is to ...

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