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United States v. Garcia

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

March 30, 2017




         THIS MATTER is before the Court on a Report and Recommendation [DE 76] denying Defendant Garcia's Motion to Suppress. [DE 26.] Garcia filed objections to the Report [DE 82], to which the Government responded.[1] [DE 86.] The Court conducted a de novo review of the record, including the objections, the response and the transcript of the Suppression Hearing, dated January 23, 2017. The Court entered its original Order affirming the Report and denying the Motion to Suppress on March 16, 2017. [DE 92.] Thereafter, Garcia filed a Motion for Reconsideration. [DE 95.] The Court set an evidentiary hearing for March 29, 2017. At the hearing, Garcia represented to the Court that he was unable to secure the appearance of his witnesses. Garcia subsequently withdrew his Motion for Reconsideration. With the benefit of the supplemental hearing, the Court amends its original Order with regards to Section C. The Court reaffirms the Report's factual findings and legal conclusions. The Motion is therefore denied.


         Garcia is charged with five counts: conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, maintaining a drug-involved premises, possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, and two counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime. [DE 10.] Garcia was stopped while driving and arrested without a warrant on October 18, 2016, at 5:50 PM. Upon his arrest, agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HS1) searched Garcia's vehicle. Thereafter, they returned with him to a spot outside a house located at 7751 SW 29th Street, Miami, Florida ("target residence"), as a search warrant of that residence was being executed. The search revealed various firearms, bags of marijuana and other narcotics, U.S. currency and drug paraphernalia. [DE 1 at 2-3.] At approximately 7:30 PM, Garcia was advised of his Miranda rights and allegedly signed a Miranda Statement of Rights Waiver Form and admitted to selling narcotics. He also purportedly gave verbal and written consent for agents to search (1) a second residence, (2) a commercial storage unit, and (3) all of Garcia's cellular phones. These searches revealed additional evidence of narcotics distribution and firearms possession. [DE 1 at 3-4.]

         Garcia filed a Motion to Suppress on December 26, 2016. He moved to suppress evidence obtained from two search warrants, [2] arguing that both warrant applications contained false statements and relied on an unreliable informant. He also moved to suppress evidence seized from his vehicle, arguing that agents lacked probable cause to stop and arrest him. In addition, Garcia moved to suppress his post-Miranda statements and all evidence seized pursuant to his consent to search. He asserted (1) his three requests for an attorney were ignored, and (2) he never signed the waiver and consent to search forms.

         On January 5, 2017, Magistrate Judge Turnoff scheduled an evidentiary hearing for January 23, 2017. On January 20, 2017, Garcia requested a continuance of the hearing so that his counsel could have additional time to prepare. [DE 45.] Judge Turnoff denied the continuance[3] and, after reviewing Garcia's Motion, limited the scope of the hearing to Garcia's alleged Miranda waiver and consent to search. [Hr'g Tr. 19:15-25; 20:1-2.] Both Garcia and the arresting officer, Agent Rimas Sliazas, testified at the hearing.


         The Report recommends denying Garcia's motion. With regards to the search warrants, the Report found the warrant applications to be valid, denied Garcia's request for a Franks hearing and confirmed that probable cause existed to issue both search warrants. As to the arrest, the Report found that HSI agents had probable cause to arrest Garcia and search his vehicle based on the warrant applications, including two controlled narcotics purchases and a trash pull; and the search warrant returns. As to the post-Miranda statements and searches, the Report found that Garcia voluntarily signed and executed the waiver and consent to search forms.

         A. The Search Warrants

         Garcia objects to the finding of probable cause for the searches, arguing that he had no opportunity to challenge the search warrants at the suppression hearing. His objection disregards the fact that he exercised his right to challenge the search warrants when he filed his Motion to Suppress. While long on the law, the Motion fails to tie the law to any specific relevant facts. Where a motion to suppress fails to show that relief is warranted, the Court may exercise its discretion and decline to hold a hearing. United States v. Cooper, 203 F.3d 1279, 1285 (11th Cir. 2000). Judge Turnoff held a hearing, but at the outset of the hearing found the search warrants and supporting affidavits to be valid, [Hr'g Tr. 14:1-2; 15:23-25], and limited the scope of the hearing to other issues. [Hr'g Tr. 19:15-25; 20:1-2.] Garcia did not object, and in fact, tacitly agreed that the hearing should be focused on his alleged Miranda waiver and consent to search. [Hr'g Tr. 13-15.]

         Moreover, Garcia fails in his Motion to point out a single false statement or material omission in the warrant applications. See Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 171 (1978) (requiring the defendant to make a preliminary showing that a material omission or false statement in the warrant application altered the probable cause showing). He merely makes conclusory allegations that the affidavits contain misrepresentations without specifying the facts being misrepresented or omitted. The thrust of his argument is that the affidavit did not detail the confidential informant's reliability. However, Garcia provides no evidence to show that the controlled narcotics purchases were unreliable. Nor does he address the other evidence establishing probable cause. Thus, Garcia did not meet his threshold burden. Therefore, the warrant applications are valid and the Franks hearing was properly denied.

         B. Garcia's Arrest and Vehicle Search

          Garcia objects to the finding of probable cause for his arrest, arguing that agents lacked "first hand reliable knowledge" of illegal activity.[4] However, "first hand reliable knowledge" is not the standard for probable cause. Moreover, the record reveals that agents had ample knowledge of suspected criminal activity to establish probable cause. Garcia previously pled guilty with adjudication withheld for two separate narcotics charges. [DE 35-3 at 7.] HSI agents had been observing Garcia's Instagram account-"muhammadalean, "- since February 2016. [DE 35-3 at 6.] The account contained multiple photos of Garcia alongside bottles of promethazine with codeine, marijuana, firearms and U.S. currency. Id. at 6-7. Records provided by Instagram on October 12, 2016, revealed conversations between Garcia and others apparently negotiating the sale of narcotics. [DE 35-4 at 5.] In August and September 2016, agents conducted two audio- and video-recorded controlled purchases of narcotics from Garcia using a documented confidential informant.[5] [DE 35-3 at 6-8.] A trash pull at the target residence on October 12, 2016, retrieved empty bottles of promethazine with codeine and marijuana paraphernalia. [DE 35-4 at 6.] The record above meets the standard for probable cause.[6] Ortega v. Christian, 85 F.3d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1996) (finding probable cause to arrest when the facts within an agent's knowledge, based on reasonably trustworthy information, would cause a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed). Given that probable cause existed to arrest Garcia for drug crimes, agents also had probable cause to search his vehicle. See Thornton v. United States, 541 U.S. 615, 632 (2004) (holding that officers have probable cause to search a vehicle when a suspect is removed from his vehicle and arrested for drug crimes).

         C. Garcia's ...

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