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United States v. Vargas-Villalobos

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division

November 10, 2014


For Ricardo Vargas-Villalobos, Defendant: Nancy R Price, LEAD ATTORNEY, The Law Office of Nancy Graven Price, P.C., Springfield, MO.

For USA, Plaintiff: Patrick Carney, LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Attorney's Office-Spgfd, Springfield, MO.


DAVID P. RUSH, United States Magistrate Judge.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), the above-styled criminal action was referred to the undersigned for preliminary review. Defendant Ricardo Vargas-Villalobos filed a Motion to Suppress Statements in the matter (Doc. 26). Vargas-Villalobos argues that any and all statements he made to law enforcement on December 19, 2012, should be suppressed because the defendant did not receive Miranda warnings prior to making the statements. A hearing was held on the motion on August 25, 2014. Defendant Vargas-Villalobos was present with counsel, Nancy R. Price. The United States was represented by Patrick Carney. For the reasons set forth below, IT IS HEREBY RECOMMENDED that the Motion to Suppress Statements be DENIED.

Findings of Fact

Detective Brian Martin, a Southwest Missouri Cybercrimes Task Force Officer testified that on December 19, 2012, he participated in the execution of a search warrant at the residence of Defendant Ricardo Vargas-Villalobos (Vargas). Deputy Martin testified that Vargas returned to the residence after agents had already begun searching the house. Martin told Vargas that officers were executing a search warrant searching for child pornography. Martin told Vargas he would like to speak with him. Vargas responded that he " really needed" to talk to the officers, but he did not want to do so in the house in front of his father. Martin testified that they could not conduct the interview in Vargas's bedroom because it was being searched. Vargas asked Martin if they could talk outside; Martin agreed. Due to the cold temperature, Martin, Vargas, and another agent, Charles Root, moved into Martin's patrol car, an unmarked Ford 500.

Martin testified that Vargas agreed to speak with agents in the car. Vargas was not handcuffed; neither agent drew a weapon. Martin told Vargas that he was free not to speak with agents, but Martin never told Vargas that he was not free to leave. Vargas was never advised that he would be placed under arrest, and he was never placed under arrest. Vargas never asked for questioning to stop; he never requested an attorney. At the end of the interview, Vargas left the vehicle. Martin testified on cross-examination that at the beginning of the encounter with Vargas, inside the house, Vargas asked if he would be arrested. Martin responded, " Probably not, not right now."

Defendant Vargas's brother, Luis Vargas, also testified at the hearing. Luis Vargas testified that he was sleeping at the time officers arrived at the home he shared with his brother Ricardo, and his father Ramon Vargas. He testified that he awoke to voices in the house. He came out of his bedroom and saw his father Ramon Vargas sitting on a couch in the living room. Officers were already searching the house. Unidentified officers informed Luis Vargas that they were searching for child pornography. Officers ordered Luis to sit down on the couch. Luis testified that he did not feel free to get up and leave the couch and he did not feel free to leave the residence.

Ricardo Vargas (the defendant) arrived at the house approximately an hour after the officers. Luis Vargas saw the officers ask Ricardo Vargas whether he had anything to tell him. He watched officers " pull" Ricardo back to his room, then walk out of the front door with him to a vehicle. Luis Vargas testified that he never heard an officer tell Ricardo that he didn't have to answer questions, and never heard an officer tell Ricardo that he could leave. Luis testified that Ricardo and the officers later returned to the residence.

Ramon Vargas, Defendant Ricardo Vargas's father, testified at the hearing through an interpreter. He testified that the officers knocked on the door and entered the residence. Officers told him to sit on the couch and not to move. Ramon testified that Luis Vargas came into the living room two or three minutes after officers arrived. Officers also told Luis to sit down and not to move. Ramon testified that he sat for approximately forty-five minutes, after which he asked the officers for permission to leave to go to work. The officers allowed him to leave.

Defendant Ricardo Vargas also testified at the hearing. He stated that upon arriving at his residence he saw law enforcement cars in the driveway. He reasoned that the cars belonged to friends of his brother. When he entered the house, he jokingly asked whether he was in trouble. The officers introduced themselves and told Vargas that they were looking for child pornography. Vargas attempted to walk back to his room, but officers prevented him from doing that and told him to sit at the kitchen table. Vargas asked whether they could talk at the back of the house for privacy. The officers told him no. Vargas testified that he was not told he was free to leave the residence, not told that he did not have to speak with officers, and did not feel he was free to leave the residence. On cross-examination, Vargas testified that no officer drew a weapon or placed him in handcuffs, and he did not recall that any officer laid hands on him. He testified that while he did say that he agreed to speak with officers, he did not feel he could refuse. He further testified that when officers told him they could not speak at the back of the house and asked him whether he would speak with them in the vehicle, he did not feel like he was being given an option whether or not to speak, but only where. He testified that he " reluctantly" agreed to speak in their vehicle. Vargas testified that he asked officers if he would be arrested. They responded probably not, which Vargas interpreted as probably yes. Vargas testified that he did not ask to leave the residence, but he also did not feel as if he could ask to leave the residence. He did not ask for an attorney, and he did not ask that the questioning be stopped. He testified that the interview lasted 30 or 40 minutes. Vargas testified that when the interview was over he was not arrested, nor was he taken to the police station.

In closing, the government argued that Vargas was not in custody for purposes of Miranda while he was interviewed in the car by agents Martin and Root. The government conceded that Vargas was interrogated, but maintained that under the objective standard set forth in Miranda and its progeny, Vargas was not " in custody" during the interview.

Vargas, through counsel, argued that officers should have read Vargas his Miranda warnings prior to interviewing him because the circumstances experienced by Vargas reflected that he was in custody. At no time before or during the interview did officers make an express statement to Vargas that he ...

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