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United States v. Dominguez-Chaidez

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

August 2, 2016



          Abbie Crites-Leoni United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). Pending before the undersigned is Defendant Oscar Dominguez-Chaidez' Motion to Suppress (Docs. 23 and 26) evidence and statements that were obtained on March 29 and 30, 2015.

         Chaidez requests that the Court suppress any and all statements made by him to law enforcement officers, as well as any physical evidence seized, including a firearm. Chaidez claims that the “statements were obtained in violation of his rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States and procedures guaranteed by Miranda v. Arizona and its progeny.” (Doc. 23 at 1; Doc. 26 at 1.) As to any physical evidence seized, Chaidez alleges it was seized “without a warrant, probable cause, consent, or other excuse and was from an area in which he had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Id. Chaidez claims “[t]here was no credible evidence to believe [ ] Chaidez' constitutional rights were not violated by searching his vehicle without consent, or that any other warrantless search exception applied.” (Doc. 32 at 1.) Chaidez failed to identify any supporting facts from the record to support his contention.

         The Government filed a detailed Brief in opposition to the Motion. (Doc. 25.) The Government asserts that the statements Chaidez made to law enforcement officers were voluntary. Alternatively, the Government argues that Officer Blagg's question to Chaidez regarding whether he had a firearm was permitted under the “public safety” exception to the Miranda rule. Finally, the Government argues that the firearm in this case was seized based on Chaidez' voluntary consent to the search of his truck, thus any evidence seized during the scope of that search, including the firearm, should be admissible at trial. As an alternative argument, the Government asserts that in the absence of consent and based on the facts and circumstances of the case, Officer Blagg could have conducted a warrantless search of the truck under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement.

         An evidentiary hearing was held on June 14, 2016. Two Caruthersville Police Department Officers testified at the hearing, Officer Chris Blagg and Officer Paul Meacham. Both officers were cross-examined extensively by defense counsel.

         Based on all the pleadings, the testimony and evidence adduced at the hearing and having had the opportunity to observe the demeanor and evaluate the credibility of the witnesses, the undersigned recommends that the following findings of fact and conclusions of law be adopted and that the Motion to Suppress be denied.

         I. Findings of Fact

         On March 29, 2016, around 1:16 p.m., Officer Blagg of the Caruthersville Police Department was on duty and dispatched to 411 Taven Apartments for a report of a domestic disturbance involving a man armed with a gun. Three adult bystanders in front of the apartment indicated they had observed a man waving a firearm while standing in the open doorway of Apartment 411 and that a woman was inside the apartment when the man was waving the firearm. When Officer Blagg spoke to the bystanders, the door to Apartment 411 was closed. He knocked on the door. As he did so, he had his gun drawn at his side. Kathy Schoolcraft answered the door and Chaidez was observed standing inside the apartment along with three children. Officer Blagg had prior experience responding to domestic calls involving Schoolcraft and other men.

         Based on the nature of the call and the statements of the bystanders, Officer Blagg was concerned for the safety of the public and his own safety. He asked Chaidez and Schoolcraft if anyone had a weapon. Schoolcraft invited Officer Blagg in the apartment and explained that she and Chaidez had a verbal altercation. Officer Blagg conducted a pat down search of Chaidez and did not find any weapons on his person. Chaidez indicated that he did not have a weapon on his person rather it was in his truck. Chaidez volunteered to get the gun for Officer Blagg; he went outside to his truck which was parked right in front of the apartment.

         Officer Blagg followed Chaidez to the truck. After Chaidez opened the truck door he started to reach inside to recover the firearm. At that point, Officer Blagg asked Chaidez to please allow him to retrieve it. Officer Blagg was still concerned for his safety and the safety of others. Chaidez backed away from the truck and told Officer Blagg that the firearm was in the console of the truck in a bag. Officer Blagg found the bag in the console; it contained a .45 caliber handgun. Officer Blagg seized the firearm due to the nature of the incident and the fact it could be evidence of a crime.

         After Officer Blagg recovered the handgun, Chaidez told Officer Blagg that he was nervous because he is not a U.S. citizen and he did not know if he was allowed to possess the firearm. Officer Blagg replied that he was not familiar with immigration laws and would have to check on it. The information related to Chaidez' citizenship was volunteered and not in response to any question asked by Officer Blagg.

         The pair returned to the apartment and Schoolcraft was sitting on the couch. Officer Blagg asked Schoolcraft if Chaidez had pulled a gun on her and Schoolcraft stated that the altercation was only verbal. She indicated the fight was over her infidelity while Chaidez was away. Officer Blagg advised the couple of Missouri's 12-hour Rule that applies in domestic situations and requires couples who are involved in domestic disputes to be apart for at least twelve hours as a “cool down” period. Chaidez volunteered to be the person to leave. Both Chaidez and Officer Blagg left the apartment.

         After leaving the apartment, Officer Blagg returned to the police department. Chaidez followed him there. The men smoked cigarettes together at the police department. Chaidez wanted to know when he would be able to pick up his gun and he made other incriminating statements. Officer Blagg reiterated that he would have to do some checking before he would be able to return the gun to Chaidez.

         The next day, Chaidez returned to the police department and approached Officer Paul Meacham about whether the gun would be returned to him. Chaidez again made incriminating statements. Officer Meacham explained that he would have to do some checking before the firearm could be returned. Officer Meacham asked Chaidez to leave his phone number so that he could call Chaidez when more information was available.

         Officer Meacham communicated with officers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He learned that it was unlawful for an illegal alien such as Chaidez to possess the firearm. During the first couple weeks of April, 2015, Officer Meacham had approximately six phone conversations with Chaidez. Chaidez initiated all of the calls except the first one, which Officer Meacham made to advise Chaidez the firearm could not be returned to him. During a number of the calls Chaidez asked whether he should hire a lawyer. Officer Meacham told Chaidez that he was not allowed to give him legal advice and that Chaidez would have to make that decision himself.

         The testimony of both officers was informative and forthright. Both were subjected to cross-examination by defense counsel. The undersigned finds that the testimony of the officers--regarding the circumstances under which Chaidez volunteered to show Officer Blagg the location of the firearm, as well as the other statements Chaidez made to both officers--was consistent and credible.

         Chaidez now moves to suppress all of his statements and the firearm that was seized from his truck.

         II. Conclusions of Law

         II. A. The Defendant's statements are ...

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