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United States v. Becerra

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 19, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Erik Becerra, Defendant.

          Bradley Endicott, Assistant United States Attorney, for Plaintiff.

          Manny Atwal for Defendant Erik Becerra.



         THIS MATTER came before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge on July 7, 2017, on Defendant Erik Becerra's pretrial suppression motions and pro se motion to dismiss the case, inter alia, on similar suppression grounds (ECF Nos. 61, 62, ). Becerra seeks to suppress evidence obtained through the alleged illegal seizure and search of his person and car, and to suppress statements that were obtained allegedly in violation of his rights preserved by Miranda v.Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). This matter was referred to the undersigned for Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rule 72.1. At the hearing, the Government entered fifteen exhibits into evidence and offered testimony from Hennepin County Sheriff's Office Violent Task Force Investigator Brian Burtus and Brooklyn Center Police Detective Terry Olson. See Exhibit and Witness List, ECF No. 69. Becerra also supplemented the record after the hearing with a recorded interview Detective Olson had with Becerra's probation officer, Bobbi Harrington. See Id. For the reasons set forth below, the Court recommends that the motions be DENIED.

         I. Procedural Background

         On June 17, 2015, Becerra was charged with illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e). Indictment, ECF No. 10. Becerra thereafter filed a motion for a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he is competent to stand trial. See Def.'s Mot. Regarding Competency, ECF No. 13. The Honorable Susan Richard Nelson granted Becerra's motion on June 30, 2015, see Order, ECF No. 15, and Becerra was transported to FCI-Englewood in Colorado for a mental health evaluation. Following the evaluation, the Court held a competency hearing on October 27, 2015, and concluded that Becerra was suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he was unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense. See Order 2-3, ECF No. 20 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)). The Court ordered that Becerra be committed to the custody of the Attorney General to determine whether there was a substantial probability that Becerra would attain the capacity to permit the proceedings to go forward. See Id. at 3-4 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)). The Court scheduled a follow-up hearing for February 24, 2016. Id. at 4. Becerra was thereafter transported to MCFP-Springfield for further evaluation.

         On July 21, 2016, the Court ordered that Becerra be involuntarily medicated in order to render him competent to stand trial, concluding that (1) important governmental interests are at stake, namely bringing to trial an individual accused of committing a serious crime; (2) involuntary medication will further those interests; (3) involuntary medication is necessary to further those interests, and there are no alternative or less intrusive treatments that could substantially achieve the same results; and (4) administration of the drugs is medically appropriate. See Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166, 180-81 (2003).

         At the November 16, 2016 competency/status conference, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)(2)(A), neither party objected to Becerra's treatment provider's request for an additional 120 days for continued treatment and evaluation to restore Becerra to competency. Order, ECF No. 41. Another competency/status conference was set for March 22, 2017, which was rescheduled to March 29, 2017, based on defense counsel's request. Id.; Notice, ECF No. 43.

         On March 24, 2017, Dr. Preston Baecht prepared a forensic report in which she opined that Becerra is now competent to proceed forward with this case, so long as he maintains his current medication protocol. Gov't Ex. 2, ECF No. 47. Dr. Preston Baecht observed that Becerra demonstrates a good factual and rational understanding of the nature and pending consequences of the case against him, a good understanding of courtroom procedures and participant roles, and is capable of properly assisting in his defense. Id. Defense counsel met with Becerra on March 22, 2017, and reported to Dr. Preston Baecht that he is now capable of adequately understanding and discussing his plea options. Id. At the March 29, 2017 hearing, counsel represented that Becerra is able to assist in his defense and understands the consequences of pleading guilty, not guilty, or going to trial. Thereafter, the Court concluded that Becerra is mentally competent to stand trial so long as he maintains his current medication protocol. Order, ECF No 46.

         On May 9, 2017, Becerra appeared before Judge Nelson for a scheduled change of plea hearing, but decided not to enter a guilty plea. See Minutes, ECF No. 53. A pretrial motions hearing was scheduled for July 7, 2017, where the Court heard evidence related to Becerra's motions to suppress statements, admissions, and answers, and to suppress evidence obtained as a result of search and seizure. Mots. to Suppress, ECF Nos. 61, 62. Following the hearing, Becerra also filed a pro se motion seeking to dismiss the case on various grounds and to join in his counsel's arguments filed in the supplemental memorandum on his behalf. Pro Se Mot., ECF No. 77; see also Ltr., ECF No. 81.

         II. Factual Background

         After finding a gun and bullets inside a bag under the front seat of a vehicle he was driving, Becerra sought to relinquish these items as soon as possible to his probation officer, Bobbi Harrington. Gov't Ex. 8, ECF No. 69. On May 5, 2015, Becerra left the gun in the vehicle parked in the parking lot outside of the Brooklyn Center Probation Department (“BCPD”), put the bullets into his pocket, and went inside to explain the situation to Harrington. See Id. After hearing what Becerra had to say, Harrington decided to call the police and stated that she needed an officer to arrest Becerra for a 72-hour hold because she believed he was under the influence of methamphetamine which constituted a violation of his supervised release. Gov't Ex. 1, ECF No. 69.

         Investigator Burtus was dispatched to the BCPD to arrest Becerra, and was informed by the dispatch operator prior to his arrival that Becerra is a known gang member, had a history of weapons, and was not violent. Gov't Ex. 3, ECF No. 69. Upon arrival, Burtus saw Becerra sitting in the BCPD lobby waiting area and was met at the entrance by probation officer, Deanne Schultz, who told him that Becerra might have a weapon. Burtus also saw that there was a bulge in Becerra's coat pocket. Burtus immediately put Becerra in handcuffs and did not issue warnings pursuant to Miranda. Becerra then told Burtus that he had a gun in the car he was driving and ammunition in his pocket. Burtus searched Becerra and found the ammunition and the key to the car. Becerra was then secured in the back of a squad car while his car was searched and the gun was recovered.

         Burtus then obtained a signed Apprehension and Detention Order, gave Becerra his Miranda warnings, and interrogated Becerra in the squad car. See Gov't Exs. 4, 8, ECF No. 69. The following day, Detective Olson obtained a DNA sample and interrogated Becerra again. Gov't Ex. 9, ECF No. 69.

         III. Legal Analysis

         A. The Officers Had Probable Cause to Arrest ...

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