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United States v. Becerra

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 13, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Erik Becerra, a/k/a Christopher Turner, Defendant.

          Bradley M. Endicott, United States Attorney for the Government.

          Manvir K. Atwal, for Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of Magistrate Judge Franklin L. Noel dated September 19, 2017 [Doc. No. 84]. In the R&R, Magistrate Judge Noel recommends that this Court: (1) deny Defendant's Motion to Suppress Statements, Admissions and Answers [Doc. No. 61]; (2) deny Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence Obtained as a Result of Search and Seizure [Doc. No. 62]; and (3) terminate Defendant's pro se Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 77]. Defendant filed Objections to the R&R [Doc. No. 90], and the Government filed a Response to Defendant's Objections [Doc. No. 93]. The Court has reviewed de novo those portions of the R&R to which Defendant objects, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b)(3). Based on that review, the Court adopts the magistrate judge's R&R in its entirety, denies both motions to suppress, and terminates the pro se Motion to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 17, 2015, Defendant was charged by indictment with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and one count of being a felon in possession of ammunition, both in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and § 924(e). (Indictment, Counts 1-2 [Doc. No. 10].) The underlying details of the charges-as well as the procedural history of this case- are set forth more fully in the R&R, which this Court incorporates herein by reference. (See R&R at 1-4.)

         On May 5 2015, Defendant drove to the Brooklyn Center Probation Department (“BCPD”) seeking to relinquish to his probation officer a gun and bullets he had found under the front seat of the vehicle he was driving. (Id. at 4.) Defendant parked, left the gun in the vehicle, put the bullets in his pocket, and went inside the BCPD. (Id.) After listening to Defendant, Bobbi Harrington, his probation officer, called 911. (Id.) She sought to have Defendant arrested, stating that she believed he was under the influence of methamphetamine, which constituted a violation of his supervised release. (Id.)

         The dispatcher sent Brooklyn Center Police Officer Brian Burtus to the scene. (Id.; July 7, 2017 Mots. Hr'g Tr. (“Mots. Hr'g”) at 5 [Doc. No. 76].) Based on information from Harrington, Burtus learned from the dispatcher that Defendant was a gang member, has a history of weapons, was not violent, and that “they wanted [Burtus] to take him into custody . . . for a parole violation for methamphetamine use.” (Mots. Hr'g at 8, 40-41; R&R at 4.) Burtus was told that Harrington requested an Apprehension and Detention Order (“A&D”).[1](Mots. Hr'g at 7, 14.) Burtus arrived at the BCPD and waited for his partner. (Id. at 13.) The two then approached the building and were met outside by another probation officer, Deanne Schultz, whom Burtus observed was “extremely nervous and excited.” (Id. at 13- 14.) Schultz again mentioned Defendant's gang history and told the officers that “[Defendant] more than likely has a gun on him right now.” (Id. at 14.)

         When the officers finally entered the building, Burtus saw Defendant sitting on a chair in the lobby talking to Harrington. (Id. at 15.) Burtus observed a bulge in Defendant's coat pocket, and became “concerned that it could be a firearm.” (Id.) Burtus then approached Defendant and told him that he was under arrest. (Id. at 16.) When Burtus arrested Defendant, Burtus had not yet received a copy of the A&D. (Id. at 38-39.)

         As Burtus was handcuffing Defendant, Defendant began talking about the car he had driven and parked outside. (Id. at 17.) Defendant told Burtus, “I have something in my car.” (Id.) Without issuing Miranda warnings, Burtus then asked, “what's in your car, ” to which Defendant responded “a gun.”[2] (Id. at 17, 47-48.) Burtus then asked Defendant if he had any weapons or anything illegal in his person. (Id. at 17, 48.) Defendant responded that he had bullets in his pocket. (Id. at 18.) Burtus proceeded to search Defendant, and retrieved from his person a plastic bag containing bullets as well as the key to the car Defendant had parked outside. (Id. at 18-19.) Defendant was taken to the back seat of the squad car, (id. at 19, 49), and the car that Defendant was driving was then searched without a warrant. (Id. at 22, 49.) A handgun was found underneath the front driver's seat of the car. (Id. at 22.) At some point later that day, the car was towed pursuant to the Brooklyn Center Police Department towing policy. (Id. at 27-28.)

         Burtus testified about Defendant's demeanor during the arrest. He indicated that although Defendant was “talkative and rambling[, ] . . . there was nothing that appeared to be out of the ordinary with him.” (Id. at 20.) In fact, Burtus testified that Defendant was very cooperative, not agitated, did not appear to be under the influence, and that up to the time of his arrest, Burtus did not perceive Defendant to be mentally unstable or paranoid. (Id. at 20- 21, 55.)

         After searching the car and retrieving the gun, Burtus left the BCPD with Defendant in the back seat of the squad car. (Id. at 30.) Burtus drove about a block and parked. (Id.) He then read Defendant the Miranda warnings from a card. (Id.) Defendant told Burtus that he understood his rights and would talk to him. (Id. at 31-32, 52.) Defendant then relayed the details of how he got the vehicle the night before his arrest and how he had found the gun and bullets in the car. (Id. at 32.) Although Burtus noted that Defendant's story “[wa]s a little odd, ” at no point in the conversation did Burtus develop concerns that Defendant might have a mental impairment or might be under the influence of controlled substances. (Id. at 33.) In fact, Burtus indicated that Defendant was “cooperative” throughout the interrogation. (Id.)

         The day after Defendant's arrest, Police Detective Terry Olson commenced his investigation of the case. (Id. at 58.) Olson obtained and executed a search warrant for a DNA sample from Defendant. (Id.) After he collected the DNA sample, Olson read Defendant another set of Miranda warnings. (Id. at 60.) Defendant indicated that he understood his rights and was willing to speak with Olson. (Id. at 58.) Olson testified that during the interrogation, Defendant “was very polite” and, although he “rambled at times, ” was cooperative. (Id. at 60.) According to Olson, Defendant neither appeared to be under the influence of controlled substances nor appeared to have a mental impairment. (Id. at 61.) However, by the end of his interaction with Defendant, Olson had developed a concern that paranoia was a “potential issue” for Defendant. (Id. at 69.)

         Following these events and the indictment, Defendant filed a motion for a psychiatric evaluation to determine if he was competent to stand trial, which this Court granted. (R&R at 2; June 30, 2015 Order [Doc. No. 15].) After the evaluation, on October 27, 2015, the magistrate judge held a competency hearing, and concluded that Defendant was not mentally competent to stand trial. (R&R at 2; Oct. 27, 2015 Order [Doc. No. 20].) Shortly thereafter, the magistrate judge ordered that Defendant be involuntarily medicated, pursuant to Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), to determine if he could be rendered competent to stand trial. (R&R at 2.) Defendant then underwent several months of treatment and evaluation, and at a hearing held on March 29, 2017, the magistrate judge concluded that his mental condition had so improved as to render him competent to stand trial, so long as he maintains his current medication protocol. (R&R at 3; March 29, 2017 Order [Doc. No. 46].)

         Thereafter, Defendant filed the underlying motions to suppress and a pro se Motion to Dismiss.[3] Defendant first seeks to suppress evidence obtained as a result of search and seizure. (See Doc. No. 62.) He argues that his warrantless arrest violated his Fourth Amendment rights because it was not supported by probable cause. (Def.'s Mem. Support Mots. Suppress (“Def.'s Mem.”) at 8-12 [Doc. No. 78].) Accordingly, he argues that the evidence the police found-the bullets ...


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