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United States v. Romero

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 19, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Jose Alfredo Penaloza Romero, Defendant.


          Paul A. Magnuson United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of Magistrate Judge Steven E. Rau dated October 28, 2019.[1] (Docket No. 122.) In the R&R, Magistrate Judge Rau recommended granting Defendant's Motion to Suppress. The Government filed timely objections to the R&R (Docket No. 129) and Defendant responded to those objections. (Docket No. 139.) The matter is now ripe for this Court's review, which is de novo. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); D. Minn. L.R. 72.2(b). For the following reasons, the Court declines to adopt the R&R.


         The factual background in this matter is set forth in the thorough R&R and will not be repeated here. Facts necessary to an understanding of the legal discussion will be incorporated into that discussion below.

         Defendant Jose Alfredo Penaloza Romero challenges his arrest and the subsequent search of his apartment. The R&R found that the arrest was not supported by probable cause and that, as a result of that error and other alleged misstatements in the search warrant application, the warrant was also not supported by probable cause. The R&R therefore recommended that Romero's Motion to Suppress the evidence obtained during the search of his apartment be granted.


         A. Arrest

         To comport with the Fourth Amendment, a warrantless arrest such as that here may be accomplished only “if the officer has probable cause to believe the person has committed a crime.” Peterson v. Kopp, 754 F.3d 594, 598 (8th Cir. 2014). That belief must be “particularized with respect to the person to be [arrested].” Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 371 (2003) (citation omitted). “In assessing the question of probable cause in this case, we consider whether the facts and circumstances are sufficient ‘to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that' [the defendant] was involved in the commission of a crime.” United States v. Chauncey, 420 F.3d 864, 870 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175-76 (1949)).

         The facts of Chauncey are instructive. In Chauncey, a trooper noticed that the van the defendant was driving had expired tags. Id. at 869. He followed the van into a parking lot and started a conversation with the defendant, who had exited the vehicle. Id. The trooper then approached the car and noticed the female passenger, whom the defendant had identified as the van's owner, behaving suspiciously. Id. He smelled marijuana and seized the passenger's purse, ultimately arresting her for possession of marijuana. Id. He then arrested the defendant. Id.

         The defendant argued that probable cause was lacking for the arrest, contending that his mere proximity to his passenger's crime was insufficient to implicate him. Id. at 871. The Eighth Circuit found that there was sufficient evidence of a “common enterprise” between the defendant and his passenger to establish the requisite probable cause. Id.

         Here, an unidentified individual directed a confidential source to bring a large amount of methamphetamine to the La Quinta hotel in Bloomington, Minnesota. The unidentified individual told the source that someone would meet him at the La Quinta. On April 5, 2019, Romero and his co-Defendant Enrique Becerra arrived at the La Quinta in Romero's vehicle, with Romero driving. Becerra retrieved a backpack from the back of Romero's vehicle, entered the hotel, and exchanged the backpack for what he thought was the methamphetamine. Officers arrested Becerra in the hotel and Romero in his car. The R&R found that law enforcement did not have a particularized reasonable belief to arrest Romero and thus that his arrest violated the Fourth Amendment. (R&R at 8.)

         But as in Chauncey, there was sufficient evidence of a common enterprise between Becerra and Romero here to support Romero's arrest. Romero had been the target of a law enforcement investigation into a large-scale methamphetamine distribution ring, and when he arrived at the La Quinta, law enforcement knew who he was. (Tr. (Docket No. 102) at 17.) The fact that a suspected drug dealer drove another individual to a hotel, where the other individual then attempted to retrieve a large amount of drugs, is sufficient to establish a reasonable officer's belief in a “common enterprise” between the vehicle's occupants. Romero's arrest was constitutional.

         B. Search

         The R&R invalidated the search of Romero's apartment for two reasons. First, the R&R found that, because Romero's arrest was constitutionally infirm, the search of his apartment performed using the keys seized was also unconstitutional. Second, the R&R determined that the warrant affidavit contained a false statement, or at the least a statement made with reckless disregard for the truth. (R&R at 11 (citing Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 171 (1978)).) Having determined ...

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