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United States v. Valquier

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

October 2, 2017



          Michael D. Nelson United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Suppress Evidence (Filing No. 60) filed by Defendant, Alfredo Valquier. While Defendant did not file a brief in support of the motion as required by the Criminal Rules of the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska, see NECrimR 12.3(b)(1), Defendant's argument was contained in his motion and will be accepted by the Court in this instance in satisfaction of the Rule's requirement. The government filed a brief in opposition to the motion (Filing No. 64).

         The Court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion on September 21, 2017. Defendant was present with his attorney, Travis J. Penn. The government was represented by Assistant United States Attorney, Thomas J. Kangior. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) Special Agent Andrew Vincik (“Special Agent Vincik”) testified on behalf of the government. No exhibits were offered by either party. A transcript (TR.) of the hearing was prepared and filed on September 25, 2017. (Filing No. 69). The matter is now fully submitted to the Court. For the following reasons, the undersigned magistrate judge recommends that the motion be denied.


         One June 7, 2017, Special Agent Vincik received a call from the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office. (TR. 6). Special Agent Vincik has been employed with DHS for more than fifteen (15) years and is assigned to the Narcotics Unit. He has conducted hundreds, if not thousands, of interviews. (TR. 5-6). The call related a stop of a vehicle that was traveling eastbound on Interstate 80 in Lancaster County, Nebraska. Subsequent to the stop, a search of the motor vehicle resulted in the discovery of thirty-five (35) pounds of methamphetamine destined for Omaha. (TR. 6).

         An occupant of the vehicle was willing to cooperate and a controlled delivery was planned. The cooperating individual made phone calls and was able to lure two individuals, later identified as Alejandro Buendia-Ramirez (“Alejandro”) and Carlos Valquier (“Carlos”) (co-defendants in this case) to a hotel. When Alejandro and Carlos arrived at the hotel, they were carrying currency and took receipt of the controlled substances. Alejandro and Carlos were both taken into custody. (TR. 6-7). During a post-Miranda interview, Carlos said he was going to be paid $500.00 to give a ride to Alejandro to a rented house, which officers believed was a stash house. Carlos also indicated that his “brother” was involved, but did not provide his name. (TR. 9-10). Carlos suspected that the money and/or the ride was for something dangerous, hinting that is was probably drug related. The house, located at 3102 S. 15th Street, Omaha, Nebraska, was rented by Carlos and was being used by Alejandro. (TR. 7-8). Carlos agreed to a consent search of the rental house. Officers suspected that they would find narcotics and/or currency. (TR. 9). Officers created multiple teams with regard to the consent search of the house and to conduct interviews at the Douglas County Jail. (TR. 10-11).

         Special Agent Vincik went to the house with a deputy from the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office. When he arrived, between ten to twelve law enforcement officers were there and had set up a perimeter around the house. One group of agents worked with Carlos to get the signed consent form to document the search. Special Agent Vincik was informed that an individual, later identified as the Defendant, had arrived in a black SUV. Officers had detained Defendant and he was seated on a curb in handcuffs. Officers did not know Defendant's identity at that time, and although he consented to a search of his vehicle to look for identification, officers found none. (TR. 11-12).

         Special Agent Vincik, the case agent in this matter, walked up to Defendant and asked, “[W]ho are you and why are you here?” (TR. 12). Defendant replied that his name was Alfredo Valquier and stated that he was there because he had heard that the house was for rent and he was looking at it as a potential rental property. (TR. 12). At this point, Special Agent Vincik recognized Defendant's last name and suspected that Defendant was Carlos Valquier's brother and was being untruthful. Namely, Special Agent Vincik knew that Carlos had already rented the house and therefore it would have been unlikely that Defendant was there to look at renting the same property. At that point, Defendant was put in the back seat of Special Agent Vincik's police vehicle. (TR. 13).

         Special Agent Vincik then told Defendant that his brother had already rented the residence, that his brother was cooperating, that his brother had signed a consent form for a search of the residence, and that law enforcement was going to search the residence. Special Agent Vincik stated his interest in who Defendant was and what he was doing, and expressed his belief that Defendant was at the house to collect possible drugs or money. Special Agent Vincik testified that he provided the information to Defendant to explain to him why he was being detained. (TR. 16). At that time, Defendant “kind of hung his head.” (TR. 14). Special Agent Vincik proceeded to read Defendant his Miranda warnings. Defendant requested an attorney and any questioning was ceased. (TR. 14-15).

         On June 8, 2017, a Complaint was filed alleging that Defendant had engaged in a conspiracy and/or possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. (Filing No. 1). On June 21, 2017, Defendant was charged in a one count Indictment with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture of substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, its salts, isomers or salts of its isomers, a Schedule II controlled substance in violation of Title 21, United States Code, §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846.

         Defendant has filed the instant motion to suppress any statements and gestures he made while in custody prior to receiving Miranda warnings, in violation of his Fifth Amendment right to be free from self-incrimination.


         The government concedes that Defendant was in custody from the time he was placed in handcuffs by a deputy from the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office and therefore was in custody at the time of the initial contact with Special Agent Vincik. (Filing No. 64 at p. 2). Thus, the question before the Court is whether Defendant was interrogated in violation of his Miranda rights under the Fifth Amendment. In other words, did Special Agent Vincik ask questions that tended to incriminate or, through his actions, create the functional equivalent of an interrogation? See Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 300-01 (1980) (footnote omitted).

         “Interrogation occurs only when there is express police questioning or its ‘functional equivalent, ' which means ‘words or actions on the part of the police . . . that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect.'” United States v. Bailey,831 F.3d 1035, 1038 (8th Cir. 2016) (quoting Innis, 446 U.S. at 300-01). “[N]ot all government inquiries to a suspect in custody constitute interrogation and therefore need be preceded by Miranda warnings.” United States v. McLaughlin,777 F.2d 388, 391 (8th Cir. 1985). Officers do not have to give Miranda warnings when asking a defendant for identification or routine booking questions such as, “What is your name?” and “Do you have a driver's license?” because the responses to such questions are not self-incriminating. See Pennsylvania v. Muniz,496 U.S. 582, 601 (1990)(concluding that questions about a suspect's identification such as his name, where he lives, and how long he lived there, do not require Miranda warnings to be given); see also McLaughlin, 777 F.2d at 391 (“[A] request for routine information necessary for basic identification purposes is not interrogation under Miranda, even if the information turns out to be ...

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