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United States v. Tapia-Rodriguez

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

April 11, 2018



          Robert F. Rossiter, Jr. United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on defendant Idelfonso Tapia-Rodriguez's (“Tapia-Rodriguez”) Motion to Suppress Evidence (Filing No. 39) and Motion to Sever (Filing No. 41). The magistrate judge[1] issued a Findings and Recommendation (Filing No. 81) recommending the Court deny both motions. The magistrate judge concluded (1) Tapia-Rodriguez “was not subject to custodial interrogation, ” and (2) redacting codefendant Jose Rodolfo-Chaidez's (“Rodolfo-Chaidez”) post-arrest statement to remove any reference to his roommate's drug distribution would sufficiently address the confrontation-clause issue raised in Tapia-Rodriguez's severance motion. See Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968); Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200 (1987). Tapia-Rodriguez objects (Filing No. 83) to the recommendation that his suppression motion be denied and to the scope of the recommended redaction. Tapia-Rodriguez's objections are sustained in part and overruled in part as discussed below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 26, 2017, a cooperating witness arranged for a delivery of methamphetamine from her supplier in Mexico. When Rodolfo-Chaidez arrived with the drugs, Omaha Police Department Sergeant Brian Heath (“Sergeant Heath”), a twenty-three-year veteran of the force, arrested him for possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver and took him to the police station for questioning. After waiving his rights and agreeing to answer questions, see Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 479 (1966), Rodolfo-Chaidez told Sergeant Heath and another officer his home address, that he had more drugs and money there, and that his roommate (later identified as Tapia-Rodriguez) was somehow involved in the drug trade. Rodolfo-Chaidez also told the officers that his bedroom was in the southwest corner of the two-bedroom house.

         Sergeant Heath obtained Rodolfo-Chaidez's written consent to search his residence, including his bedroom. Then, Sergeant Heath and nine or ten other officers went to Rodolfo-Chaidez's house to perform a search. With a key from Rodolfo-Chaidez, who was there in handcuffs, Sergeant Heath opened the door. He and the other officers quickly entered the house with weapons drawn, loudly announcing their presence. Upon entering the house, the officers encountered Tapia-Rodriguez on the couch in the living room watching television. They immediately put him in handcuffs and performed a protective sweep of the house. Although officers observed some methamphetamine in the kitchen, they did not see any visible contraband in either bedroom during the sweep.

         As some of the officers began to search the house, Sergeant Heath and another officer spoke with Tapia-Rodriguez without giving any Miranda warnings. They told him why they were there and asked his name, whether he lived in the house, and which bedroom was his. Sergeant Heath testified Rodolfo-Chaidez's statements about his roommate alerted Sergeant Heath that officers would not be able to search one of the rooms without speaking to the occupant of that room. According to Sergeant Heath, he asked Tapia-Rodriguez which bedroom was his so the officers could obtain permission to search it. On cross-examination, Sergeant Heath, an experienced narcotics officer, acknowledged the evidentiary importance of associating a suspect in a drug case with a particular residence or bedroom where contraband is found.

         When asked, Tapia-Rodriguez indicated the northwest bedroom was his and gave officers written permission to search it, signing the same consent form Rodolfo-Chaidez signed. An officer soon discovered several pounds of suspected methamphetamine in a shoebox in Tapia-Rodriguez's closet. The officers then brought Tapia-Rodriguez-still handcuffed-to the bedroom to interview him as he sat on the bed. Sergeant Heath again asked Tapia-Rodriguez his name, where he was from, and how long he had been living at the house. After Tapia-Rodriguez answered, Sergeant Heath gave him Miranda warnings. Tapia-Rodriguez declined to speak with the officers further and the questions stopped. Tapia-Rodriguez was arrested and charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1).

         On November 14, 2017, Tapia-Rodriguez moved to dismiss “all evidence derived from” his custodial statements to the police.[2] As relevant here, Tapia-Rodriguez also “move[d] that his trial . . . be severed from that of Defendant Rodolfo-Chaidez on Bruton grounds.” The magistrate concluded neither motion had merit, deciding Tapia-Rodriguez “was not subject to custodial interrogation” and finding any Bruton issue could be remedied by “[r]edacting Rodolfo-Chaidez's post-arrest statement to eliminate any mention of his roommate's involvement in drug distribution.” Tapia-Rodriguez objects to those conclusions.


         A. Standards of Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court may designate a magistrate judge to conduct an evidentiary hearing and submit “proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition” of a motion to suppress. The Court then must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” Id. “The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommendation, receive further evidence, or resubmit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b)(3).

         Section 636(b)(1)(A) authorizes the district court to “designate a magistrate judge to hear and determine” a pretrial motion to sever. The Court may reconsider such a matter “where it has been shown that the magistrate judge's order is clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” Id.; see also Ferguson v. United States, 484 F.3d 1068, 1076 (8th Cir. 2007).

         B. Suppression

         1. Physical Evidence

         In his Motion to Suppress, Tapia-Rodriguez broadly moves to suppress “all evidence derived from” and “obtained as a result of custodial interrogations by Omaha police officers on or about September 26, 2017.” In his brief and objections, Tapia-Rodriguez more narrowly requests that the Court suppress his statements ...

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