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United States v. Munoz-Escalante

United States District Court, D. South Dakota

June 9, 2014



KAREN E. SCHREIER, District Judge.


Defendant, Raul Munoz-Escalante, is charged with Conspiracy to Harbor, Encourage, and Induce Aliens to Reside in the United States in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(v)(I) and Harboring, Encouraging, and Inducing Aliens to Reside in the United States in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(v)(II). The government seized two of Munoz-Escalante's assets, namely a 1999 Oldenberg Lack Shore Timberline crawler delimber model SDL2a serial number 153 (delimber) and a CAT 525B Skidder, serial number CAT0525BH3KZ00731 (skidder), and initiated forfeiture proceedings against the same. Munoz-Escalante moves to suppress statements he made during an interview with a United States Forest Service (USFS) agent and the seizures of his equipment. The motion was referred to United States Magistrate Judge John Simko for a report and recommendation.

A hearing on Munoz-Escalante's motion to suppress was held before Magistrate Judge Simko on March 17, 2014. USFS Agent Samuel Sidders and USFS Special Agent Travis Lunders testified at the hearing. Although no exhibits were received into evidence during the hearing, two exhibits were attached to Munoz-Escalante's brief and three exhibits were attached to the government's supplemental brief. Based upon the testimony and exhibits attached to the briefs, Magistrate Judge Simko issued a report and recommendation recommending that Munoz-Escalante's motion to suppress be denied because the interview with the USFS agent was voluntary and noncustodial and the equipment was subject to warrantless seizure. Munoz-Escalante objects to the report and recommendation, arguing that the interview was custodial and involuntary and that the warrantless seizure was unlawful. For the following reasons, the court adopts the report and recommendation of Magistrate Judge Simko and denies Munoz-Escalante's motion to suppress.


Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), the court should make a de novo review "of those portions of the [magistrate judge's] report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." Accord United States v. Benitez, 244 F.App'x 64, 66 (8th Cir. 2007) ("If a party objects to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation with respect to a dispositive matter, the district court judge must conduct a de novo review of the disputed portion of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation."). Similarly, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 59 classifies a motion to suppress evidence as a dispositive motion that requires de novo review. Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b)(1), (3). De novo review in the context of reviewing a magistrate judge's report and recommendation does not require a new evidentiary hearing and only means a district court "give[s] fresh consideration to those issues to which specific objection has been made by a party." United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 674-75 (1980) (internal quotations and citations omitted). The court has conducted a de novo review.


The pertinent facts are as follows:

In the fall of 2012, Munoz-Escalante was a subject of an investigation conducted, in part, by the USFS. Munoz-Escalante was involved in a logging operation that contracted with the USFS to provide logging services in the Black Hills National Forest.

On September 27, 2012, USFS Agents Sidders and Craig Perry, along with other agents from state and federal agencies, conducted surveillance on a logging worksite in the Black Hills National Forest. During this surveillance, agents observed Munoz-Escalante and Juan Estrada arrive at the worksite and start and operate the delimber and skidder. Following a period of surveillance, Agents Sidders and Perry[1] approached the worksite to conduct a contract compliance check.[2] When the agents arrived on the worksite, both Munoz-Escalante and Estrada were riding in the delimber. Upon seeing the agents, Munoz-Escalante and Estrada stepped out of the delimber, and the agents indicated that they were performing a worksite safety check in accordance with the USFS contract.

The agents used a standard, premade form to interview Munoz-Escalante and Estrada.[3] Agent Sidders asked Estrada who he worked for, the benefits he received, and various other questions to ensure compliance with the USFS contract. Estrada stated that he worked for Munoz Logging, [4] specifically indicating Munoz-Escalante was the person who paid him. Because the agents asked questions from a premade form, Munoz-Escalante was asked similar questions. The interview with Munoz-Escalante lasted roughly 15 minutes and was conversational in tone and amiable. At no point did any of the agents unholster their weapons or raise their voices, and there was no indication Munoz-Escalante was having difficulty understanding the contents of the conversation even though English is his second language.

At some point after Agent Perry finished interviewing Munoz-Escalante, Agent Sidders and other agents[5] determined Estrada was in the United States illegally. Estrada was then placed under arrest. Munoz-Escalante, on the other hand, was never physically restrained or placed under arrest, and he was allowed to remain at the worksite after the agents left. The agents did not seize any equipment at that time, although Agent Perry did record the serial numbers of the delimber and skidder. On September 28, 2012, USFS Special Agent Lunders placed a Notice to Seize on the delimber and skidder. The equipment was removed from the forest and shipped to a storage facility in Nebraska.


I. Suppression of ...

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