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United States v. Morales

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division

October 19, 2017




         Defendants Justin Thomas Morales, Chase Logan Guzman, and Daniel Hunter Guzman are charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. Docket 49. Defendant Chase Guzman is also charged with carrying a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). Id. All three defendants have filed motions to suppress evidence obtained and statements made. Dockets 73, 76, 84, 91. The court referred defendants' motions to Magistrate Judge Veronica Duffy under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). After holding an evidentiary hearing, Magistrate Judge Duffy recommended the following:

         1. Defendant Justin Morales's motion to suppress (Docket 76, 91) should be denied in part and granted in part:

a. The motion to suppress physical evidence obtained from the traffic stop and the search of the Young Running Crane trailer should be denied.
b. The motion to suppress his statements made to law enforcement should be granted as to the statements made from 15:10:50 until 15:33:30 on Exhibit B.
c. The motion to suppress his statements made to law enforcement should be denied as to the statements made from 15:33:36 until the end of Exhibit B.

         2. Defendant Chase Guzman's motion to suppress (Docket 73) should be denied.

         3. Defendant Daniel Hunter Guzman's motion to suppress (Docket 84) should be denied.

         All three defendants object to various findings in the Report and Recommendation. Dockets 116, 117, 118. After a de novo review of the Report and Recommendation and a review of the record, the court adopts the Report and Recommendation as modified below and denies the defendants' motions.


         This court's review of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Rule 72 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court reviews de novo any objections to the magistrate judge's recommendations with respect to dispositive matters that are timely made and specific. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Because motions to suppress evidence are considered dispositive matters, a magistrate judge's recommendation regarding such a motion is subject to de novo review. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); see also United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 673 (1980). In conducting a de novo review, this court may then “accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also United States v. Craft, 30 F.3d 1044, 1045 (8th Cir. 1994).


         Justin has objected to some of the magistrate judge's factual findings. See Docket 117. A full recitation of the facts can be found in the Report and Recommendation (Docket 111), but after a de novo review of the evidence, the court finds the pertinent facts relevant to defendants' objections are as follows:

         On or about March 10, 2016, ATF Special Agents Emmet Warkenthien and Brent Fair[1] were contacted by a confidential informant (CI) with information that a “Speedy, ” later identified as Justin Morales from Wichita, Kansas, was trafficking large quantities of methamphetamine to Sioux Falls and other nearby areas for sale. Docket 99 at 15:4-23; 19:21-20:23. This particular CI had previously worked with ATF and provided reliable information. Docket 87-1 at 3. Speedy wanted the CI to help transport the drugs from Wichita and distribute the drugs in the Sioux Falls area. Docket 99 at 21:4-12. The CI also conveyed to the officers that Speedy indicated he had firearms for sale as well, and SA Fair corroborated this statement by seeing screen-capture photos of Justin holding firearms. Id. at 21:15-22:18. Upon conducting a criminal history check on Justin, the officers learned Justin had at least one prior felony conviction and thus was prohibited from possessing firearms. Id. at 22:25-23:6; 107:6-12.

         On April 20, 2016, the CI received a sample of methamphetamine from Justin at a Sioux Falls gas station. Id. at 23:7-24:8. Later that same day, the ATF agents conducted surveillance on Justin and observed him provide five ounces of methamphetamine to the CI in exchange for $5, 000 in a controlled purchase at a Sioux Falls restaurant parking lot. Id. at 24:4-25:23. Over the next several months, the CI discussed purchasing methamphetamine from Justin in many recorded telephone conversations with Justin. Id. at 40:4-21.

         SA Fair testified that on September 22, 2016, the CI contacted SA Warkenthien and told Agent Warkenthien that Justin Morales and Chase Guzman were staying at the Days Inn hotel in Sioux Falls and they had methamphetamine and marijuana to sell. Id. at 30:3-8; 31:1-10. Based on the CI's report, SA Fair began conducting surveillance on the Days Inn hotel. Id. at 41:19-42:6. He observed two vehicles with Kansas license plates parked there, which were registered to Jacqueline Morales and Chase Guzman. Id. One of the two Kansas-plated vehicles, a grey minivan, left but eventually returned to the Days Inn hotel parking lot where SA Fair saw Justin Morales and another male exit the minivan and get into the CI's vehicle. Id. at 44:2-17. Prior to the traffic stop later in the day, this other male was identified as Chase Guzman by other law enforcement officers who were also working on the investigation. Id. at 209:2-210:4. SA Fair testified that the CI, Justin, and Chase then went to lunch together. Id. at 44:2-17.

         The CI's vehicle returned to the hotel parking lot and dropped off Justin and Chase. Id. at 46:7-12. SA Fair was in contact with the CI, who indicated methamphetamine had been placed in a pizza box. Id. at 46:15-21. SA Fair and other law enforcement officers surveilling the area then observed Justin and Chase access the Kansas-plated pickup truck and get into the Kansas-plated minivan with a pizza box. Id. at 46:22-47:4.

         The ATF agents on surveillance followed Justin and Chase as they drove the grey minivan to the trailer home of Jerri Lynn Running Crane and later to a Hardee's restaurant parking lot area. Id. at 50:24-51:13; 56:1-24. Meanwhile, around the time the grey van stopped at the trailer home, SA Warkenthien began writing the affidavit for a search warrant for the trailer home of Jerri Lynn Running Crane, and he included information provided to him by the surveillance team over the radio as they gathered it. Id. at 146:1-14.

         SA Fair testified that because the grey minivan subsequently drove on the back side of a Lowe's parking lot where people do not normally drive, he believed their surveillance would be detected before they could conduct a traffic stop. Id. at 57:1-16. And Detective Dan Christiansen, who observed the grey van drive in a circle around the Lowe's building, testified that he was “sure [he] was noticed following this vehicle” and believed their surveillance was compromised. Id. at 190:13-193:1. Thus, the officers' perception was that they needed to conduct the traffic stop of the minivan soon before the minivan could lose them or cause any public harm. See Id. at 53:4-54:25. SA Fair testified that law enforcement wanted a marked police car to stop Justin and Chase's van. Id. at 53:4-54:25. Because they knew Justin and Chase were armed, a marked police car would be better for pursuit purposes if Justin and Chase attempted to flee, and drivers would be more suspicious if they were stopped by an unmarked vehicle. Id.

         Detective Christiansen contacted Trooper Andrew Steen, who was not part of the investigation team, and directed him to conduct a routine traffic stop of the grey minivan. Id. at 154:7-155:6. Trooper Steen, in his marked patrol car, located the grey van and began following it. Id. at 155:11-15. Trooper Steen testified that he did not personally observe any traffic violations while following the grey van. Id. at 157:1-2. But he stopped the van, walked up to the driver's side, and told the driver-Justin Morales-that Justin's van had a broken taillight. Id. at 157:3-14. Both SA Fair and Trooper Steen testified that this “ruse” traffic stop was conducted because it was too time-sensitive to wait for a traffic violation to arise and there was a safety concern, as law enforcement knew Justin and Chase had firearms in the van. Id. at 94:8-25; 157:6-14.

         Trooper Steen then asked Justin to come back to his patrol car, where he asked Justin several questions and they watched another officer, Jason Christensen, approach the grey van on the passenger side and begin speaking with Chase. Id. at 157:17-159:16. Officer Christensen, a police officer for the City of Sioux Falls who was asked to assist on this traffic stop, approached Chase and asked him to step out of the vehicle. Id. at 183:11-20. When Chase opened the car door to step out, Officer Christensen observed marijuana between the door and passenger seat. Id. at 184:1-12. Officer Christensen placed Chase in handcuffs and searched him, finding a glass marijuana pipe on his person. Id. at 184:8-20. Trooper Steen and Officer Christensen then searched the van and found about one pound of marijuana in a bag, a digital scale that tested positive for methamphetamine, cell phones, and some cash. Id. at 160:5-25. Both Justin and Chase were then taken into custody and transported to the police station by Trooper Steen and Officer Christensen, respectively. Id. at 161:23-162:6; 186:2-13. At the station, officers found methamphetamine and a loaded handgun on Chase's person. Id. at 64:2-67:24.

         Meanwhile, SA Warkenthien was writing the affidavit for the search warrant while the traffic stop of the grey van occurred. Id. at 146:3-14. Included in the warrant affidavit was information gathered from the ...

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