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United States v. Sanchez

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 24, 2017



          MALACHY E. MANNION United States District Judge

         Pending before the court is the motion to suppress evidence, (Doc. 53), filed by defendant Roberto Sanchez through his counsel. Sanchez allegedly conspired to distribute heroin and cocaine, and possessed with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine. Sanchez seeks to suppress the physical evidence seized from the search of his residence in Hazleton, PA after officers went there to arrest him without a warrant in relation to an earlier shooting incident in New York City. Officers forcibly entered Sanchez's house without a warrant claiming exigent circumstances existed. After Sanchez was apprehended in his house, he asked for his shoes and socks, and told an officer where they were located in his residence. When the officer was retrieving them, he observed a large amount of cash in Sanchez's sock dresser drawer along with cell phones and electronic devices. Sanchez's wife later allegedly gave consent to search their residence to look for a gun involved in the shooting. During the search, the officers found over $50, 000 cash and drugs as well as other items. Sanchez claims that there were no exigent circumstances to allow officers to enter his house without a warrant and that there was not valid consent for the search of his residence. He also claims that his subsequent confessions were the fruits of his unlawful arrest and the unlawful search of his house. The gist of Sanchez's argument is that the entirety of the search and seizure of evidence in his residence was in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and that his subsequent statements during his custodial interrogation were unlawful based on the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine.

         Sanchez requested an evidentiary hearing and the government concurred. The court granted the request since there were factual disputes at issue regarding the validity of the search, including whether there were exigent circumstances and whether there was consent for the search. A hearing was conducted on January 10, 2017. For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be DENIED.


         Detective Robert Barclay of the fugitive enforcement division for the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) was advised that a police precinct in the Bronx was trying to locate Sanchez regarding a January 17, 2015 shooting incident and he was provided paperwork for the suspect. Specifically, on January 29, 2015, the NYPD issued an Investigative Card (“I-Card”) that identified Sanchez as a fugitive wanted for the shooting of a man in the Bronx. (Doc. 69 at 5 & Ex. 12). Sanchez was identified by the victim as the shooter. The I-Card was a mechanism used by the NYPD to notify officers in the city that a person who was the subject of an I-Card was wanted. The I-Card indicated that there was probable cause to arrest Sanchez for assault with intent to cause serious injury with a weapon, a first degree felony, and it listed his personal information. In particular, attached to the I-Card was a wanted poster with Sanchez's photo, and stated that he was wanted for assault in the first degree with a firearm, that there was probable cause to arrest him, and it gave the narrative of the shooting incident. The I-Card also had attached an April 28, 2015 letter from the Bronx County District Attorney's Office addressed to “Authorities in Pennsylvania” indicating that the office had agreed to file an arrest warrant if Sanchez was apprehended in their jurisdiction. (Id. at 7 & Govt. Ex. 12). It is undisputed that the I-Card and the wanted poster did not constitute a valid arrest warrant. (Doc. 69, Govt. Ex. 12).

         After conducting an investigation to locate Sanchez, Barclay discovered in May 2015 that Sanchez may be residing in Pennsylvania. Barclay then contacted authorities from the Pennsylvania Regional Fugitive Task Force and asked for their assistance in locating Sanchez. He sent the task force the I-Card and attached information. The task force found an address in Hazleton, Pennsylvania at 215 South Butler Terrace, which was a residence associated with Sanchez and Claudia Sanchez (“Claudia”). Barclay and two NYPD officers as well as five members of the task force arranged to meet in the morning at the Hazelton address on May 7, 2015. At this time, the firearm from the Bronx January 17, 2015 shooting had not yet been recovered and when officers were approaching the residence they allege that they had reason to believe that Sanchez might still have a firearm in the house. Barclay's primary objective was to find Sanchez and his secondary objective was to find the firearm used in the shooting incident.

         The NYPD officers, the task force officers and four Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”) troopers met at the Hazleton house at 6:30 a.m. on May 7, 2015. The task force officers approached the Hazleton house in “stacking” formation and the lead officer, U.S. Deputy Marshal Robert Lenahan, was carrying a shield for protection. The officers knocked on the door and announced their presence. Nobody inside the house opened the door. After a few minutes, Lenahan indicated that Sanchez looked out through the screen in a second-story window of the house and then quickly retreated from it going towards the rear of the house. The officers shouted to Sanchez that they were from the police department and to come down and open his door. Task force officers later testified that from the second floor window, Sanchez had a full and unobstructed field of view of them on the lawn below his vantage point. After Sanchez was observed leaving the window, the officers knocked on the door again and directed him to open the door. However, the door was not opened. Officers testified that they believed Sanchez was hiding himself in the house and that he was possibly armed, so they obtained a ram from one of the vehicles which was located down a couple of stairs and 25 to 40 feet away from the house. The officers then checked to see if the front door was unlocked but it was not. Thus, the officers forced open the front door with the ram. The government's witnesses could not specifically remember how much time elapsed between seeing Sanchez in the second floor window and breaching the front door. They estimated it as ranging from 15 seconds to a few minutes.

         After the door was forced open and a few moments passed to let the situation settle, Sanchez was identified on the staircase in the house partially dressed and he was taken into custody. The officers performed a protective sweep of the house limiting their search to places where a person could be concealed. Nobody else was in the house at that time. No evidence, including the firearm from the Bronx shooting, was found or seized during Sanchez's arrest and during the sweep of the house.

         When Sanchez was taken into custody he did not receive his Miranda warnings and Barclay did not tell him why he was arrested. However, Barclay introduced himself and told Sanchez he would speak to him at the police station. Sanchez was only wearing sweat pants and an undershirt and he asked the officers to get him a sweatshirt, shoes and socks telling them where they were located in the house. Sanchez identified the specific dresser drawer in his second floor bedroom where his socks were located. Task force officer Robert Hegedus went to get the socks and other clothing items for Sanchez where he was advised to look. When Hegedus opened the dresser drawer, he saw stacks of cash and several cell phones. Hegedus then gave Sanchez the clothing he requested but he did not take the cash or cell phones. Hegedus did not ask Sanchez about the cash he saw in the drawer but he told other officers about it, including Lenahan. Sanchez was then transported to the PSP barracks in the area. Barclay, Hegedus, and two U.S. Deputy Marshals who were task force officers, including Lenahan, stayed at the house.

         Later on May 7, 2015, the Bronx District Attorney's Office obtained an arrest warrant for Sanchez charging him with the New York shooting incident. (Doc. 69, Govt. Ex. 13).

         During Sanchez's arrest at his Hazleton house, neither Barclay nor Hegedus asked Sanchez for consent to search the house. Nor did Barclay, Hegedus and Lenahan hear anyone ask Sanchez for consent to search the house. Additionally, they did not hear Sanchez tell any officer not to search the house. Barclay and Hegedus testified that they did not even know for sure if the house was in fact Sanchez's or Claudia's and, they stated that were not sure of the exact relationship between Sanchez and Claudia.

         There is no dispute that Barclay and the officers never asked Sanchez for consent to search the house. Nor is there any dispute that Sanchez did not tell any officer not to search the house. The officers stated that they believed Claudia was the owner or leaseholder of the house with the authority to give permission to search it. However, there was no evidence that the officers checked to determine who owned the Hazleton house or who was on the lease to the house. In fact, officers had information prior to arriving at the house that both Sanchez and Claudia had used the Butler Terrace house as their address and, that Claudia had changed her last name to Sanchez. (Exs. D-2 & D-3).

         Following Sanchez's arrest and transport to the PSP barracks, two task force officers, namely, Hegedus and Lenahan, drove to Claudia's workplace. They advised Claudia of Sanchez's arrest and that the front door of the house had to be secured. At this time, the officers did not discuss or ask Claudia if she would consent to search the house as that was not their purpose. Claudia then drove to the house in her own vehicle. When Claudia arrived at the house, an officer provided her with a tort form to get reimbursed for her broken front door. Claudia went into the house and sat at the kitchen table with Barclay, Hegedus and Lenahan. She was upset over the incident but she was cordial and cooperative with the officers. The officers believed that Claudia may have been a victim of domestic violence so Barclay told her that she was safe and Sanchez would not be returning to the house.

         Claudia was given written Miranda warnings before she was questioned and she signed a form indicating that she understood her rights and was willing to answer questions. (Govt. Ex. 3). Barclay then told Claudia that Sanchez was wanted for a shooting incident in New York and that the firearm had not yet been found. Barclay then asked Claudia for consent to search the house. Barclay stated that he asked Claudia for the consent since he thought she owned the house and not Sanchez. In fact, he stated that he did not even think Sanchez lived in the house. Claudia then gave the officers consent to search the house and signed a consent to search form. (Govt. Ex. 2). Claudia was not threatened by any officer to give the consent and at no time was she taken into custody. Claudia also signed a consent to search form regarding two vehicles. (Govt. Ex. 4). Claudia was asked if she knew of any firearm in the house and where in the house Sanchez hung out. She was also asked about the cash seen in Sanchez's dresser drawer and she looked surprised. Barclay and the officers then conducted a complete search of the house. Their objective was to look for the firearm from the New York shooting. However, Hegedus stated that after Claudia consented to the search, the large amount of cash he saw in the dresser was on his mind. Further, Barclay stated that when Sanchez was arrested, Barclay had no idea they would encounter any drugs being in the house.

         Lenahan stated that no search warrant for the house was obtained since it was much easier and more convenient to ask Claudia for consent. Hegedus testified that the initial goal of the task force was just to apprehend a fugitive and it was not to search the house.

         In addition to Barclay, Hegedus and Lenahan, Claudia was called to testify at the hearing. Claudia stated that she was married to Sanchez for eight years and in March 2013 they moved into the Butler Terrace Drive residence which was actually a townhouse. Claudia also testified that both she and Sanchez were on the lease to the house at all times and that they both paid the bills related to the townhouse. Further, Sanchez submitted law enforcement Comprehensive Reports dated April 22, 2015 as exhibits, Exs. D-2 & D-3, listing the Butler Terrace Drive house as one of the addresses associated with both Claudia and Sanchez. These reports were run by law enforcement officials as research in trying to locate Sanchez and the task force officers reviewed the reports prior to arriving at the Butler Terrace Drive house on May 7, 2015. The report on Claudia also indicated that at some point her last name changed from Rodriguez to Sanchez.

         Claudia temporarily moved out the Butler Terrace Drive house in March 2015 and was living in an apartment in Hazleton. Sanchez stayed at the Butler Terrace house by himself. Claudia said that she suspected Sanchez may be involved in dealing drugs and saw some drugs in the house, and that this was one reason why she moved out. However, Claudia had moved back into the house a few days prior to May 7, 2015 and she shared a bedroom with Sanchez. However, she still maintained her separate apartment. She also remained on the lease to the Butler Terrace house at all times. Claudia did not inform the officers on May 7 that she had previously moved out of the house. But Claudia stated that prior to May 7, Barclay knew that she had another residence since he had spoken to her family in New York and they advised him of this. At the time of the hearing, Claudia and Sanchez were still married but she no longer lived with him and she has filed for divorce.

         Claudia admitted that she signed the consent to search form for the house and that she was not threatened or coerced in any manner. (Govt. Ex. 2). She also stated that officers told her they wanted to search the house to look for the firearm allegedly used by Sanchez in the Bronx shooting.

         The search of the house by task force officers was then conducted. During the search, officers found approximately 200 grams of cocaine, approximately 300 grams of heroin, approximately $55, 000 and a .40 caliber round of ammunition, in different areas of the house. Other items were also found including cell phones. Some of the drugs were found behind an access panel in a bathroom wall and the cash was found in Sanchez's dresser drawer with his socks and in envelopes taped to the back of pictures hanging on a wall. Barclay told Claudia about the cash and drugs which were discovered and she was surprised. No firearm was found in the house or the vehicles during the search.

         After the cash and drugs were found, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) was contacted on May 7, 2015. Joseph Begley, a DEA Special Agent, and his partner were assigned and went to the Hazleton house. Begley testified that he then spoke to Hegedus and Lenahan about the search and that he again gave Claudia her Miranda rights. Claudia signed a form at 11:25 a.m. indicating that she was advised of her Miranda rights, that she understood her rights and that she was willing to answer questions. (Govt. Ex. 3). Begley also asked Claudia to sign a DEA consent to search form for the house and the two vehicles, and she signed the form. (Govt. Ex. 4). Claudia was then questioned about the drugs found in the house. Claudia indicated that she ...

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