United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KEITH WATKINS CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportation officers linked a
fugitive to a house in Heflin, Alabama, so they put the house
under surveillance. The officers saw a man leave the house
and get in a car, but they could not tell who the man was, so
they stopped him and asked for his Id. The man was
Defendant Guillermo Gonzalez-Zea. Gonzalez-Zea identified
himself, said he lived alone in the house, and admitted that
he was an illegal alien. The officers recognized that
Gonzalez-Zea was not the fugitive they were after, but they
still asked to search his house. Gonzalez-Zea consented. Once
inside the house, the officers spotted several guns in plain
view, so they arrested Gonzalez-Zea.
United States charged Gonzalez-Zea with being an illegal
alien in possession of a firearm and live ammunition. Now
before the court is Gonzalez-Zea's Motion to Suppress
(Doc. # 28), in which he argues that the officers: (1) lacked
reasonable suspicion to stop his car; (2) unreasonably
extended the vehicle stop; and (3) did not get valid consent
to search his house. After an evidentiary hearing, the
Magistrate Judge recommended that the court deny the motion.
(Doc. # 56.) Gonzalez-Zea objected to the Magistrate
Judge's factual findings and legal conclusions. (Doc. #
court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's conclusion, but
it expands the supporting rationale and corrects minor
misstatements of the facts. Based upon the applicable law and
a thorough review of all of the evidence, the Motion to
Suppress is due to be denied.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
party objects to a Magistrate Judge's Report and
Recommendation, the district court must review the disputed
portions de novo. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The
district court “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).
novo review requires that the district court
independently consider factual issues based on the record.
Jeffrey S. ex rel. Ernest S. v. State Bd. of Educ.,
896 F.2d 507, 513 (11th Cir. 1990). If the Magistrate Judge
made findings based on witness testimony, the district court
must review the transcript or listen to a recording of the
proceedings. Id. The district court cannot reject a
credibility determination without rehearing live testimony.
United States v. Powell, 628 F.3d 1254, 1257 (11th
Cir. 2010). But the district court may, without holding a new
hearing, modify findings in a way that is consistent with the
Magistrate Judge's credibility determination. See
Proffitt v. Wainwright, 685 F.2d 1227, 1240-41 (11th
September 26, 2017, ICE deportation officers Christopher
Purdy, Scott Skillern, and Waylon Hinkle (together,
“the officers”) staked out a house located at
30926 Highway 431 in Heflin, Alabama. The officers were
pursuing a man named Jose Rodolfo Alfaro-Aguilar, an illegal
alien with an administrative warrant out for his arrest.
(Doc. # 46-3, at 113.) But as things turned out, the officers
ended up arresting Defendant Guillermo Gonzalez-Zea instead.
officers did not know for sure where Alfaro-Aguilar lived.
(See Doc. # 46-3, at 11-13; Doc. # 47, at 65, 69.)
But Officer Purdy got a lead from colleagues in Atlanta that
Alfaro-Aguilar might be in Heflin. (Doc. # 47, at 66.) Purdy
verified that lead. (Doc. # 47, at 69.) As he explained at
the evidentiary hearing, there was a Social Security number
in ICE's file on Alfaro-Aguilar. (Doc. # 46-3, at 11;
Doc. # 47, at 70.) And according to a database, the same
Social Security number was associated with a man named Jose
Sanchez - a man with twenty-six possible aliases and fifteen
possible addresses. (Doc. # 46-3, at 27-33; Doc. # 47, at
71-72.) The first of those addresses was 30926
Highway 431 in Heflin. The Social Security number used by
both Alfaro-Aguilar and Sanchez had been used to open a
utility account at that address. (Doc. # 46-3, at 29; Doc. #
47, at 77.)
Purdy, Skillern, and Hinkle went to Heflin to stake out the
house. (Doc. # 47, at 5, 48, 63.) They got to the house
between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. (Doc. # 47, at 7.) Purdy and
Skillern parked their cars about 50-75 yards from the end of
the driveway (Doc. # 47, at 6-7, 74), and Hinkle was at a
store a few minutes away (Doc. # 21, at 5; Doc. # 47, at 48).
before dawn, Purdy saw a man leave the house, get in a car,
and start driving away. (Doc. # 47, at 10, 74.) The man drove
past where Skillern was parked. (Doc. # 47, at 10.) Neither
Purdy nor Skillern could tell whether Alfaro-Aguilar was the
driver. (Doc. # 47, at 10, 77). Skillern flipped on his
car's siren and flashing red and blue lights; the suspect
vehicle stopped; and Skillern went to identify the driver.
(Doc. # 47, at 10-11, 17.) Purdy stayed put to watch the
house (Doc. # 47, at 14, 43, 78), while Hinkle came to help
Skillern (Doc. # 47, at 48). The sole purpose of this vehicle
stop was to determine whether the driver was the fugitive
Alfaro-Aguilar. (See Doc. # 34, at 2; Doc. # 47, at
32; Doc. # 55, at 2.)
Alfaro-Aguilar was not the driver; Defendant Gonzalez-Zea was
behind the wheel. When asked, Gonzalez-Zea gave Skillern his
name, which Skillern recognized “didn't match the
person we were looking for.” (Doc. # 47, at 11.)
Skillern then asked for identification, and Gonzalez-Zea
handed the officer a Mexican ID card. (Doc. # 47, at 11-12,
38-39.) Skillern asked for a driver's license, but
Gonzalez-Zea replied that he did not have one. When asked
why, he admitted that he was in the United States illegally.
(Doc. # 47, at 12, 38-40.)
point, the vehicle stop had taken only a “couple
minutes” (Doc. # 47, at 42, 49, 60), but Skillern was
already “pretty positive” that Gonzalez-Zea was
not Alfaro-Aguilar (Doc. # 47, at 14). So Skillern told
Gonzalez-Zea that the officers were looking for a fugitive
and asked him ...