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United States v. Salto-Garcia

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

June 21, 2018




         Defendant Luis Salto-Garcia, who faces immigration and firearms charges, DE #1, filed a motion to suppress. DE #14 (Motion). The United States opposed. DE #18 (Response). Defendant replied. DE #19 (Reply). The Court held an evidentiary hearing on June 14, 2018, where it heard the sworn testimony of three witnesses and admitted certain video exhibits. The matter is ripe for consideration. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES DE #14.


         In the early morning hours of March 1, 2018, reports of possible domestic violence and a woman refusing to leave property drew law enforcement to Hilaur Farm in northern Fayette County. At the hearing, Lexington Police Department Sergeant Benjamin Stratton, farm resident and employee Charles Casey, and farm co-owner Lauren Hester described the night's events.

         Casey, who lives and works at Hilaur, was a cotenant in the same residence as Defendant Salto-Garcia. The residence, designed to house three workers (at the time of these events, Casey, Salto, and a Mr. Bustamonte) as part of their employment, is located on farm property. Each tenant had a private bedroom, but otherwise shared the residence's common areas, including a kitchen, dining area, living room, and hallway. On the night at issue, Casey testified that he “woke up to a girl screaming, ” which he said had happened “a few times before.” This time, however, he “got up to see what it was” and found “a girl and Luis [Defendant] arguing” in Spanish near the door to Salto's bedroom. Casey attempted to instruct the woman to leave the residence because she did not live there, and he began to move her belongings outside. The woman eventually exited the residence, but, per Casey, refused to leave the farm property. At that point, around 3:00 a.m., Casey decided to involve Hester, who lives in a separate home on the farm. Hester soon joined the scene and called the police. She thought the alleged victim had dialed 911 as well.

         After arriving at the Russell Cave Road farm, [2] officers encountered a fluid and evolving situation. They soon identified and spoke with the alleged victim, who stated, according to Stratton, that she “was going through a breakup” with her boyfriend, Defendant Salto. She asserted, conversing through a Spanish-speaking officer, that Salto had “grabbed her hair and pulled it” and “possibly struck her in the side of the face.” Stratton testified that the victim also alleged that Salto “had a firearm, ” which, per the Sergeant, Defendant denied. When Stratton told Hester this information, she advised that she did not permit firearms on the property. Lexington PD was, thus, in the midst of a dynamic scenario involving allegations of domestic violence and physical abuse. Officers were “not sure if there was a firearm or not just because we were getting conflicting stories.” Through dispatch, Stratton also learned that a firearm was “possibly . . . hidden in a wheel well of a vehicle at one point, but that possibly it had been moved.” Uncertainty attended the night's events. The specter of an unaccounted-for gun, potentially located near a possibly violent suspect, loomed.

         LDP dispatch identified Bustamonte as one of the reporting callers. Police, desiring to continue the investigation of the reported domestic violence and, specifically, speak with Bustamonte, asked Casey for consent to enter the residence's common areas. Casey (and Stratton) testified that he (Casey) voluntarily so consented. Casey told officers “they could go inside and look around.” He described the request: “They asked if they could go inside, and I said yes.” Casey, in fact, as the video shows, literally opened the door for officers to enter and personally accompanied officers into the home. Further, Hester, a co-owner of the property, who has a key and full access to (at least) the common areas of the residence, [3] independently told police that “if they felt they needed to go into the house, they could.” She directly testified that she, as a co-owner, “gave consent to the[] officers to enter into the common areas of th[e] structure.” Law enforcement, as the testimony and video revealed, never entered the private bedrooms.

         Based on the joint consent of Casey and Hester, law enforcement entered the residence and located Bustamonte. As officers were walking toward the door to exit and interview Bustamonte outside, Stratton testified, and the body camera video confirms, that one officer noticed a firearm, obviously in plain sight, resting on a cushion of the couch in the common living room of the modestly sized home. Lexington PD seized the weapon, and further events unfolded with Salto, leading to the current Indictment. Counts 2 & 3 evidently involve the firearm.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Principles

         The Fourth Amendment generally prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. This case implicates well-developed consent and plain view doctrines.

         “Entrance by the police into a home—which constitutes a search for Fourth Amendment purposes—is permissible only where justified by a warrant, exigent circumstances, or valid consent.” Smith v. City of Wyoming, 821 F.3d 697, 709 (6th Cir. 2016). The Sixth Circuit has explained:

Consent may lawfully permit the police to enter even if it is not given by the occupant whose Fourth Amendment rights are at issue. A third party with a “sufficient relationship to the premises” may consent in the absence of the occupant in question. United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 171, 94 S.Ct. 988, 39 L.Ed.2d 242 (1974) (holding that a warrantless search of a bedroom with the consent of a person cohabiting with the defendant and claiming to be his wife did not violate defendant's Fourth Amendment rights). A third party's “common authority” “rests [] on mutual use of the property by persons generally having joint access or control for most purposes, so that it is reasonable to recognize that any of the co-inhabitants has the right to permit the inspection in his own right and that the others have assumed the risk that one of their number might permit the common area to be searched.” Id. at 171 n.7, 94 S.Ct. 988; cf. Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177, 181-82, 110 S.Ct. 2793, 111 L.Ed.2d 148 (1990) (finding no common authority where a person sometimes spent the night at the apartment but never went there when the primary occupant was not at home).
Id. at 709-10. Further, the [G]overnment bears the burden of proving through “clear and positive testimony” that consent to enter was given voluntarily. United States v. Beauchamp, 659 F.3d 560, 571 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). The [G]overnment's showing must satisfy the preponderance standard. United States v. Worley, 193 F.3d 380, 385 (6th Cir. 1999). Consent is voluntary if it is “unequivocal, specific and intelligently given, uncontaminated by any duress or coercion.” [United States v.] Moon, 513 F.3d [527, ] 537 [(6th Cir. 2008)] (internal quotation marks omitted). The [G]overnment is required to ...

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