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United States v. Torres-Rodriguez

May 14, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on defendant Heriberto Torres-Rodriguez's motion to suppress statements he made in a May 23, 2008, post-arrest interview (Doc. 30). The government has responded to the motion (Doc. 37), and Torres-Rodriguez has replied to that response (Doc. 49). The Court held a hearing on the motion on April 27, 2009. At that hearing, the following witnesses testified for the government: Opa-Locka, Florida, Police Officer Michael Steel; FBI Special Agent James Lewis; FBI Special Agent Rosa Schureck; and FBI Special Agent Patrick Henson. The defendant presented no witnesses.

Torres-Rodriguez is charged in this case with two counts of traveling in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b) and one count of transporting a minor in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a). His pending motion to suppress (Doc. 30) seeks to exclude oral and written statements he made to law enforcement agents on May 23, 2008, on three theories: (1) his waiver of his Miranda rights was involuntary, (2) his statements were involuntary and (3) his statements were made during a period of unreasonable and unnecessary delay in presenting him to a judge.

I. Facts

With the exception specifically noted in footnote 1, the Court found the witnesses to be credible based on their demeanor while testifying, the foundations they had for testifying to certain facts and the consistency of each witness's testimony with other evidence in the case. The evidence at the hearing established the following uncontroverted facts.

On Tuesday, May 20, 2008, the Belleville, Illinois, Police Department received a report that a minor female ("Jane Doe") was missing. On Thursday, May 22, Special Agent Lewis, who worked in the Miami FBI field office, learned from a Belleville FBI agent through informal channels that there was reason to believe the missing child may be in the Miami area. Special Agent Lewis then reached out to local law enforcement, formed a "game plan" and began searching for Jane Doe. They were unsuccessful, and Special Agent Lewis stopped working on the case for the day around 12:30 a.m. on Friday, May 24.*fn1

At approximately 2 a.m. on Friday, May 24, Opa-Locka Police Officer Steel received a call from his local dispatcher that Jane Doe, the subject of an "AMBER alert," was believed to be at a house at 601 Jann Avenue in Opa-Locka and that she might be suicidal. The Opa-Locka dispatcher had been notified of the AMBER alert by the Seminole County, Florida, Sheriff's Department. Officer Steel and other Opa-Locka police officers approached the house quietly and saw Jane Doe in the backyard of the house. Officer Steel knocked on the front door, and Torres-Rodriguez answered the door. When it became apparent to Officer Steel that Torres-Rodriguez was not proficient in English, Officer Steel called Officer Leal, a Spanish-speaking officer, to translate. When Torres-Rodriguez identified himself with the name disseminated in the AMBER alert as the suspected abductor, Officer Steel handcuffed him behind his back and placed him in the back of his squad car. He remained there while local law enforcement officers searched the house. Torres-Rodriguez had been awake since 6 a.m. on the morning of Thursday, May 22.

At approximately 2:30 a.m., Officer Steel drove Torres-Rodriguez to the Opa-Locka police station. Officer Steel parked the car in a garage area that was closed off from outside view because he was concerned that media might show up on the scene. Officer Steel kept Torres-Rodriguez in the back seat of the car because there was no holding cell in the police station. Officers monitored Torres-Rodriguez at all times, and Officer Steel offered Torres-Rodriguez water and the opportunity to use the bathroom.*fn2 Torres-Rodriguez appeared calm and quiet. At some point while Torres-Rodriguez was in the back of the car, Officer Leal informed him of his Miranda rights in Spanish. In the meantime, the Opa-Locka Police Department was communicating with the Belleville Police Department regarding drafting the paperwork necessary to hold Torres-Rodriguez in confinement for kidnaping in violation of Illinois state law. At 4:19 a.m., the Belleville Police Department faxed Officer Steel a letter indicating it was working with the FBI on the case and that an FBI agent would be contacting Officer Steel.

At approximately 5 a.m., Officer Steel drove Torres-Rodriguez to the Miami/Dade County Police Department facility where he could be booked ("warrants facility"). On the way to the warrants facility, Torres-Rodriguez was calm, and when they arrived, he was immediately removed from the car and booked. At the warrants facility, Officer Steel again asked him whether he wanted to use the restroom. At no time did Torres-Rodriguez complain of pain from the handcuffs.

At approximately 5:30 a.m., Officer Steel drove Torres-Rodriguez from the warrants facility to Miami/Dade County Corrections ("the jail"). When they arrived at the sally port of the jail around 5:40 a.m., Officer Steel received a phone call from an FBI agent informing him that federal agents would be getting involved in the case. This was his first contact with federal law enforcement authorities. Torres-Rodriguez was then placed in an outdoor holding facility with a concrete floor, a fan and a tarp covering to shield detainees from the sun. Although the holding facility had a capacity of about 50 detainees, Torres-Rodriguez was the only detainee in at the time. Torres-Rodriguez remained in this cell for approximately two hours because the jail was on lock-down and he could not be processed to an indoor holding cell. Sometime between 7:40 a.m. and 8:50 a.m., Torres-Rodriguez was processed into the jail. At that time he was offered food, water and the opportunity to make a phone call. Torres-Rodriguez had remained handcuffed since his arrest at 601 Jann Avenue and did not sleep.

In the meantime, Special Agent Lewis learned at 6 a.m. on Friday, May 23, that Jane Doe had been located. He got this information through the FBI's media representative and was upset that local law enforcement had not contacted him immediately upon Torres-Rodriguez's arrest. He began to assemble a team of law enforcement officers consisting of himself, Spanish-speaking Special Agent Schureck and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent Edward Royal, to interview Torres-Rodriguez.

The interview began at approximately 10 a.m. Torres-Rodriguez was not handcuffed during the interview and was even-tempered, calm, cordial and well-mannered. He was not offered food, but was asked if he wanted water or to use the bathroom. Special Agent Schureck read Torres-Rodriguez his Miranda rights in Spanish from a form and he indicated he understood and waived them. The interviewers did not use threats or physical force when interviewing Torres-Rodriguez, and he appeared willing to answer questions. Torres-Rodriguez then gave an oral self-incriminating statement and consented to a search of his residence, truck and van. Toward the end of the interview, the law enforcement officers took a break to prepare a written statement. Torres-Rodriguez was groggy at the time due to lack of sleep, so he asked Special Agent Schureck to write the statement for him. While she prepared a written statement based on the oral interview, Torres-Rodriguez took a nap. When she was finished, Torres-Rodriguez woke up and signed the statement. The interview then concluded around 2:45 p.m. At no point did any law enforcement officers attempt to arrange to have Torres-Rodriguez brought before a magistrate judge.

Also around 9 or 10 a.m. on Friday, May 23, Special Agent Henson met with an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of Illinois, who then opened a formal investigation. That afternoon, Special Agent Lewis contacted the United States Attorney's Office in Florida regarding filing federal charges against Torres-Rodriguez. After 4 p.m., it was decided that the United States Attorney's Office in the Southern District of Illinois would file the charges instead. A criminal complaint was filed in this district on that day.

Torres-Rodriguez argues that his self-incriminating statements and his waiver of his Miranda rights were involuntary because he was exhausted, in pain, hungry and thirsty when he gave the statements and waived his rights. He also argues that he gave his statement during a period ...

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