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United States v. Amaya

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

December 16, 2016



          Andrea R. Wood United States District Judge.

         Defendant Edwin Amaya is charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Amaya has moved to suppress evidence discovered as a result of what he claims was an unreasonable search and seizure. On June 27, 2016, this Court held a suppression hearing and, for the reasons explained below, the motion is now denied.


         In or around September 2012, the FBI initiated an investigation into narcotics trafficking in the Chicagoland area. In connection with its investigation, the FBI received court authorization to intercept communications over a number of cellular telephones. By January 2014, the Government was intercepting telephone calls to various cell phone numbers used by Alfredo Acosta, who had become the primary target of the investigation. At the suppression hearing, FBI Special Agent Gustavo Martinez testified[1] that, at that time, the FBI had identified two addresses associated with Acosta: 2107 North Avers Avenue and 4032 West Irving Park Road. It was the FBI's understanding that Acosta resided at the North Avers address and used a unit within the West Irving Park building as a stash house.

         Based on telephone calls intercepted on January 15 and January 16, 2014 (during which the callers spoke Spanish), the FBI believed that Acosta was preparing to receive ten kilograms of cocaine on January 16. That day, Agent Martinez was part of a team conducting surveillance of Acosta. There were initially two surveillance teams positioned at different locations. Agent Martinez's team was positioned at the North Avers location while another team was conducting surveillance at the West Irving Park building. During the surveillance, an agent and a linguist were in a wire room monitoring the wiretap on one of Acosta's cell phones. The agent and linguist used radio or “push to talk” to provide the surveillance team with a summary of what was happening during the calls as they were received.

         At approximately 12:49 p.m., Acosta received a call from a Mexican telephone number (i.e., a number beginning with 52, Mexico's country code). The caller told Acosta that he “was going to get ten” and that someone would be calling him. Based on that conversation and other intercepted calls-which involved Acosta planning deliveries to his customers and arranging for his courier to come to the West Irving Park building to make the deliveries for him-the FBI concluded that Acosta was going to receive and distribute the ten kilograms of cocaine that day. Acosta then received a call at approximately 12:52 p.m. The caller told Acosta that he would arrive in 40 to 45 minutes. The FBI understood that to mean that the person delivering the cocaine would arrive in that timeframe.

         A little after 1:00 p.m., Agent Martinez's team-located at the North Avers property- observed Acosta get into his vehicle and drive to a grocery store. Acosta entered the store and came out a few minutes later with a Hefty-style bag. He then got back into his vehicle and drove away. Agent Martinez's team followed Acosta as he left the store and then drove to the West Irving Park location. Acosta parked his vehicle on the street to the immediate west of Irving Park Road. He then walked southbound on that street (carrying the Hefty bag), went into the alley behind the West Irving Park building, and entered the building through the rear entrance.

         Then, at approximately 2:02 p.m., the delivery person called Acosta and said he was five minutes away. Neither the caller nor Acosta discussed any details regarding the type of vehicle that would be making the delivery, how many people would be in the vehicle, or the exact location of the drop off. At approximately 2:10 p.m., the FBI surveillance team received information from the linguist in the wire room indicating that the delivery person had arrived at the location. Agent Martinez testified that the linguist got on the radio and frantically said, “he's there, he's there” or something to that effect. Between the time of the call stating that the delivery was five minutes out and the alert from the wire room that the delivery had arrived, the surveillance team did not observe any vehicles pull into the alley behind the West Irving Park building. But when they received the alert, the agents observed a gray Acura parked in the alley with its hazard lights activated, right near the door through which Acosta had entered the building. At the time, the Acura was the only vehicle there.

         At approximately 2:11 p.m., Agent Martinez and another agent, William Roecker, approached the Acura. There were two occupants in the vehicle: Amaya was seated in the driver's side and an individual named Augustine Soberanis-Nunez was in the passenger seat. Agent Martinez approached the driver's side of the vehicle while Agent Roecker approached the passenger side. When Agent Martinez asked Amaya in Spanish what he was doing there, Amaya responded that he did not know. According to Agent Martinez, both Amaya and Soberanis-Nunez appeared nervous. Agent Martinez ordered Amaya to exit the vehicle and physically secured him in doing so, to prevent Amaya from fleeing or taking other action. During Amaya's exit from the vehicle, Agent Martinez had his weapon unholstered and held at his side in a safe position. He testified that he had his firearm out for his own safety, as he did not know anything about Amaya or Soberanis-Nunez, either of whom could have been armed.

         Once Amaya was out of the vehicle, Agent Martinez reholstered his weapon and performed a pat-down search to check Amaya for weapons. He did not find any. Agent Martinez then asked Amaya for identification. According to Agent Martinez, the identification Amaya produced did not appear authentic. As he described it, based on its overall quality it did not seem real. After obtaining Amaya's identification, Agent Martinez began looking in the vehicle for the ten kilograms of cocaine. Agent Martinez testified that during the search of the vehicle, Amaya was not free to leave the area-he had been detained. When he did not see any indication that the contraband was in the passenger compartment of the vehicle, Agent Martinez popped the trunk. There he observed a box of laundry detergent with a bag of laundry on top of it. In the box, underneath the bag, were what appeared to be gray bricks of cocaine. Agent Martinez took possession of the box containing the contraband and then, at approximately 2:20 p.m., told Amaya and Soberanis-Nunez that they were free to go. After the two men left together in the Acura, the FBI surveillance teams departed as well, since they did not want Acosta to be alerted that “they were onto him” and thereby compromise the wiretap.

         The Government asserts that, based on the above-described circumstances, the FBI had probable cause to detain Amaya and Soberanis-Nunez and to search their vehicle. The Government further submits that even if only reasonable suspicion existed at the time the Acura arrived in the alley, Amaya's statement that he did not know why he was there gave the agents probable cause to search at that point. Amaya, on the other hand, contends that his detention amounted to an arrest and that the agents did not have probable cause to place him under arrest or search the vehicle.


         The Fourth Amendment protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV. “[W]hen police conduct an unreasonable search or seizure, the exclusionary rule usually vindicates the Fourth Amendment's protections by kicking out the unlawfully obtained evidence.” United States v. Slone, 636 F.3d 845, 848 (7th Cir. 2011). Ordinarily, seizures are reasonable only when supported by probable cause to believe an individual is engaged in criminal activity. Matz v. Klotka, 769 F.3d 517, 522 (7th Cir. 2014). The longstanding exception to the probable cause requirement arises under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), which authorizes brief investigatory detentions based on the less demanding standard of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Id. “Such a brief detention is permitted when it demands only a limited intrusion into an individual's privacy and rests on ‘specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.'” Id. (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 21). “[A]lthough reasonable suspicion is a less demanding standard than probable cause, such a stop requires at least a minimal level of objective justification and the officer must be able to articulate more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch of criminal activity.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         “For an investigative stop based on reasonable suspicion to pass constitutional muster, the investigation following it must be reasonably related in scope and duration to the circumstances that justified the stop in the first instance[.]” Huff v. Reichert, 744 F.3d 999, 1006 (7th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). A Terry stop that is too prolonged or unreasonably intrusive becomes a de facto arrest that must be based on probable cause. See United States v. Bullock, 632 F.3d 1004, 1015 (7th Cir. 2011).[2] The appropriate inquiry is whether a reasonable person would feel free to terminate the encounter-that is, whether, taking into account all of the surrounding circumstances, the officers' conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that he was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business. Huff, 744 F.3d at 1006. The Seventh Circuit has advised that “[a] seizure becomes an arrest when a reasonable person in the ...

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