United States District Court, D. Maryland
J. MESSITTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Da Matha De Santanna (de Santanna), pro se, appeals
Magistrate Judge DiGirolamo's June 12, 2017, judgment
convicting him of various offenses. Having considered his
brief and the Government's opposition, the Court
AFFIRMS the judgment.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
January 13, 2017, United States Park Police Officer Manning
stopped de Santanna for driving on the Baltimore Washington
Parkway with what appeared to be counterfeit Texas tags.
Officer Manning ultimately issued de Santanna four traffic
citations, all class B misdemeanors, for: 1) falsifying a
license plate; 2) failing to display a registration card upon
demand; 3) unauthorized use of a registration plate; and 4)
inserting false information onto a license plate. On May 5,
2017, de Santanna had his initial appearance, at which he
waived his right to counsel and pled not guilty to all the
12, 2017, de Santanna appeared for trial before Magistrate
Judge DiGirolamo. Despite several warnings from Judge
DiGirolamo that he should obtain counsel or allow one to be
appointed, de Santanna again waived his right to counsel and
proceeded to trial pro se.
trial, the Government presented the testimony of Officer
Manning, who testified that he stopped de Santanna after
observing him driving with what appeared to be a laminated
photograph of a temporary license plate from Texas. When
Officer Manning asked for registration, de Santanna provided
none. Upon closer examination, Officer Manning saw the tag
was affixed to the car with both screws and brown tape.
Further, the vehicle identification number (VIN-1) typed on
the tag differed by a few characters from the vehicle
identification number (VIN-2) that Manning saw was etched
onto the car itself.
addition to Officer Manning's testimony, the Government
entered several exhibits into evidence, including: 1) the
laminated paper tag; 2) a certified document from Texas
showing that a vehicle with VIN-2 had been bought by de
Santanna on January 25, 2017, twelve days after the encounter
with Officer Manning; 3) a certified Texas record showing
that a vehicle with VIN-1 had been purchased by someone other
than de Santanna on October 27, 2016; 4) a certified Texas
document showing that there was no record of a title being
issued for the vehicle de Santanna was driving; and 5) a
certified Maryland document showing that the Motor Vehicle
Administration also had no record of his vehicle.
Santanna did not testify at trial nor did he offer any
evidence. He tried to suggest through cross-examination of
Officer Manning that the tag-maker had made a mistake and
that he (de Santanna) did not knowingly enter false
DiGirolamo accepted the testimony of Officer Manning and
found de Santanna guilty of unauthorized display and use of a
registration plate, in violation of Md. Code Ann., Transp.
§ 13-703(g); and failure to display a registration card
on demand, in violation of Md. Code Ann., Transp. §
13-409(b). He gave de Santanna “the benefit of the
doubt” on the charge of inserting false information
onto the registration tag and found him not guilty on that
charge. The Government dismissed the charge of fraudulently
falsifying a registration plate.
the two charges of conviction, Judge Digirolamo fined de
Santanna $250 on each charge, plus $10 special assessment,
and $30 processing fee on each, totaling $580. De Santanna
then filed the instant appeal.
STANDARD OF LAW
standard of review on appeal from a conviction entered by a
Magistrate Judge is well-settled. That is, his conclusions of
law are subject to de novo review, while his
findings of fact are reviewed only for clear error, just as
would be the case were the matter on appeal from a District
Court bench trial to a Court of Appeals.” United
States v. Orme, 851 F.Supp. 708, 709 (D. Md. 1994). The
Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the
Government as the party prevailing below. United States
v. LaFlame, 541 F. App'x 255, 256 (4th Cir. 2013). A
district court must also defer to the trial court's
credibility findings, “as it is that court's role
to observe witnesses and weigh their credibility during a
pre-trial motion to suppress.” Id. (internal
Santanna contests his convictions on the same grounds he
attempted to argue before Judge DiGirolamo at trial.
Specifically, he asserts that the tag-maker made an error
with the VIN on the temporary tag and asks the Court to
consider his good faith. The court is unpersuaded. As the
foregoing history ...