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United States v. Flores-Reyes

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 27, 2019

UNITED STATES, Plaintiff,
v.
LUIS FLORES-REYES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paula Xinis United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Luis Flores-Reyes' motions to suppress the fruits of a warrantless search and subsequent search warrant. ECF Nos. 408, 409. On November 8, 2019, the Court held a motions hearing during which the arresting officer and affiant, Detective Paul Hellwig of the Fairfax County Police Department, testified. ECF No. 449-1. The Court subsequently ordered supplemental briefing on whether probable cause existed to arrest Flores-Reyes on suspected drug distribution, and if not, whether sufficient probable cause supports the search warrant executed two days later. The Court has received the briefing, ECF Nos. 453, 454, and for the following reasons, the Court finds Flores-Reyes was the subject of a warrantless arrest without probable cause, and all fruits of that arrest must be suppressed. Further, the Court concludes that when it excises from the search warrant affidavit the facts obtained as a product of Flores-Reyes' unconstitutional warrantless arrest, the search warrant was obtained without probable cause. Thus, the Court grants Defendant's motion to suppress the fruits of the search warrant. [1]

         I. Facts

         Detective Hellwig has spent the last seventeen years as an undercover officer in the narcotics unit. ECF No. 449-1 at 5:18-6:2. In January of 2018, Hellwig was working with a confidential informant (“CI”) who told Hellwig he could purchase cocaine from a target, Caesar Martinez, who is not a defendant in this case. Id. at 7:1-25. On or about January 16, 2018, the CI arranged to purchase $600 worth of cocaine from Martinez. Id. at 8:1-8. However, at the time of the sale, Martinez only had $160 worth of cocaine available and told the CI that his supplier was close by and that he could get the rest. Id. at 8:8-9:1. Hellwig and his team chose to end the undercover sale rather than have Martinez obtain more drugs from the supplier. Id. at 8:23-9:1.

         Two weeks later, on January 30, 2018, the CI set up another controlled purchase with Martinez at Hellwig's direction. Id. at 9:5-10. The plan was for the CI to meet Martinez in a shopping center parking lot to purchase two “eight-balls” of cocaine. Id. at 9:13-23. Martinez was to arrive alone and by car, and to be arrested before the sale was consummated. See Id. at 9:24-10:4, 23:3-13.

         Martinez arrived at the shopping center driving a white 2011 four-door Dodge Avenger. Id. at 10:14-18, 28:16-17. Flores-Reyes was in the front passenger seat. Id. at 10:14-18, 28:16- 17. Both the CI and Hellwig recognized Martinez but not Flores-Reyes. Id. at 10:22-23. Hellwig also acknowledged that he had “no idea” who the passenger was, nor did he expect anyone to be traveling with Martinez. Id. at 24:1-17. Hellwig observed the CI and Martinez talking by phone while Martinez got out of the vehicle, walked around briefly, and then returned to the car. Id. at 10:24-11:5. Shortly after Martinez got back into the driver's seat, the arrest team descended on the vehicle, as planned. Id. at 11:23-12:5.

         On direct examination, Hellwig testified that at this moment, “both men were taken into custody while sitting in the vehicle.” Id. at 12:1-5. Hellwig confirmed that both Martinez and Flores-Reyes were removed from the vehicle and handcuffed. Id. at 12:3-13, 27:24-25. Officers then executed a search of the vehicle and found “two baggies of cocaine, approximately eight-balls, three and a half grams in size on the floorboard between the driver's seat and the passenger seat.” Id. at 12:14-19. Both individuals were then taken “to the Mason District Station for an interview and then later processed into [the] Adult Detention Center.” Id. at 12:22-25. Hellwig further testified that because “[n]either one took responsibility for the cocaine, ” they were both “taken into custody . . . and charged.” Id. at 13:1-7.

         At the station, Flores-Reyes was interrogated. Id. at 12:22-25, 30:6-8. During the interrogation, Flores-Reyes misrepresented the precise apartment in which he lived. Id. at 15:2- 7, 42:16-23. Martinez was separately interrogated and identified Flores-Reyes as his supplier. Id. at 13:20-25. Hellwig also described further investigation in which he learned from the FBI that Flores-Reyes was a suspect in a federal investigation and that the FBI possessed historic information from a separate confidential informant who was a drug consumer and had been in Flores-Reyes' apartment at some unspecified point in the past. Id. at 15:15-18, 34:7-22.

         On cross examination, however, Hellwig clarified his testimony in important and material ways. First, Hellwig confirmed that Reyes was “arrested” at the same time as Martinez and at a point in time where “all Mr. Flores-Reyes had done was sit in the car.” Id. at 27:19-23. Hellwig further described that at the point of arrest, Flores-Reyes was handcuffed, was not free to leave, and was eventually transported to the station after the drugs were located in the vehicle. Id. at 27:24-28:8.

         Second, and critically with regard to the constitutionality of Flores-Reyes' arrest, Hellwig described having found the drugs not on the floorboard between the two men, but rather on the driver's side, closest to Martinez and on the other side of the center console and gear shift that physically separated the driver and passenger sides. See Id. at 28:10-29:25. When asked to clarify precisely where the drugs were found, Hellwig attested as follows:

Q: You found what you believed to be drugs on the floorboard between the front passenger and driver's side?
A: Right along-yep. Right on the floor, right along the driver's side where the console meets the passenger seat and driver seat.
Q: Okay. So this is a 2011-a 2011 Dodge Avenger, four-door white, correct?
A: Correct.
Q: All right. Now, like most four-door cars made in this century, they have a center console?
A: Correct.
Q: And there are bucket seats . . .?
A: Correct.
Q: So there is an area where the driver will sit and then there is the ...

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