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United States v. Azua-Rinconada

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

January 28, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
ISMAEL AZUA-RINCONADA, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: September 28, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Wilmington. Louise W. Flanagan, District Judge. (7:16-cr-00005-FL-1)

         ARGUED:

          Anne Margaret Hayes, Cary, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          Kristine L. Fritz, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Robert J. Higdon, Jr., United States Attorney, Jennifer, P. May-Parker, Acting First Assistant United States Attorney, Phillip A. Rubin, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

          Before NIEMEYER and KEENAN, Circuit Judges, and Norman K. MOON, United States District Judge for the Western District of Virginia, sitting by designation.

          NIEMEYER, Circuit Judge.

         After Ismael Azua-Rinconada ("Azua") was indicted for illegally entering the United States in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326(a), he filed two motions to suppress all statements and all other evidence obtained by law enforcement officers during their encounter with him prior to his arrest. He alleged that the officers, acting without a warrant, gained access to his residence through coercion, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and that they then subjected him to custodial interrogation without providing him with Miranda warnings, in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Following a hearing, the district court denied the motions, concluding that the officers received voluntary consent to enter Azua's residence and that Azua was not in custody when he voluntarily gave answers to the officers' questions. A jury then found Azua guilty of violating § 1326(a), and the court sentenced him to time served and committed him to the custody of the Department of Homeland Security for deportation.

         On appeal, Azua contends that the district court erred in denying his suppression motions because (1) the law enforcement officers did not have valid consent to enter his residence and thus needed a warrant, and (2) the officers' interrogation of him was custodial and thus violated his Fifth Amendment rights because no Miranda warnings had been given. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         I

         On the morning of January 6, 2016, a team of six law enforcement officers working with Homeland Security Investigations ("HSI") set out on a "knock and talk" operation in a mobile home park in Robeson County, North Carolina. The team was led by HSI Special Agent Bryan Moultis and included Corporal José Hernandez, a detective in the Hoke County Sheriff's Office who spoke Spanish. At approximately 9:30 a.m., Agent Moultis and Corporal Hernandez approached the trailer that was Azua's residence to conduct a "knock and talk." At the time, Moultis was wearing a shirt with "police" written across the chest, was carrying a holstered firearm, and had his badge around his neck. Hernandez was also carrying a holstered firearm and was wearing a body cam that recorded the interaction that followed.

         As Agent Moultis and Corporal Hernandez stood on either side of the front door of the trailer, Hernandez knocked on the door. After receiving no response, he continued to knock, saying "open the door" in Spanish. Hernandez then said, in English, "Publisher's Clearinghouse," and Moultis remarked that he could hear voices from inside the residence. Hernandez then knocked more forcefully and said in Spanish, "Open the door or we're going to knock it down," followed, in English, by "Police, open the door."

         When Azua and his fiancée, Amaryllis Powell, who was pregnant with Azua's child, heard the officers' knocks and the threat to knock down the door, they became scared. But when Azua realized that it was police who were at the door, he instructed Powell to open it because, as he testified, "I knew nothing was going to happen to her." He also testified that he did not "believe that they were going to take the door down." Powell testified that when she opened the door ...


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