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United States of America v. Miguel Leon

March 28, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MIGUEL LEON, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Michael Seabright United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S SUPPLEMENTAL MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE

I. INTRODUCTION

Defendant Miguel Leon ("Defendant") seeks to suppress eleven pounds of methamphetamine that the United States concedes would not have been seized but for the unconstitutional attachment and subsequent use of a global positioning system ("GPS") tracking device on the exterior of Defendant's vehicle. The Government agrees that Defendant's Fourth Amendment rights were violated but argues that the exclusionary rule does not apply. Because suppression of the evidence would not yield appreciable deterrence, the court agrees with the Government and DENIES Defendant's Supplemental Motion to Suppress Evidence.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The following facts are based on the stipulations of the parties and the records of this case.*fn1

On March 2, 2009, Defendant paid cash and used a fictitious address to ship a vehicle with Matson Navigation from Los Angeles, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. Doc. No. 39, Transcript of Proceedings ("Tr."), at 18-19. The vehicle was not registered to Defendant, and a United States Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") investigation revealed that the circumstances of the registration were suspicious. Id. at 18. On March 14, 2009, while the vehicle was located at the Matson Navigation dock in Honolulu, a law enforcement narcotics detector canine alerted on the vehicle for the presence of controlled substances. Id. Later that day, DEA Special Agent Richard Jones ("Agent Jones") obtained a warrant to search the vehicle for controlled substances and any items of personal property which tend to identify the person or persons in possession, control, or ownership of the vehicle. Id.

Agents found no contraband. Id. During the search, however, agents saw a Mexican license plate in the vehicle that United States Customs and Border Protection later confirmed crossed into the United States from Mexico on February 18, 2009. Id. at 19. The agents also observed suspicious circumstances within the vehicle that suggested that an airbag compartment and a door were previously used to hide drugs or store money. Id.

On March 16, 2009, while the vehicle was still parked at the Matson Navigation dock and without obtaining a warrant, a DEA agent attached a self-powered "slap-on" GPS tracking device to the exterior of the vehicle (specifically, to the underside of the vehicle's bumper). Id. at 19; United States v. Leon, 2011 WL 2605622, at *1 (D. Haw. June 30, 2011). On March 20, 2009, the GPS device tracked the vehicle from the Matson Navigation dock to the Honolulu International Airport parking garage, where it remained until May 3, 2009. Doc. No. 39, Tr. at 19. On that day, the vehicle exited the parking garage, only to return a few minutes later. Id. On May 4, 2009, agents observed a piece of luggage inside the vehicle that was not in the vehicle on March 14, 2009. Id. On May 28, 2009, Agent Jones applied for a second warrant to search the vehicle. Id. at 18.

The second search warrant was issued and executed on May 28, 2009. Id. at 20. No items were seized from the vehicle, but DEA agents found items commonly used by drug traffickers within a piece of luggage inside the vehicle. Id. at 21. The GPS device confirmed that the vehicle remained in the parking garage until July 23, 2009 when it moved to the parking lot of a nearby hotel, the Pacific Marina Inn. Id.; Leon, 2011 WL 2605622, at *1.

On July 25, 2009, Agent Jones looked through the window of the vehicle while it was parked in the Pacific Marina Inn parking lot and observed an insurance card that contained Defendant's name and the address of Mini-Pac Self Storage. Doc. No. 39, Tr. at 21. Agent Jones then confirmed with Mini-Pac Self Storage that Defendant had rented a storage unit. Id. On August 27, 2009, Agent Jones visited the storage center and (1) learned that Defendant paid cash for an additional month of storage, and (2) observed that the padlock on a storage unit was the same style as the padlock that he had observed in the vehicle during the second search. Id. And after peering through the one-inch clearance at the bottom of the storage unit door, Agent Jones also observed a wheel of a piece of luggage that was similar to the luggage he saw in the vehicle. Id. at 22. On August 28, 2009, Agent Jones applied for a warrant to search the storage unit. Id. at 20.

The warrant to search the storage unit was issued and executed on August 28, 2009. Id. at 22. This search yielded results; agents seized approximately eleven pounds of methamphetamine. Id.

B. Procedural Background

On December 3, 2009, Defendant was charged in a one-count Indictment with knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute fifty grams or more of methamphetamine, its salts, isomers, or salts of its isomers in violation of 21 U.S.C. ยงยง 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A). Doc. No. 14. On March 15, 2010, Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence that did not challenge the placement or use of the GPS device, but argued that two of the three search warrants executed were invalid. Doc. No. 23. After an April 26, 2010 hearing, the court denied the Motion to Suppress. Doc. No. 32. One month later, Defendant entered a conditional plea of guilty and reserved his right to appeal this court's denial of his Motion to Suppress. Doc. No. 36. After obtaining new counsel, Defendant filed a Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea on March 15, 2011. Doc. No. ...


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