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United States v. Mojica

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 24, 2017

United States of America,
Leudy Enrique Rodriguez Mojica, Defendant.


          Nathaniel M. Gorton United States District Judge

         Defendant Leudy Enrique Rodriguez Mojica (“defendant”) has been indicted on 1) one count of alien unlawfully present in the United States in possession of a firearm and ammunition, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5)(A), and 2) one count of false representation of a Social Security account number, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 408(a)(7)(B). The indictment also includes a criminal forfeiture allegation.

         Currently before the Court is defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained during a Terry stop of the vehicle he was driving on March 23, 2016. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

         I. Background

         In January, 2016, Special Agent Dana Fiandeca, of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), received information from a confidential source (“CS”) about a Dominican male named “Leudy” who was unlawfully present in the United States and was involved in the drug trade in Lawrence, Massachusetts. According to the CS, “Leudy” assumed an alias using Puerto Rican documents and drove a gold-colored Toyota Avalon without a driver's license. The CS also provided Leudy's cell phone number. Two months later, in March, 2016, the CS provided Special Agent Fiandeca a license plate number for the Avalon and informed him that “Leudy” possessed a handgun.

         On March 23, 2016, Special Agent Fiandeca was in an unmarked vehicle with two FBI special agents and an ICE deportation officer (collectively, “the agents”) in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The agents spotted the gold Avalon near Broadway and Bradford streets. Although they could not follow the vehicle, they later located it in a parking lot near a basketball court in the Essex Street projects. At that point, the federal agents contacted Detective John Heggarty of the Lawrence Police Department and after he arrived, the agents collectively decided to approach the vehicle.

         They asked the five occupants in the vehicle to show their hands. The three passengers in the back seat, including a known gang member, complied with the agents' orders. The front seat passenger was hesitant but ultimately complied. The driver, later determined to be the defendant, did not comply with the agents' order to show his hands. As a result, one of the agents attempted to open the driver-side door. Just before he did so, another agent noticed a firearm on defendant's lap and yelled “gun”. Subsequently, all occupants of the vehicle were removed and handcuffed. The agents then did a sweep of the Avalon and they discovered a Puerto Rican birth certificate and a Social Security number for “Ocasio Ramos, ” defendant's alias. Defendant was ultimately arrested and charged with several weapons and motor-vehicle offenses.

         In May, 2016, a grand jury indicted defendant in this case. In January, 2017, defendant moved to suppress the evidence from the Terry stop and the ensuing search that occurred on March 23, 2016.

         II. Motion to Suppress

         Defendant seeks to suppress all fruits of the search. According to defendant, the evidence should be suppressed because the CS relied upon by investigators was not sufficiently reliable and, therefore, the police lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct a Terry stop. The government responds that the informant had provided reliable information in the past and thus gave the police enough information to meet the reasonable suspicion standard.

         A. Legal Standard

         Even without probable cause to make an arrest, police officers may conduct a brief investigatory stop for the purposes of crime prevention and detection. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 22 (1968). Such encounters are justified if the officer has “reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.” United States v. Romain, 393 F.3d 63, 71 (1st Cir. 2004). In making a reasonable-suspicion determination, a court

must look at the totality of the circumstances . . . to see whether the detaining officer has a particularized and objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing . . . . [O]fficers [may] draw on their own experience and specialized training to make inferences from and deductions about the cumulative information available to them.

United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Although an officer must rely on more than a hunch, the likelihood of criminal activity “need not rise to the ...

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