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United States v. Cruz-Mercedes

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

December 18, 2019

HECTOR ANTONIO CRUZ-MERCEDES, a/k/a Pedro Colon, a/k/a Hector Cruz, Defendant, Appellant.


          John F. Palmer for appellant.

          Yael T. Epstein, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, with whom Andrew E. Lelling, United States Attorney, Richard E. Zuckerman, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, S. Robert Lyons, Chief, Criminal Appeals & Tax Enforcement Policy Section, Stanley J. Okula, Jr., Attorney, and Alexander P. Robbins, Attorney, were on brief for appellee.

          Before Lynch, Stahl, and Lipez, Circuit Judges.

          STAHL, Circuit Judge.

         During a law enforcement sting targeting a Stolen Identity Refund Fraud ("SIRF") scheme, Hector Antonio Cruz-Mercedes was administratively arrested for unlawful presence in the United States. Following the arrest, he was fingerprinted during a routine booking. Subsequently, the government charged him with multiple counts related to his involvement in the fraud scheme. Prior to trial, Cruz-Mercedes moved to suppress his booking fingerprints as the "fruit" of what he contended was an unlawful arrest.

         The district court determined that Cruz-Mercedes was arrested without probable cause prior to his admission of unlawful presence in the United States. Nonetheless, the court admitted the fingerprint evidence under the doctrine of inevitable discovery. Following the district court's ruling, Cruz-Mercedes conditionally pleaded guilty, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion as to the fingerprint evidence's admission.

         We affirm the district court's denial of the motion to suppress, albeit on different grounds. Specifically, we find on these facts that the fingerprints were obtained for routine booking purposes. Thus, there is no basis in the record of this case for suppression of the fingerprint evidence, and accordingly we need not reach the district court's probable cause or inevitable discovery determinations.

         I. Factual Background

         The relevant facts are drawn primarily from the district court's findings, see United States v. Cruz-Mercedes, 379 F.Supp.3d 24, 29-34 (D. Mass. 2019) ("Cruz-Mercedes I"), [1] "consistent with record support, with the addition of undisputed facts drawn from the suppression hearing," United States v. Hernandez-Mieses, 931 F.3d 134, 137 (1st Cir. 2019).

         A. The Arrest

         In March 2012, the Department of Homeland Security's Homeland Security Investigations ("HSI") office in Boston received information from a confidential informant ("CI") about a fraudulent tax return scheme. According to the CI, the implicated individuals allegedly used Social Security numbers stolen from Puerto Rican residents to file false tax returns and fraudulently obtain refund checks.[2] On three separate occasions between April and May 2012, the CI met with one individual involved in the scheme, Odalis Castillo-Lopez, with the goal of purchasing fraudulent refund checks. Subsequently, the CI arranged to meet with Castillo-Lopez on June 7, 2012 under the guise of purchasing approximately $160, 000 in fraudulently obtained checks. Agents from HSI and the Secret Service established surveillance of the June 7 meeting with the intention of arresting Castillo-Lopez. The agents convened in a parking lot adjacent to a McDonald's in South Attleboro, Massachusetts.

         Castillo-Lopez arrived at the McDonald's in a white Volkswagen Passat accompanied by an unknown passenger, later identified as Cruz-Mercedes. Alma Martinez, the sister of Cruz-Mercedes's girlfriend Betty Sanchez, was later identified as the owner of the Passat. The two men exited the vehicle and entered the McDonald's, followed closely by Special Agents John Soares and Michael Riley of HSI and Special Agent Fred Mitchell of the Secret Service. Soares and Mitchell approached Castillo-Lopez inside the McDonald's, asked him some questions, escorted him outside, arrested him, and took him to the Boston HSI office for processing. The officers seized two cell phones from Castillo-Lopez during his arrest.

         At the same time, Agent Riley briefly conversed with Cruz-Mercedes inside the McDonald's, but there is no record evidence of the substance of that conversation. At some point, Riley escorted Cruz-Mercedes out of the McDonald's, and Special Agent Cronin of HSI subsequently questioned Cruz-Mercedes in the parking lot.[3]

         Outside the McDonald's, Cruz-Mercedes identified himself to Cronin as "Pedro Colon" and displayed identification documents bearing that name, including a Massachusetts driver's license and a Social Security card. Cronin asked Cruz-Mercedes if the documents were, in fact, his. Cruz-Mercedes responded that his name was actually Hector Cruz-Mercedes, that he was a native of the Dominican Republic, and that he had unlawfully entered the United States. Cronin then formally arrested Cruz-Mercedes for unlawful presence in the United States. A search of Cruz-Mercedes incident to that arrest uncovered two cell phones, which were then seized. At no point during the interaction did law enforcement advise Cruz-Mercedes of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

         Cruz-Mercedes was then transported to the Boston HSI office for processing. There, Agent Cronin created an alien file for Cruz-Mercedes, who had not previously encountered immigration authorities and thus had no file. Cronin fingerprinted ...

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