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United States of America v. Juan Rijo-Carrion

December 19, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Roslynn R. Mauskopf, United States District Judge.


Defendant Juan Rijo-Carrion moves pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b)(3) to suppress certain statements he made on October 21, 2011 at John F. Kennedy International Airport ("JFK") both during a border inspection during which drugs were found in defendant's suitcase, and subsequent to defendant's arrest. (Def.'s Mot. to Suppress (Doc. No. 12).) The Court held a suppression hearing, limited to the issue of whether defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights, at which Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") Officer Moses Sanchez testified as the sole witness. For the reasons below, defendant's motion is denied in its entirety.


The facts below are taken from the government's sworn complaint (Doc. No. 1), the affidavits of defendant and defense counsel in support of the motion to suppress (Doc. No. 13-A),*fn1 and the testimony of Officer Sanchez at the suppression hearing, which the Court finds credible in its entirety.

Defendant arrived at JFK on October 21, 2011 aboard Jet Blue flight # 832 from the Dominican Republic. (Compl. at ¶ 1.) Defendant was selected for a secondary customs inspection, and was escorted by a uniformed agent to step out of line to a separate screening area.*fn2 (Compl. at ¶ 2; Def.'s Aff. at ¶ 3--4.) Defendant presented a particular red suitcase and admitted the suitcase belonged to him. (Compl. at ¶ 2.) Defendant was also in possession of the claim check ticket that matched the tag number on the suitcase. (Id.) The suitcase was later determined to contain a substance that field-tested positive for the presence of cocaine. (Id.) Defendant was then placed under arrest. (Id.)

Officer Sanchez was directed by his supervisor to proceed to a search room to assist agents of the Department of Homeland Security and to act as an interpreter. (Def.'s Aff. at ¶ 9; Tr. at 22:9--11.) Officer Sanchez testified that he is a fluent Spanish speaker, speaking it at home from the time he was a young child. (Tr. at 10:13--21.) Having attained the highest level on an exam administered as part of the Foreign Assessment Proficiency program, Sanchez is authorized to use the language as part of his work as a CBP officer for which he receives a monetary bonus. (Tr. at 10:22--25; 11:1--13.) Sanchez estimated that he uses Spanish daily in approximately 10% of his work, and has given Miranda warnings in Spanish four or five times a year, for the roughly four years he has been a Customs and Border Protection Officer. (Tr. at 11:14-16; 14:14-16; 28:14-25; 29:1-3.)

Upon arriving at the search room, Sanchez met with Homeland Security agents who briefed him on the circumstances of defendant's arrest. (TR at 21:2-8). He then met the defendant, introduced himself in Spanish, made small talk, and asked defendant whether defendant could understand him. (Tr. at 33:16--19.) Defendant indicated that he did understand. (Tr. at 33:19--20.)

Officer Sanchez testified that he then read each of the Miranda warnings to defendant in Spanish from a Spanish-language Miranda card. (Tr. at 6:2--3, 7:20--22, 8:15--25.) Officer Sanchez testified that he read directly from the Spanish-language portion of the card, rather than translating the English warnings into Spanish.*fn3 (Tr. at 39:4--7.)

Based on his experience screening passengers from a number of Spanish-speaking countries, Officer Sanchez believed that certain passengers, particularly those from the Dominican Republic, might have trouble understanding the word "waive" in Spanish as it would be read directly from the Miranda card. (Tr. at 42:7--12.) As a result, and believing that the defendant was Dominican, Officer Sanchez further explained the meaning of waiving one's rights after reading the final warning directly from the Miranda card in Spanish, but before defendant responded. (Tr. at 45:16--25, 46:1--13.) Although Officer Sanchez indicated that he did not recall the specific words he used (Tr. at 46:10--13), he testified as follows:

At that point I said, with [sic] that last question meant is you realize you have the right not to say anything-I'm sorry, you have the right to forego or to let go of all of these rights and then make a statement, or you have a right to just stay there and be quiet and not say anything. (Tr. at 45:19--24.)

Officer Sanchez testified that defendant said he understood his rights and that he was willing to speak to the officers. (Tr. at 10:7-10; 46:11--13.) Officer Sanchez did not recall presenting defendant with a written Miranda waiver form, and there is no evidence that defendant ever read or signed a waiver form. (Tr. at 31:20--25, 32:1.) Defendant orally indicated that he was willing to waive his rights and speak to police. (Tr. at 10:7--10.) Officer Sanchez testified that the entire interview lasted approximately 45 minutes to an hour. (Tr. at 27:22--25.)

Officer Sanchez asked defendant whether defendant understood his Spanish a total of three or four times. (Tr. at 12:2--8, 32:2--9.) Each time, defendant indicated that he understood. (Tr. at 12:19--22.) Officer Sanchez testified that defendant never indicated that he did not understand his rights or that he was confused about anything Officer Sanchez had said to him (Tr. at 11:21--23;12:16--18), never had a puzzled expression on his face, and never otherwise indicated that he did not understand what Sanchez was saying (Tr. at 42:13--22).

Defendant offered no testimony at the hearing, but stated in his affidavit that the officers "attempted to administer Miranda warnings without the assistance of a certified [S]panish interpreter," that he speaks "no English," and that he "did not understand the nature of these warnings." (Def.'s Aff. at ¶¶ 8--10.)


I. Statements Upon Entry to the United States Defendant first moves to suppress the statements made at the border upon entry to the United States, in which he admitted ownership of the suitcase containing drugs, on the ground that he was in custody for purposes of Miranda. The government argues that these circumstances - a routine secondary inspection at ...

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