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United States v. Celaya Valenzuela

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

May 11, 2015

United States of America
Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela. Opinion No. 2015 DNH 094


JOSEPH N. LaPLANTE, District Judge.

This case raises the question of whether the defendant, Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela ("Celaya"), validly waived his Fifth Amendment rights, and therefore, whether his alleged inculpatory statements were admissible at trial. In moving to suppress the statements, Celaya makes two arguments. First, he argues that he was never advised of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1960), despite the apparent presence of his signature on a form advising him of his rights and acknowledging his waiver of them; he claims his signature was forged. Second, Celaya argues, even if the form is genuine, he did not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waive his rights.

After an evidentiary hearing, the court orally denied the motion to suppress.[1] This order serves to set forth the bases for the ruling in greater detail. See, e.g., United States v. Joubert, 980 F.Supp.2d 53, 55 n.1 (D.N.H. 2014) (noting a district court's authority to later reduce its prior oral findings and rulings to writing), aff'd, 778 F.3d 247 (1st Cir. 2015). As fully explained infra, Part II, the evidence establishes that Celaya did, in fact, sign the Miranda waiver. This finding is supported by, inter alia, testimony of Special Agent Tucker Heap, the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") 302 Form summarizing Agent Heap's interrogation of Celaya, the waiver form itself, and Celaya's testimony. Celaya's second argument also fails. The totality of the circumstances strongly supports the finding that Celaya-an attorney who described his own treatment as "friendly"-knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his rights. Therefore, the prosecution has met its burden of proving that Celaya's alleged statements to law enforcement personnel on August 7, 2012 were lawfully obtained.

I. Applicable Legal Standard

Under Miranda, law enforcement personnel must employ certain warnings to suspects before subjecting them to "custodial interrogation" in order to protect their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. United States v. Jackson, 544 F.3d 351, 356 (1st Cir. 2008); see also U.S. Const. amend. V. ("No person... shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."). "Any statements obtained as a result of custodial interrogation in the absence of Miranda warnings must be suppressed." Jackson, 544 F.3d at 356. The prosecution bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the suspect was given Miranda warnings and validly waived his rights. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 475; U.S. v. Rojas-Tapia, 446 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 2006).

II. Background

The court makes the following findings of fact on testimony and other evidence received at the suppression hearing.

On August 7, 2012, around 1:30 p.m., Spanish authorities arrested Celaya based on warrants issued by this Court in connection with indictments charging him, and others, with conspiracy to distribute, and to possesses with intent to distribute, a quantity of illicit drugs, including cocaine. Several hours later, sometime between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., FBI Agents Heap and Foley and Boston Police Detective Juan Seoane arrived at the AC Hotel Cuzco in Madrid, Spain to interview Celaya in his hotel room, where he was being held. When the agents arrived, Celaya was sitting on the couch dressed in slacks and a collared shirt, and his hands were handcuffed in front of his body. Agent Heap sat beside Celaya on the couch, Detective Seoane sat across from Celaya on a chair, and Agent Foley sat behind everyone on the bed.

Agent Heap explained "why [they] were there" and "what [they] were doing, " i.e., they had been investigating Celaya and his associates for drug trafficking. Agent Heap then asked Celaya if he preferred to converse in English or Spanish, and after electing Spanish, Celaya received a Spanish-language version of the form containing Miranda warnings.[2] This conversation occurred "before [they] asked [Celaya] any question[s]." Aware that Celaya had been educated as a lawyer, Agent Heap asked Celaya if he understood the form. Celaya stated that he did and signed it in the agents' presence, indicating that he understood his rights but was waiving them. Agent Heap also testified that, to avoid creating any confusion, he let the form serve as the sole explanation of Celaya's rights. Neither Agent Heap nor other agents verbalized any Miranda warnings. Shortly thereafter, Agent Heap and Detective Seoane signed the form as witnesses. Questions and answers ensued. Celaya never asked for a lawyer or to terminate the interview. In his testimony at the suppression hearing, Celaya described his treatment by Special Agent Heap as if "he were a friend." Upon completion of the interview, lasting less than an hour, [3] Agent Heap summarized the interview on a 302 Form, which included a statement that "Celaya waived his rights."

Roughly three months later, in November of 2012, Celaya, then incarcerated in the United States, mailed Agent Heap two handwritten letters. The first letter asked Agent Heap to visit Celaya in prison without any attorneys to discuss something "very important, " but did not provide any more details. The second letter explicitly asked Agent Heap to strike a deal with Celaya in exchange for cooperating with the prosecution in this case and another. In the letter, Celaya refers to Agent Heap as a "friend" and someone that inspires "confidence" in him, and that he hopes they "can be a great team."

III. Analysis

Celaya makes two arguments: (1) claiming his signature on the form was forged, that he was never given his Miranda warnings and (2) regardless, he did not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waive his rights. For the reasons stated infra, the prosection has met its burden of proving that Celaya's statements were lawfully obtained.

A. Allegedly forged Miranda warning form

Celaya first argues that, while the signature on the Miranda waiver "looks like" his, it was in fact forged, and he has never before seen the document-which, on the prosecution's own account, was the sole ...

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