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State v. Ruiz

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

January 31, 2018


          Argued: October 19, 2017

          Ann M. Rice, deputy attorney general (Susan P. McGinnis, senior assistant attorney general, on the brief and orally), for the State.

          Stephanie Hausman, deputy chief appellate defender, of Concord, on the brief and orally, for the defendant.

          DALIANIS, C.J.

          The defendant, Felix Ruiz, appeals his conviction by a jury of misdemeanor receipt of stolen property; namely, a United States passport belonging to an African-American woman named "Cecilia Francis Riley." See RSA 637:7 (2016). On appeal, he argues that the Superior Court (Smukler, J.) erred when it: (1) denied his motion to suppress certain evidence, including his post-Miranda confession, see Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966); and (2) denied his motion to dismiss based upon insufficiency of the evidence. We affirm.

          I. Facts

         We accept the trial court's findings where supported by the record of the suppression hearing. State v. Morrill, 169 N.H. 709, 711 (2017). For the purpose of determining the sufficiency of the evidence, we also consider facts adduced at trial that support the jury's verdict. See id. at 711-12.

         In May 2015, the defendant accompanied Juan Manuel Soto Guzman to the Manchester office of the State Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) so that Guzman could obtain a New Hampshire driver's license under the name "Angel Berrios Rivera." The defendant knew Guzman and was aware that Guzman is not, in fact, "Angel Berrios Rivera."

         Before accompanying Guzman to the Manchester DMV, the defendant performed what he called a "background" on "the Angel Berrios Rivera identity, " and provided the information he collected about that identity to Guzman in exchange for money. The defendant then drove Guzman to the Manchester DMV and filled out the driver's license application in the "Angel Berrios Rivera" name for Guzman. Among the documents that the defendant submitted with Guzman's application were: (1) a social security card in the "Angel Berrios Rivera" name; (2) a birth certificate for "Angel Berrios Rivera"; and (3) a lease agreement between "Angel Berrios Rivera" and a landlord. With respect to the lease agreement, the defendant signed it on behalf of the "landlord" and gave his own cellular telephone number as the landlord's telephone number. The defendant said that he knew that "the real Angel Rivera . . . was not aware that [the defendant] had collected his information and had utilized it . . . at the DMV." According to the defendant, he is part of a "whole process of obtaining documents and assisting" others in obtaining "false identities."

         After Guzman's driver's license application had been submitted, State Troopers Dupont and O'Leary were dispatched to the Manchester DMV because the submitted documents appeared to be fraudulent. Guzman and the defendant were asked if they would speak to the troopers, and both men agreed to do so. The two men were separated. O'Leary spoke with Guzman. Dupont spoke with the defendant in a room that was 10 feet by 10 feet square and contained a desk and a chair. Dupont sat behind the desk, leaving the room's door open. Periodically, Dupont left the room to consult with O'Leary.

         Once Dupont identified himself to the defendant, the defendant asked, "out of the blue, " whether "there [was] anything wrong with the documents." Dupont "thought it was an odd question" because "up to [that] point, [he] had believed that [the defendant] was simply there . . . to assist . . . Guzman" in obtaining a driver's license.

          Dupont began by inquiring, generally, about who the defendant was, why he was there, and how he knew the other man (Guzman). Initially, the defendant claimed that he did not know the other man and that he was at the DMV only to act as a translator. Eventually, he admitted to knowing the other man's father. Finally, he conceded that he had known the other man for two weeks.

         The defendant told Dupont that he had traveled from his home in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, had picked up the other man at the Manchester address listed on the driver's license application and taken him to the Manchester DMV, and that the defendant was not being paid for his services. He also told Dupont that he had not given the other man any documents to be submitted with the driver's license application.

         The police contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). When an ICE agent arrived at the DMV to fingerprint Guzman, Dupont asked the defendant if he would be willing to be fingerprinted, and the defendant agreed. When Guzman was fingerprinted, his true identity was revealed. Guzman was then taken into custody.

         Before leaving the DMV, Guzman voluntarily showed O'Leary text messages that he had exchanged with the defendant to arrange their meeting and to agree to a $350 fee for the defendant's services. After he was confronted with the messages, the defendant admitted to signing the lease agreement for Guzman.

         At that time, which was approximately two and one-half hours after the interview began, the police arrested the defendant for conspiracy. He was then advised of his Miranda rights. See Miranda, 384 U.S. at 479. Dupont read each right to the defendant, after which he asked the defendant whether he understood his rights and would agree to waive them. The defendant agreed to waive his rights and initialed and signed the form. He then wrote a statement in which he claimed that Guzman, to whom he referred as "Angel, " had paid him $25 for translation services and $25 for gas in exchange for assisting him with the driver's license application. He denied signing the lease agreement, but admitted that he gave his cellular telephone number as the landlord's number at "Angel's" request. When Dupont pointed out that the defendant had just confessed to signing the lease, the defendant wrote on the back of the statement that he had, indeed, signed the lease. The defendant signed both the front and back of the statement.

         Upon further questioning, the defendant admitted that Guzman was not, in fact, "Angel, " that he had provided Guzman with documents related to the "Angel Berrios Rivera" identity in order to help Guzman obtain "another identity, " and that he and others from Massachusetts were part of a "whole process of obtaining documents and assisting" individuals to procure "false identities." The defendant told Dupont that he was paid to perform "backgrounds" on individuals and that the information he obtained was then given to someone else who would generate the false identity documents. As part of the "background" that he did on the "Angel Berrios Rivera" identity, the defendant looked for names "to try and consolidate the name and date of birth and the Social Security number" associated with that identity.

         During the entire interview, the defendant was "extremely cooperative" with and "polite" to the troopers. As a result, Dupont offered to release him provided that he produce the minimum amount of cash bail for a misdemeanor charge. The defendant had no cash available, but claimed that his girlfriend could bring it. The troopers allowed him to text his girlfriend, who agreed to come to the DMV with the money. However, the girlfriend never arrived and, after a few hours of waiting, the police decided to transport the defendant to jail and allow his girlfriend to meet him there.

         Before being escorted to jail, the defendant expressed concern about leaving his girlfriend's purse visible in his vehicle. The defendant agreed to allow Dupont to hide the purse and gave him the keys to his vehicle.

         Dupont did not see the purse on the driver's side of the passenger compartment, and, thus, entered the vehicle to see if it was located elsewhere. He observed the following items on the floor between the driver and passenger seats: (1) a two-part lease agreement that appeared to be similar to the form that had been submitted with Guzman's driver's license application; (2) a white envelope on which were written the word "Junior, " the signature of "Angel Berrios Rivera, " and the number "25"; and (3) a document detailing an on-line search of a social security number for "Angel Berrios Rivera." Believing the documents to be contraband related to Guzman's attempt to obtain a driver's license and fearing that the defendant's girlfriend would destroy or remove them, Dupont seized them. Upon exiting the vehicle, Dupont saw a small purse, which he hid, as the defendant had requested.

         Thereafter, without showing the defendant the documents or informing the defendant about what he had observed, Dupont asked the defendant if he would consent to a search of his vehicle. The defendant readily agreed, signing a handwritten consent form that Dupont drafted. Dupont conducted a full search of the vehicle, during which he found a black bag containing, among other items, the passport at issue in this case.

         Dupont then showed the defendant the Miranda form again and asked him if he recalled his rights and that he had waived them. The defendant said that he did, and the two troopers questioned him about the documents found in his vehicle. The defendant told Dupont that "he had been cleaning [Riley's] house because she was deceased, and the [landlord] that had hired him told him that if he found anything he wanted, he could keep it, " so "when he came across ...

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