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United States v. Arellano-Banuelos

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

June 17, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

          Before ELROD, HIGGINSON, and ENGELHARDT, Circuit Judges.


         Ignacio Arellano-Banuelos was convicted by a jury of illegal reentry. On appeal, he argues that his confession was admitted in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), he was denied the opportunity to present a statute of limitations defense, the district court erred in striking a prospective juror for cause, and the admission of a certificate of non-existence of record violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause.

         In an earlier opinion, we remanded this case to the district court for additional findings as to whether Arellano-Banuelos was "in custody" for purposes of Miranda. See United States v. Arellano-Banuelos, 912 F.3d 862 (5th Cir. 2019). Our prior opinion recounts the pertinent factual background. See id. at 864-65. After considering the district court's findings and the parties' supplemental briefs, we now affirm.



         Under Miranda, an individual subjected to "in-custody interrogation" must first "be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed." 384 U.S. at 444-45. These safeguards are required "[b]ecause custodial police interrogation, by its very nature, isolates and pressures the individual," and "heightens the risk that an individual will not be accorded his privilege under the Fifth Amendment not to be compelled to incriminate himself." Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428, 435 (2000) (cleaned up).

         Arellano-Banuelos's Miranda claim arises out of an August 2015 interview with Norberto Cruz, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent. At the time of the interview, Arellano-Banuelos was serving a sentence of 15 months' imprisonment on unrelated state offenses. Cruz and two other ICE agents traveled to the state prison to interview 23 inmates, including Arellano-Banuelos. The inmates were escorted to the office in groups of five. A prison guard stood at the door of the office, which remained open. Cruz and another ICE agent conducted simultaneous interviews at separate tables, and a third agent photographed and fingerprinted the inmates after the conclusion of their interviews. These interviews ordinarily lasted between ten and thirty minutes, although the parties agree that Arellano-Banuelos's interview took about ten to fifteen minutes.

         Cruz interviewed Arellano-Banuelos about his immigration status and past deportation without providing complete Miranda warnings. Over the course of this interview, Arellano-Banuelos acknowledged his alienage, his prior removal, and his lack of permission from the Attorney General to reenter the United States. Arellano-Banuelos was later charged with illegal reentry, and he moved to suppress his admissions to Cruz. The district court denied the motion after finding that the August 2015 interview "was not a custodial interrogation for Miranda purposes."

         In a prior opinion, we held that this interview was an "interrogation" under Miranda because Cruz should have known that his questioning was "reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect." Arellano-Banuelos, 912 F.3d at 866 (quoting Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 301 (1980)). We remanded to the district court for additional findings on the issue of Arellano-Banuelos's custodial status. Id. at 869. After hearing further testimony and argument, the district court concluded that Arellano-Banuelos was not in custody under Miranda during the August 2015 interview.

         We review the district court's "factual findings for clear error and the ultimate constitutionality of law enforcement action de novo." United States v. Robinson, 741 F.3d 588, 594 (5th Cir. 2014). "The clearly erroneous standard is particularly deferential where denial of the suppression motion is based on live oral testimony because the judge had the opportunity to observe the demeanor of the witnesses." United States v. Ortiz, 781 F.3d 221, 226 (5th Cir. 2015) (cleaned up). Further, we consider "the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, which in this case is the government." United States v. Wright, 777 F.3d 769, 773 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting United States v. Santiago, 410 F.3d 193, 197 (5th Cir. 2005)).


         Custody for purposes of Miranda "is a term of art that specifies circumstances that are thought generally to present a serious danger of coercion." Howes v. Fields, 565 U.S. 499, 508-09 (2012). This inquiry "is an objective one-the subjective intent of the questioners and the subjective fear of the questioned person are irrelevant." United States v. Melancon, 662 F.3d 708, 711 (5th Cir. 2011). We first consider whether "'there is a 'formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement' of the degree associated with a formal arrest." Maryland v. Shatzer, 559 U.S. 98, 112 (2010) (quoting New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 655 (1984)). The Supreme Court has observed that "[t]his test, no doubt, is satisfied by all forms of incarceration." Id. Yet, "the freedom-of-movement test identifies only a necessary and not a sufficient condition for Miranda custody." Id. Courts also consider "the ...

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