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U.S. v. Vasquez De Reyes

July 08, 1998

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
BELKI MARIA VASQUEZ DE REYES, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands (D.C. No. 96-cr-00079)

Before: Sloviter, Stapleton and Mansmann, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sloviter, Circuit Judge.

Argued December 11, 1997

Filed July 8, 1998

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant Belki Maria Vasquez De Reyes appeals her conviction for marriage fraud, 8 U.S.C. § 1325(b) (1991) (now codified at § 1325(c)), contending that illegally secured evidence was erroneously admitted. Ms. De Reyes argues that the district court erred by admitting, under the inevitable discovery doctrine, testimonial evidence acquired as a result of an unlawful stop. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Our review of the factualfindings is for clear error, and our review of the district court's application of a legal standard is plenary. See United States v. Herrold, 962 F.2d 1131, 1136 (3d Cir. 1992).

I.

The relevant facts are undisputed. In November 1996, agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service operating in the Virgin Islands received a tip from an informant that three female illegal aliens would be in Maxi's Bar in Christiansted on the island of St. Croix of the United States Virgin Islands to sell fraudulent numbers for permanent residency cards (or "green cards"). The three women were described with minimal characteristics as follows: one had red hair; another was short and"hefty" with brown hair; the third was named Carmen. The INS officers had no other details about the women.

INS agents Thomas Annello and Alec Lee proceeded to the bar where Annello encountered Ms. De Reyes, a native of the Dominican Republic, who proceeded to walk away. Annello instructed Lee to stop Ms. De Reyes, a stop the district court found was illegal because there was insufficient cause. In that connection, it is noted that when the issue arose Annello testified Ms. De Reyes appeared to have a reddish tint to her hair, but Lee testified that she had brown hair. Following the stop, Ms. De Reyes was detained and questioned about her citizenship. She admitted she was a citizen of the Dominican Republic and claimed she was legally present in the Virgin Islands under a visa. Ms. De Reyes asked a friend to fetch her purse from a nearby residence, and was able to produce papers showing that she was married to Escolastico De Reyes, a resident of the Virgin Islands, but she was unable to produce a document showing she was legally present in the United States. Ms. De Reyes was transported first to INS headquarters but when she was unable to contact her husband, she was transported by INS to a correctional facility where she was incarcerated overnight.

The next morning Escolastico De Reyes arrived at INS headquarters looking for his wife. When he was questioned by Agent Annello about his marriage, he maintained that Ms. De Reyes was in fact his wife. However, Annello then visited Escolastico De Reyes' home, where he observed very few articles of women's clothing, a fact which led him to question whether Ms. De Reyes did live there. Then Escolastico De Reyes' mother told Annello that Ms. De Reyes did not live with Escolastico, following which Escolastico De Reyes confessed that the De Reyes marriage was a fraud that had been established to enable Ms. De Reyes to obtain a permanent resident card.

When Ms. De Reyes was confronted with the information about her husband's confession and the visit by the INS to his home, she conceded the fraudulent nature of the marriage, and signed a written confession to having committed marriage fraud.

Ms. De Reyes entered a conditional plea pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(a)(2) and filed a motion to suppress all evidence of items and statements taken from her and obtained pursuant to the stop outside the bar on the basis that the INS agents lacked reasonable suspicion to hold and question her. The district court granted the motion to suppress because it found the evidence was the fruit of an unlawful stop that was unsupported by reasonable suspicion under the Fourth Amendment. The district court explained that the reasonable suspicion standard was not met in light of the agents' contradictory testimony regarding Ms. De Reyes' hair color and the fact that Ms. De Reyes failed to match even the sketchy description given by the informant. That finding is not challenged on appeal.

The government moved for reconsideration of the suppression of Escolastico's statements and Ms. De Reyes' post-Miranda confession. The government argued that the testimonial evidence was acquired independent of the illegal stop so that suppression was not required and that even if acquired illegally, the evidence would have been inevitably acquired through lawful means. On reconsideration, the district court granted the motion, finding that these statements would have been inevitably discovered through an INS investigation of the De Reyes marriage. The district court's ruling was based in part on the testimony of Andres Oversen, an INS adjudicator.

Oversen had testified concerning the INS procedures for obtaining a permanent residency card (generally called a green card) following the marriage of an alien to a United States (including Virgin Islands) resident. Such a card, which would enable a spouse to receive permission to live and work in the United States, can be obtained only after the filing of an I-485 form (an adjustment of status form). This is preceded by the filing of an I-130 form on behalf of the alien spouse. Although the I-130 form had beenfiled on behalf of Ms. De Reyes, they ...


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