Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Entry Consensual, Questioning Not Custodial, After Threat to Knock Down Door

USv. Azua-Rinconada: Azua-Rinconada was at his home when Homeland Security agents doing “knock and talks” in his neighborhood. The agents knocked on his door, demanded that he open the door, said they were from “Publisher’s Clearinghouse,” and then eventually said (in Spanish) “open the door or we’re going to knock it down.” Azua-Rinconada’s pregnant fiancé, Powell, opened the door at Azua-Rinconada’s direction. Powell said she opened the door “with consent” and “found the officers to be ‘professional’” once they came in. Once they were inside, one talked with Azua-Rinconada and eventually convinced him to fill out a questionnaire that raised questions about his immigration status. A warrant check showed that there were two warrants for deportation. Azua-Rinconada was arrested and convicted of illegal reentry.

On appeal, Azua-Rinconada argued that his right were violated both by the agents’ entry and by the questioning that lead to the discovery of his immigration status. As to the entry, he argued it was not consensual, relying on the threat to knock down the door. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, finding that the totality of the circumstances, including Powell’s testimony and body cam footage, showed that the entry was consensual. Similarly, the court rejected Azua-Rinconada’s argument that his statement was given without Miranda warnings because he was in custody, finding that the questioning did not happen in a custodial setting.

Judge Keenan concurred, writing separately to highlight that this “opinion should not be construed as deviating from this Circuit’s well-established precedent that a defendant’s alleged consent to a search of his property ordinarily will be deemed invalid when that consent was obtained through an ‘officer’s misstatement of his or her authority.’” This case “presents a rare
exception to this general principle.”

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