The Tenth Circuit issued its opinion in United States v. Salas-Garcia on Monday, October 22, 2012.
Jose Salas-Garcia entered a conditional plea of guilty to one count of conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine and one count of possessing more than 500 grams of cocaine with the intent to distribute. Prior to his plea, he moved to suppress the drugs found in the vehicle he was driving, as well as statements he made to police, arguing that he was illegally arrested and the evidence subsequently obtained was the fruit of a constitutional violation. The district court denied his motion to suppress. Thereafter, Salas-Garcia sought to withdraw his guilty plea, stating he did not fully understand the immigration consequences of his plea. (Salas-Garcia was a legal permanent resident of the United States, and deportation to his home country was mandatory because he was pleading guilty to two aggravated felonies.) The district court denied his motion to withdraw his guilty plea and sentenced Salas-Garcia to concurrent terms of sixty months’ imprisonment and a four-year term of supervised release. Mr. Salas-Garcia appealed.
On appeal, Mr. Salas-Garcia first argued that the arresting officers exceeded the scope of the Terry stop and lacked probable cause to handcuff and detain him prior to questioning. Accordingly, Salas-Garcia argued, his responses to his subsequent questioning and the drugs seized from the truck were fruits of the poisonous tree and should be suppressed. The Court found that placing Salas-Garcia in handcuffs was reasonable under the circumstances, and his detention was not an arrest that had to be supported by probable cause. The handcuffing of Salas-Garcia did not exceed the bounds of an investigatory detention and thus he was not illegally arrested. Consequently, there was no basis for suppressing his statements to law enforcement or the drugs seized from the truck as fruits of the poisonous tree.
Second, Mr. Salas-Garcia argued that, although he pled guilty before a magistrate judge, he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea because his plea had not been accepted. However, the Tenth Circuit found that the magistrate judge was clear in accepting Salas-Garcia’s guilty plea; there was no indication that his guilty plea was accepted on a “conditional” or “provisional” basis.
Finally, Mr. Salas-Garcia argued that, even if the district court had accepted his guilty plea, there is a fair and just reason to withdraw his plea because the consequence of his plea would mean deportation. However, the record revealed that the immigration consequences of his plea could not have been clearer. Accordingly, the Court concluded Salas-Garcia knowingly and voluntarily entered into the plea agreement.
The district court’s denial of Salas-Garcia’s motion to suppress is AFFIRMED and Salas-Garcia’s appeal from the district court’s denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea is DISMISSED.