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United States v. Camberos-Villapuda

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 12, 2016

United States of America, Plaintiff- Appellee,
Luciano Camberos-Villapuda, also known as Benjamin Sicariros-Camboros, also known as Luciano Ortiz, also known as

          Submitted: May 19, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of South Dakota - Sioux Falls

          Before RILEY, Chief Judge, COLLOTON and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.

         Luciano Camberos-Villapuda was charged with conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. See 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846. Before trial, he moved to suppress evidence seized and statements he made during a search in Denver, Colorado. The district court[1] denied the motion as to the physical evidence, and a jury convicted Camberos. The court sentenced Camberos to life imprisonment, as mandated by 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). Camberos appeals the district court's denial of his motion to suppress and imposition of a life sentence. We affirm.


         On May 30, 2013, police received a tip that an out-of-state vehicle would be delivering methamphetamine to a home near the intersection of East Alameda Avenue and South Holly Street in Denver. In response, Detectives Matthew Baughman and James Edinger of the Denver Police Department conducted surveillance of the area.

         In the early morning hours of May 31, Baughman was walking in the neighborhood's alleys. As he approached the home at 5620 East Alameda Avenue, Baughman heard grinding noises coming from the residence's backyard. Through an opening large enough for a vehicle to pass through on the south side of the residence's slatted fence, Baughman observed a man, later identified as Camberos, using a flashlight to work under a red Ford Expedition. The Expedition was parked on the east side of the residence and bore Nebraska license plates. Baughman was unsure when the vehicle had arrived to the residence.

         After moving further down the alley, Baughman watched Camberos for approximately fifteen to twenty minutes through gaps in the fence's east side. Baughman observed Camberos under the Expedition grinding on an area in the center of the passenger side of the vehicle. During that time, Baughman saw Camberos crawl out from underneath the Expedition, approach the opening in the fence, and peer down the alley. He also witnessed Camberos enter the home briefly and then return to work on the vehicle.

         Based on his training and experience, Baughman was suspicious that Camberos was making a "vehicle hide"-an alteration made to a vehicle's frame, in which narcotics, weapons, and firearms can be hidden. After Baughman consulted Detective Edinger, the detectives requested assistance from uniformed officers. Three officers arrived, and together with Baughman, they walked onto the property through the large opening in the fence's south side.

         Camberos stopped working on the vehicle, and the uniformed officers contacted him near the rear of the Expedition. Camberos introduced himself as "Benjamin Sicairos-Camberos" and, upon the officers' request, produced his wallet and provided identification. Baughman was positioned nearby, and noticed from his vantage point that Camberos was "extremely nervous, " perspiring, and constantly clearing his throat. At one point, Camberos retrieved a bottle of water from near the house because he was having trouble speaking.

         Because Baughman could not hear the conversation between Camberos and the uniformed officers, one of the officers relayed Camberos's responses. The officer reported that Camberos denied working on the Expedition initially and later claimed that he was repairing the vehicle's wheel bearings. Camberos also said that he did not know who owned the vehicle. The officers checked the Expedition's license plates and determined that Camberos was not the registered owner. Camberos maintained that he had not been inside the residence and did not know who lived there. Camberos also stated that no one was in the house, but later said that other people were inside.

         Upon hearing Camberos's comments, Baughman walked to the passenger side of the Expedition and noticed tools consistent with those that would be used to create a vehicle hide. Baughman looked underneath the Expedition and found a hidden compartment in the location where Camberos had been working. Officers later discovered another vehicle hide elsewhere in the Expedition.

         Based on their observations and Camberos's conflicting accounts as to whether other people were in the house, the officers decided to secure the residence. Some officers were worried that the home's occupants were engaged in cartel operations, that other residents would soon see the officers, and that the residents would dispose of evidence or present a safety risk. Another officer was concerned that Camberos was committing a burglary and that victims could be located in the house. The officers therefore entered the residence.

         As they secured the inside of the residence, officers saw methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia and discovered two people. The officers then applied for a search warrant. While the officers waited for the warrant, Camberos informed police that he was staying at the residence, and that he had purchased the Expedition but registered the vehicle in another person's name. After obtaining a warrant, the ...

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