United States v. Mora, No. 19-2097 (10th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
At issue in this appeal was whether a police search of defendant Mathias Mora's home violated the Fourth Amendment. Officers responded to a 911 call reporting that dozens of people exited the back of a tractor trailer behind a supermarket. When officers arrived, the trailer was gone. But officers found fourteen people lacking identification; none of the captured passengers suggested that the driver, or anyone else, took any passengers to another location. Officers soon discovered a trailer matching the 911 caller’s description in a nearby Walmart parking lot. Officers opened the trailer’s rear doors to find it empty, except for a bottle apparently containing urine and the smell of body odor. Officers did not open the locked cab door. Officers learned the trailer was registered to Defendant, proceeded to his home, and placed Defendant and his wife under arrest. Mrs. Mora denied the officers permission to search the home. Even so, officers conducted a warrantless search (protective sweep) of the home after consulting with the U.S. Attorney’s Office “to ensure the safety of agents” and “the safety of other potential undocumented immigrants.” Although they did not find any people, officers noticed what they believed to be a gun safe and ammunition containers. Officers also learned that Defendant was a felon, which would make him a prohibited possessor. The government obtained a warrant to search Defendant’s home for evidence of alien smuggling and prohibited possession of a firearm or ammunition. A subsequent search turned up both firearms and ammunition. Defendant ultimately pled guilty to two counts of alien smuggling and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, for which he was sentenced to 32 months for smuggling and 48 months for gun possession, all to run concurrently. Defendant appealed the denial of his suppression motion, which related only to his felon in possession conviction. Finding officers lacked probable cause to search Defendant's home, the district court's suppression order was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings.