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USA v. Aguilera

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

August 8, 2017

USA, Plaintiff,
v.
JORGE HUMBERTO AGUILERA ALEJANDRO CHAVEZ-LOPEZ ROBERT ANTHONY FONCECA, Defendants.

          ORDER

          ROBERT J. CONRAD, JR.UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court regarding the Defendant's Motion to Suppress, (Doc. No. 74); Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Suppress, (Doc. No. 75); and Defendant's Reply to the Government's Response in Opposition to the Motion to Suppress, (Doc. No. 82). During the course of the trial, the Court granted the Defendant's Motion to Suppress for the reasons explained below.

         After Alejandro Chavez-Lopez's (“Defendant”) arrest for his involvement in a conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, police officers interviewed him at the police station for twenty-five minutes prior to reading him his Miranda rights. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The government self-suppressed the pre-Miranda statements, and Defendant sought suppression of the post-Miranda statements.

         This Court found that Miranda warnings were deliberately delayed, thereby creating a presumption of compulsion regarding the Defendant's post-Miranda statements under U.S. v. Mashburn, 406 F.3d 303, 309 (4th Cir. 2005). Because the Government failed to rebut that presumption, the post-Miranda statements are inadmissible.

         II. FACTS

         Two officers, including Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Ubaldo Rios (“Agent Rios”), arrested Defendant on January 25, 2017, and transported him to the Huntersville Police Department Headquarters. The officers met with Defendant in an interview room. Initially, they spoke to the Defendant about the nature of his charge and about biographical information [Government's English Translation of the Interview Transcript (“Tr.”), 1-3]. Before giving defendant any Miranda warnings, the agents asked Defendant approximately fifteen substantive questions, including “How did you get to Wal-Mart?” (Id. at 4); “You ever been arrested in North Carolina?” (Id. at 9); “You are in debt?” (Id. at 12); “The guy from the Hyundai, where did he come from? Where does he live?” (Id. at 12). During this discourse, at least three times the agents said a Miranda warning was necessary. (Id. at 6, 9, 16). Yet, it was twenty-five minutes into the conversation before Agent Rios provided such a warning. (Id. at 17). Defendant responded with “Ay, ” “Yes, ” and nodded his head. (Id. at 17-18). He did not sign a formal waiver of his Miranda rights but continued to speak with the agents. Post-Miranda, the agents questioned Defendant about his debt, (Id. at 29-30), inquired about the specific location of a “store” involved in drug trafficking, (Id. at 29), and discussed the ramifications of Defendant's cooperation, (Id. at 18-20).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The Supreme Court noted in Missouri v. Siebert that “Miranda addressed ‘interrogation practices … likely … to disable [an individual] from making a free and rational choice' about speaking.” 542 U.S. 600, 601 (2004) (quoting Miranda, 384 U.S. at 464-65). When the reading of Miranda is delayed, the admissibility analysis hinges on whether the delay is deliberate. Mashburn, 406 F.3d at 309. When the delay is deliberate, courts in the Fourth Circuit follow the Siebert presumptive framework:

The admissibility of post-warning statements is governed by Elstad unless the deliberate “question-first” strategy is employed. If that strategy is deliberately employed, post-warning statements related to the substance of pre-warning statements must be excluded unless curative measures are taken before the post-warning statements are made.

Mashburn, 406 F.3d at 309 (quoting Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600, 621 (2004)). In his concurring opinion in Seibert, Justice Kennedy determined that a post-Miranda statement is admissible if curative measures are taken even when deliberate delay is present. Id. Without curative measures, the post-warning statements are inadmissible. Id. On the other hand, when the delay is merely coincidental or accidental, courts apply the Elstad framework: “a simple failure to administer the warnings, unaccompanied by any actual coercion or other circumstances calculated to undermine the suspect's ability to exercise his free will, ” does not render a post-Miranda statement inadmissible. Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 309 (1985).

         The “question-first” tactic occurs when law enforcement uses pre-warning answers to inform, guide, and hone post-warning questioning. Siebert 542 U.S. at 600. The Supreme Court has found that the question-first technique, designed “to render Miranda warnings ineffective by waiting for a particularly opportune time to give them, after the suspect had already confessed, ” (Id. at 611), “effectively threatens to thwart Miranda's purpose of reducing the risk that a coerced confession would be admitted.” Id. at 617.

         To determine the nature of the delay, the Court explained, “[T]he focus is on facts apart from intent that show the question-first tactic at work.” Siebert 542 U.S. at 616, n.6. Setting aside an analysis of the officer's subjective intent and focusing on the objective facts, the Siebert plurality set forth five factors to determine whether ...


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