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United States v. Freeman

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

November 18, 2014


For Ralph Freeman, Defendant: Peter David Greenspun, LEAD ATTORNEY, Anastasia Theodora Kranias, Greenspun Shapiro PC, Fairfax, VA.

For USA, Plaintiff: Matthew John Gardner, LEAD ATTORNEY, Tracy Doherty McCormick, U.S. Attorney's Office (Alexandria-NA), Alexandria, VA.

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This matter is before the Court on Defendant Ralph Freeman's Motion to Suppress Evidence [Dkt. 28]. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted and the Defendant's statements will be suppressed.

I. Background

Beginning in April of 2013, federal law enforcement agents with Homeland Security Investigations (" HSI Agents" ) identified an IP address with suspected child pornography files available for sharing. After additional investigation, HSI Agents determined the subject IP address was assigned to a house in Falls Church, Virginia, where Defendant Ralph Freeman (" Defendant" or " Freeman" ) resides with his wife and their children.

On July 30, 2013, HSI Agents executed a federal search warrant at Freeman's house to search for evidence related to violations of 18 U.S.C. § § 2251, 2252, and 2252A, which criminalizes the production, advertisement, distribution, receipt, and possession of child pornography. During the execution of the search warrant, two HSI Agents interviewed Freeman in an upstairs bedroom. The circumstances surrounding the execution of the search warrant, and the subsequent interview of Freeman by HSI Agents, are now at issue in this motion to suppress.

Over a year later, on September 25, 2014, a federal grand jury indicted Freeman with one count of receipt of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. [Dkt. 16.] Freeman appeared with counsel for arraignment on October 2, 2014, entered a plea of not guilty, and requested a trial by jury, which is currently scheduled for November 24, 2014. [Dkt. 22.]

Presently before the Court is Freeman's Motion to Suppress. Freeman asks the Court to preclude all statements he made during the interview with HSI Agents. (Def.'s Mem. in Supp. [Dkt. 29] at 2.) Freeman contends that the statements should be suppressed from use at trial because the statements were taken in violation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. (Id.) The Government

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filed an opposition brief on November 4, 2014, contesting Freeman's arguments. (Gov't Opp'n [Dkt.33].)

The sole issue before the Court is whether the interview of Freeman constituted " custodial interrogation" by law enforcement, and more specifically, whether he was in custody, such that Freeman should have been informed of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). The Court conducted an evidentiary hearing on November 13, 2014, and thus, the motion is ripe for disposition. (Hr'g Tr. [Dkt. 39].)

II. Standard of Review

" A person subjected to custodial interrogation is entitled to the procedural safeguards prescribed by Miranda." United States v. Leshuk, 65 F.3d 1105, 1110 (4th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted); see also Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444 (defining custodial interrogation as " questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way." ). Consequently, " any statements a suspect makes during custodial interrogation are inadmissible in the prosecution's case in chief unless prior Miranda warnings have been given." Leshuk, 65 F.3d at 1110; see also Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 434-35, 104 S.Ct. 3138, 82 L.Ed.2d 317 (1984).

Initially, the burden of proof is on the defendant who seeks to suppress the evidence. United States v. Dickerson, 655 F.2d 559, 561 (4th Cir. 1981). However, once the defendant establishes a basis for the motion to suppress, the burden shifts to the Government, which then bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the statement was not the product of custodial interrogation conducted in the absence of Miranda warnings. Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 168, 107 S.Ct. 515, 93 L.Ed.2d 473 (1986); United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 178, 94 S.Ct. 988, 39 L.Ed.2d 242 (1974).

A person is " in custody" for Miranda purposes when he is formally arrested or questioned under circumstances in which his freedom of action is curtailed " of the degree associated with a formal arrest." Leshuk, 65 F.3d at 1110 (quoting Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 322, 114 S.Ct. 1526, 128 L.Ed.2d 293 (1994)). To determine whether an individual was in custody, a court must examine all of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation, Stansbury, 511 U.S. at 322, and determine whether " a reasonable person [would] have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave." Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112, 116 S.Ct. 457, 133 L.Ed.2d 383 (1995); see also United States v. Hashime, 734 F.3d 278, 283 (4th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (" When deciding whether a defendant not under formal arrest was in custody--and thus if the Miranda requirements apply--a court asks whether, under the totality of the circumstances, a suspect's freedom of action was curtailed to a degree associated with formal arrest." ).

The Court objectively views the totality of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation and asks " how a reasonable person in the position of the individual being questioned would gauge the breadth of his or her 'freedom of action.'." United States v. Hargrove, 625 F.3d 170, 178 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Stansbury, 511 U.S. at 322 (quoting Berkemer, 468 U.S. at 440)). Facts relevant to this objective custodial inquiry include, but are not limited to: " the time, place and purpose of the encounter, the words used by the officer, the officer's tone of voice and general demeanor, the

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presence of multiple officers, the potential display of a weapon by an officer, and whether there was any physical contact between the officer and the defendant . . . . Also pertinent are the suspect's isolation and separation from family . . . and physical restrictions[.]" Hashime, 734 F.3d at 283 (quoting United States v. Day, 591 F.3d 679, 686 (4th Cir. 2010) (additional citation omitted)).

III. Analysis

There is no dispute that Freeman was questioned by law enforcement without first receiving the benefit of Miranda warnings. Thus, if Freeman was in custody, then his statements to HSI Agents are inadmissible against him at trial. Hargrove, 625 F.3d at 177 (citing Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444; United States v. Parker, 262 F.3d 415, 419 (4th Cir. 2001)).

For the reasons discussed in detail below, the Court finds the Government failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that Freeman's statements were not the product of custodial interrogation. Miranda warnings were required but not given. Accordingly, the statements will be suppressed and the Government cannot use them at trial.

Two recent Fourth Circuit opinions in Hargrove and Hashime guide this Court's analysis due to their factual similarity with the circumstances in this case. The analysis in Hashime controls this outcome.

A. United States v. Hargrove

In Hargrove, between ten and fifteen law enforcement officers executed a search warrant on Hargrove's residence around 6:00 a.m. to search for evidence of federal child exploitation crimes. 625 F.3d at 173-74. Approximately five officers, some with firearms drawn, " cleared the residence" and secured the individuals inside, which included the suspect, Hargrove, his daughter who was in her 20s, and the daughter's boyfriend. Id. at 174. Defendant John Hargrove testified that he entered his living room and was greeted by an officer " with what looked like an M-16 [rifle] . . . pointed straight at [him]." Id. at 175. He responded by putting his arms up in the arm and stating, " I'm not armed." Id. at 174. When the residence was secured, an FBI Agent informed Hargrove that they needed to ask him some questions, but " that he was not under arrest and was free to leave the house at any time." Id. Indeed, at the subsequent suppression hearing, the FBI Agents testified that they did not have an arrest warrant for Hargrove, nor did they have any intention of arresting him. Id.

Hargrove agreed to talk with two FBI Agents at his kitchen table, while one other FBI Agent stood in the kitchen doorway without participating in the interview. Id. " Hargrove was not in handcuffs, he was permitted to smoke cigarettes, and at no time did Hargrove ask for the interview to end or protest about any of the questions. Instead, the Agents testified Hargrove was 'polite and cooperative,' answering questions 'at length,' and indicating he was willing to talk further when the interview was finished." Id. Moreover, the Agents testified that Hargrove was " freely moving around" during the interview, even though Hargrove testified that he felt his movement was restricted, " felt he was going to be arrested," and answered the Agents' questions because " he figured he was going to jail, so it didn't make any difference one way or another whether he spoke to the Agents." Id. at 175 (internal quotation marks omitted).

The district court denied Hargrove's motion to suppress the statements finding the interview " was consensual and not custodial in ...

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