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United States v. Abdallah

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division

July 21, 2016

NADER ABDALLAH, et al., Defendants.


          Raymond A. Jackson United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant Nader Abdallah's Motion to Suppress on Fifth Amendment grounds (ECF Nos. 164, 245). This Memorandum Opinion and Order expiates the Courts' ruling from the bench. The Court held a hearing on the Motion to Suppress and other outstanding pretrial motions on July 15, 2016. Defendant requests suppression of his statements he alleges were made in violation of Miranda and his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Having reviewed the pleadings and held a hearing on the Motion to Suppress, this matter is now ripe for judicial determination. For the reasons stated on the record and herein, Defendant's Motion to Suppress is DENIED.


         On April 20, 2015, Defendant was arrested and taken into custody as a result of an investigation of the distribution of spice, a controlled substance analogue mimicking the effects of marijuana. Prior to beginning questioning at the Newport News Police Headquarters, Homeland Security Special Agent Lewis began reading Defendant his Miranda rights. However, before completion of the Miranda warning, Defendant interrupted Agent Lewis and stated that he "wasn't going to say anything at all." Agent Lewis then completed the Miranda warning and asked Defendant whether he knew why he was under arrest. Defendant replied that he did not. Agent Lewis repeated the Miranda warning and proceeded to discuss the charges and obtain a statement from the Defendant.

         On February 10, 2016, Defendant Nader Abdallah was named in a 38 count Second Superseding Indictment along with eleven other defendants. ECF No. 205. The Second Superseding Indictment names Defendant Nader Abdallah in Counts 1-3. Id. A trial for this matter is scheduled for September 13, 2016.

         On December 16, 2015, Defendant Nader Abdallah, through counsel, filed his first Motion to Suppress. ECF No. 164. On December 28, 2015, the Government filed its Response in Opposition. ECF No. 178. On April 1, 2016, Defendant, through newly appointed counsel, filed a second Motion to Suppress on the same Fifth Amendment grounds as the initial motion. ECF No. 245. On April 12, 2016, the Government filed its Response in Opposition. ECF No. 262.


         In deciding a motion to suppress, the district court is empowered to make findings of fact and conclusions of law. United States v. Stevenson, 396 F.3d 538, 541 (4th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). "At a hearing on a motion to suppress, the credibility of the witness and the weight to be given the evidence, together with the inferences, deductions and conclusions to be drawn from the evidence, are all matters to be determined by the trial judge." United States v. McKneely, 6 F.3d 1447, 1452-53 (10th Cir. 1993); see also United States v. Massey, 257 F.App'x 662, 664 (4th Cir. 2007); Columbus-Am. Discovery Group v. All. Mut. Ins. Co., 56 F.3d 556, 567 (4th Cir. 1995).

         As a general rule, 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). Once the defendant establishes a basis for his suppression motion, the burden shifts to the government. United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 177-78 n.14 (1974). Where a defendant seeks to suppress a statement under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), the government 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 (1986); Matlock, 415 U.S. at 178.


         In this case, Defendant asserts that the agents unlawfully questioned him after he invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. The Government contends that the questioning was lawful because Defendant willingly spoke with officers after being informed of his Miranda rights a second time and waiving those rights. At issue is whether the Defendant unequivocally invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and whether Defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights.

         A defendant must be informed of his rights through a Miranda warning before law enforcement may properly conduct a custodial interrogation. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). Specifically, "[p]rior to any questioning, the person must be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed." Id. "The prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination." Id. If law enforcement does not administer Miranda warnings before they question a person in custody, evidence resulting from the questioning must be suppressed. However, "[t]he defendant may waive effectuation of these rights, provided the waiver is made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently." Id.

         Whether a suspect has voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his rights under Miranda is examined by the "totality of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation." Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 421 (1986); see also United States v. Robinson, 404 F.3d 850, 860 (4th Cir. 2005). The Fourth Circuit has articulated a two-step inquiry. First, a court must find that "the relinquishment of the right 'must have been voluntary in the sense that it was the product of free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation, coercion, or deception, '" United States v. Shanklin, 2013 WL 6019216 at *3 (E.D. Va. Nov. 13, 2013) (quoting United States v. Cristobal, 293 F.3d 134, 139 (4th Cir. 2002)). Second, the district court must find that the waiver was "made with a full awareness of both the nature of the right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon it.'" Id. (quoting Cristobal, 293 F.3d at 140). When analyzing the totality of the circumstances, courts have considered such factors as the suspect's "intelligence and education, " his "age and familiarity with the criminal justice system, " and "the proximity of the waiver to the giving of the Miranda warnings." Poyner v. Murray, 964 F.2d 1404, 1413 (4th Cir. 1992).

         A waiver of Miranda rights can be made expressly or can be implied "from the actions and words of the person interrogated." North Carolina v. Butler, 441 U.S. 369, 373 (1979) (holding that an express waiver of Miranda rights is not required for police interrogation so long as a suspect is "adequately and effectively apprised of his rights"). The Court noted that a waiver may be implied through a "defendant's silence, coupled with an understanding of his rights and a course of conduct indicating waiver." Id. at 373. The Court also emphasized that the adequacy of a waiver is determined based on "the ...

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