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United States v. Hoang

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

March 31, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
NAM QUOC HOANG, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          T.S. Ellis, III, United States District Judge

         At issue pretrial in this prosecution for interstate stalking and domestic violence is whether defendant's statements during a video-recorded, custodial interview with law enforcement must be suppressed on the ground that defendant, despite initially waiving his Miranda[1] rights, adequately invoked his right to remain silent sometime after his waiver and the commencement of the interview.

         An Eastern District of Virginia grand jury has indicted defendant Nam Quoc Hoang on the following eight counts: (1) transmitting communications with the intent to extort, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875; (2) cyberstalking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2261A(2)(B); (3) stalking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2261A(1); (4) conspiracy to commit stalking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371; (5) interstate domestic violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2261; (6) using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); (7) possessing a firearm as a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1); and (8) possessing ammunition as a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).[2]

         On June 29, 2016, law enforcement officers arrested defendant and conducted a recorded, custodial interview that lasted approximately three and a half hours. Although defendant explicitly concedes that he knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights at the beginning of the interview, he contends that approximately 20 minutes into the interview he unambiguously and unequivocally invoked his right to remain silent. Accordingly, defendant has moved to suppress any statements he made in the course of that custodial interview following his invocation of the right to silence. In response, the government contends that defendant's invocation was ambiguous and equivocal, and that therefore the motion to suppress must be denied.

         Thus, the question presented is whether defendant unambiguously and unequivocally invoked his right to remain silent following his initial waiver of his Miranda rights. As the matter has been fully briefed and argued orally, it is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion to suppress must be granted.

         I.[3]

         In May 2013, defendant, a resident of Fairfax County, Virginia, began dating a woman (“the Victim”) who lives in Montgomery County, Maryland. During their relationship, which progressed to intimacy, defendant allegedly took sexually explicit photos of the Victim with his cellphone. Defendant and the Victim also allegedly used crack cocaine together. In December 2013, defendant and the Victim ended their relationship, and shortly thereafter defendant began harassing the Victim. As part of this harassment, defendant and his alleged co-conspirator, Khoa, drove to the Victim's house to stalk her. The Victim also allegedly talked to co-conspirator Khoa and stated that she was afraid of defendant. In late December 2013, defendant threatened the Victim that he would publish the sexually explicit photos of her on the internet unless she paid him money.[4]

         In January 2014, defendant drove with co-conspirator Khoa to the Victim's house to stalk the Victim. After they determined that the Victim was not at home, defendant broke into her home and stole some of the Victim's personal belongings. Thereafter, on January 25, 2014, defendant published the sexually explicit photos of the Victim on defendant's Facebook page, which a number of people viewed.

         That same day, the Victim posted on her Facebook page that she planned to accompany her friends that night to a club in the District of Columbia. Defendant saw the Victim's Facebook post and, together with co-conspirator Khoa, drove to the club to stalk the Victim. In the course of stalking the Victim, Defendant and co-conspirator Khoa parked outside the club and waited for the Victim to emerge from the club. When the Victim left the club and retrieved her valet-parked car, defendant instructed co-conspirator Khoa to follow the Victim, and Khoa did so. Thereafter, the Victim stopped her car at a traffic light and defendant and co-conspirator Khoa stopped their car immediately behind her. Defendant then left co-conspirator Khoa's car, walked to the Victim's car, displayed a handgun to the Victim, and demanded that she let him into her car. She complied. Defendant then entered the Victim's car, struck her in the face, and forced her at gunpoint to drive to Maryland. While defendant was in the Victim's car, defendant maintained contact with co-conspirator Khoa via cellphone. Defendant directed co-conspirator Khoa to follow the Victim to Maryland, and Khoa did so. Defendant released the Victim in Maryland.

         II.[5]

         Defendant, a 41 year-old Vietnamese citizen with permanent legal status in the United States, was arrested on June 29, 2016 by Fairfax County Police officers. Defendant was transported to the Franconia District Police Station where two detectives-Detective Sergeant Robert Grims and Detective Joseph Pittman[6]-and FBI Special Agent Joseph Hoang, a fluent and FBI-certified Vietnamese speaker, interviewed defendant for approximately three and a half hours. As reflected in the video recording, no more than two officers were in the room with defendant at any one time during the course of the interview. Indeed, for substantial portions of the interview, defendant and Special Agent Hoang were alone in the interview room.

         Defendant's communications with the detectives were in English, whereas defendant's conversation with Special Agent Hoang was predominantly in Vietnamese.[7] Although defendant is not a native English-speaker, he has lived in the United States for the past 25 years and appeared capable of speaking and understanding English, albeit with occasional grammatical errors. Notably, during the custodial interview, defendant represented to Sergeant Grims that defendant could understand the Sergeant's statements. Furthermore, when Sergeant Grims informed defendant of his Miranda rights and explained those rights in English, defendant confirmed that he understood his rights, and thereafter defendant knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived those rights, signing a waiver form and agreeing to speak with the detectives.[8] See United States v. Hoang, No. 1:16-cr-193 (E.D. Va. Feb. 17, 2017) (Gov't Ex. 2B) (Interview Tr.) at 6.

         Shortly after defendant waived his rights, Sergeant Grims left the interview room and Detective Pittman engaged in small talk with defendant, in English, for approximately five minutes. Sergeant Grims then returned and began to read English-translated transcripts of incriminating statements defendant had made in jail telephone calls. Sergeant Grims informed defendant that the jail calls reflected that defendant had admitted to a crime, at which point defendant and Sergeant Grims engaged in the following exchange:

Defendant: Whatever if you think that I did, [sic] you arrest me.” Sergeant Grims: That's what, that's what I'm doing.
Defendant: Yeah, and nothing to talk about.
Sergeant Grims: What's that?
Defendant: There's nothing to talk about.
Sergeant Grims: There's another guy involved in it.
Defendant: I have no idea, like I said, nothing involve [sic]. I don't steal, I don't go to [the Victim's] house, that's all I say. Whatever you … ah… CD whatever ah… in here… If you already got everything, don't need nothing to talk about [sic]. But for me, I know I don't do nothing.

Interview Tr. at 20. Thereafter, Sergeant Grims stated, “I'm going to read you some of the calls ok, ” and defendant responded, “I am gonna listen, sir.” Id. at 22. After Sergeant Grims read another call transcript, defendant laughed and explained what he meant by some of his statements in the phone calls. Id. at 23-24. At that point, the following exchange occurred:

Sergeant Grims: Let me show you what…there's a couple of calls that you said that aren't very good, ...

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