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United States v. Giddins

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 6, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
MASTER GIDDINS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: January 25, 2017

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Baltimore. William D. Quarles, Jr., District Judge. (1:14-cr-00116-WDQ-1)


          Meghan Suzanne Skelton, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Greenbelt, Maryland, for Appellant.

          Kenneth Sutherland Clark, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          James Wyda, Federal Public Defender, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant.

          Rod J. Rosenstein, United States Attorney, Debra L. Dwyer, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.

         Reversed by published opinion. Judge Floyd wrote the majority opinion, in which Judge King joined. Judge Agee wrote a dissenting opinion.

          Before KING, AGEE, and FLOYD, Circuit Judges.

          FLOYD, Circuit Judge:

         Appellant Master Giddins was convicted of bank robbery and conspiracy to commit bank robbery following a jury trial. Part of the evidence used at trial was a videotaped statement Giddins gave to police during the investigation into the crime. On appeal, Giddins argues that the statement was coerced, and that he did not voluntarily waive his Fifth Amendment rights. We agree, and find that harmless error cannot save the conviction in light of this constitutional trial error. As a result, we reverse Giddins's conviction. We need not address the additional issues Giddins has raised regarding sentencing.



         Over the course of three days in September 2013, three different bank robberies were committed in and around Baltimore, Maryland. The first robbery occurred on September 25, 2013, when someone wearing women's clothing and a black wig entered the M&T Bank in Baltimore, Maryland. That person handed the teller a note stating that the person had a bomb, and demanded that money be placed into a black and white polka dot cosmetic bag, which was handed to the teller. After obtaining the money, the robber fled the bank, was driven away in a waiting vehicle, and discarded a GPS tracker the teller had placed in the bag, to which wig fibers were attached. Police later determined that the robber was Appellant Master Giddins, that the getaway car was his silver Ford Focus, and that the getaway driver was Czekiah Fludd.

          The next day, September 26, 2013, Giddins lent his car to Fludd and Ashley Fitz, whom Giddins was dating at the time. Fitz and Fludd drove to an Exxon station to obtain blank lottery tickets, on which one or both of them wrote a note similar to the note used in the September 25th robbery. They then drove to the First Mariner Bank in Owing Mills, Maryland, where Fitz entered the bank wearing a black wig and carrying a black and white polka dot cosmetic bag. After handing the bag and note to a teller, Fitz was given cash, and then ran from the bank. A construction worker saw Fitz and Fludd get into Giddins's car, and the Exxon station recorded the pair on video obtaining the blank lottery tickets.

         The following day, September 27, 2013, Giddins again lent his car to Fitz and Fludd. They, along with a third person, Alexis Chandler, robbed the Baltimore County Savings Bank in unincorporated Baltimore County, Maryland. Fitz and Chandler both entered the bank wearing wigs, gave notes that they had a bomb, and demanded money. Fitz was given a dye pack along with her money, which exploded on the way back to the car. Fitz threw the bag out of the window, and additional items were discarded. When the three women went back to try to obtain the bags, they were stopped for matching the description of the bank robbery suspects. They were ultimately arrested, and the car was seized.

         After their arrest, Fitz and Chandler provided statements to the police and admitted involvement in the September 27th robbery. Fitz additionally admitted to participating in the September 26th robbery and implicated Giddins. Fitz told police that the September 26th robbery was committed using Giddins's car, that Giddins had been present when both robberies were planned, and that Giddins had been involved in the September 25th robbery.

          Based on the statements and evidence, Detective William Taylor of the Baltimore City Police Department applied for and obtained a warrant for Giddins's arrest from a Commissioner of the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City. See Gov't Suppl. Authority Ltr., Attach. 1, ECF No. 65-2 [hereinafter, the "Warrant"]. The Warrant was issued on October 3, 2013 at 10:20 am. Id.


         On or about October 4, 2013, Giddins was informed by Baltimore County Police that they had his car and that it had been used in a bank robbery. On the morning of October 4th, Giddins went to Baltimore County Police headquarters in order to retrieve his car. Upon arrival, Giddins was taken to an interview room by Detective Steve Morano of Baltimore County Police Department and an unknown member of the department. Giddins's interactions with police officers from the time he entered the interrogation room were recorded on video.[1] The interrogation room was set up with an oblong, almost rectangular table on the side of the room with one long end of the table against the wall; there was one chair per free side of the table, Giddins was seated on one of the short sides, and Det. Morano sat on the long side. There were also two doors to the room-one immediately behind Giddins within his arm's reach, and one approximately five feet behind Det. Morano, outside the camera's view.


         After entering the room at 10:17:35 am and sitting down, Det. Morano copied down Giddins's license information. At 10:17:58, the unknown member of the department left the room through the door behind Giddins, which was also the door through which the three had entered the room. Upon leaving, he audibly locked the door, causing Giddins to turn his head toward the door.

         Det. Morano asked Giddins to whom he lent his car, and Giddins replied that he lent it to Fludd. Det. Morano informed Giddins that Fludd was locked up, and continued asking details about when and why Giddins lent Fludd his car, the frequency with which Giddins would lend Fludd his car, and whether Fludd was going through any hard times. At 10:20:55, Giddins asked Det. Morano, "Am I in trouble?" to which Det. Morano replied, "No, you're here getting your car right?" and went on to explain that he was taking notes for a report because the car was used in a crime. At 10:21:25, Det. Morano got up to leave and informed Giddins that he had to complete some paperwork and would be right back. After checking that the door behind Giddins was in fact locked, Det. Morano left through the second door.

         At 10:22:56, Det. Taylor from Baltimore City Police entered the room through the second door, explained that Det. Morano had become busy with something else, and that Det. Taylor would be taking over.[2] Det. Taylor sat down in the seat vacated by Det. Morano, and began going over the same biographical information with Giddins. At 10:23:31, "Mr. Kim" entered the room, purportedly as a trainee detective observing the situation, and sat down at the remaining seat at the other short end of the table opposite Giddins.[3] Det. Taylor then continued asking Giddins biographical information. Giddins asked if he could take a call at 10:27:02, and Det. Taylor told him that he could, but that it needed to be "real quick" and then everyone was going to "put their phones up." At 10:27:25, Det. Taylor placed his phone on the table and indicated that Giddins should do the same. Giddins put his phone on the table by him, and Det. Taylor picked it up, moving both of their phones to the end of the table farthest from Giddins and closest to Kim. Giddins phone began ringing again at 10:27:42, and Det. Taylor handed the phone back to Giddins, but told him to "go ahead and turn it off for a couple of minutes."

         Det. Taylor produced a Miranda[4] waiver around 10:28:12 and told Giddins that they had to read him his rights because his car was involved in a crime. He told Giddins, "It doesn't mean you're under arrest, it doesn't mean you're being charged with anything. But since we're asking you questions, by law we have to read you your rights, OK? (pause) I'm kind of interested to find out what's going on with these three young ladies who decided to use your car in a crime." Det. Taylor passed the Miranda waiver to Giddins at 10:28:46 and instructed him, "What I want you to do is read each one out loud to me, stop at the end of each one. If you understand what it says, write the word 'yes' and put your initials next to it. If you have any questions, you can ask me, OK?" Giddins then began reading each right aloud, and when he confirmed that he understood, Det. Taylor instructed him to write "yes" next to the statement.

         At the bottom of the form, after reading each individual right, the form required a full signature after the statement, "I have been advised of and understand my rights. I freely and voluntarily waive my rights and agree to talk with police without having an attorney present." Det. Taylor asked at 10:30:31, "You don't have any questions with us asking about your car, do you?" Giddins responded, "Yes. Is this the procedure for me to get my car back? Like-cause I feel like-, " and Det. Taylor responded, "Yeah, we do, but like I said, your car was used in crimes that we need to-we need to dig in and find out what's going on with your-with these three girls, what your relation with them is, how they came in contact with your car, all that stuff." Giddins replied that he understood, and Det. Taylor asked, "Do you mind explaining all that stuff to us?"

         After then stating that he "d[id]n't know any of that stuff, " Giddins asked at 10:30:36, "That's what I'm asking, like, is this, like, the procedure for me to get my car back?" to which Det. Taylor responded, "Yeah-in order for us to ask you questions, because the vehicle was used in a crime, by law, we have to go over these rights. If we start asking you stuff and you don't want to talk to us, then don't talk to us. But we're just trying to figure out some issues." Giddins asked again, "But do I still get my car?" and Det. Taylor responded, "Before I release the car to you, I would like to know some answers. . . . I would like to know some answers before we release your car back to you." Giddins said, "That's what I'm asking, " and then Det. Taylor told him, "We'll explain everything to you."

         Giddins then asked Det. Taylor, "I'm not in trouble or anything, am I?" Det. Taylor answered, "Not at this point, no. We'll find out what's going on. So long as you don't have-you know-you don't sit there and tell me you were hiding in the trunk and you escaped when the police pulled them over, no. Right? You weren't hiding in the trunk, were you?"

         When Giddins smiled and shook his head, Det. Taylor said, "Then what do you have to worry about?" Giddins said, "I don't have anything to worry about, I just don't like how I feel like I'm being interrogated-and y'all just-" and Det. Taylor interrupted, "You're not being interrogated, you're free-" to which Giddins interjected, "You gotta understand what I'm saying." Det. Taylor told him, "I know, I understand you, you're nervous. Because your car was used in a crime. I'd be nervous, too."

         Giddins then said, "I didn't do anything, and it's like-" and Det. Taylor interrupted again, "Did I say you did anything?" Giddins responded, "No, I'm like, I'm in a closed room, two guys are here, they locked the doors-" and Det. Taylor, indicating to the door behind him and farthest from Giddins, replied, "The doors aren't locked, the doors are wide open." Giddins then grabbed the door handle immediately behind him and showed how the knob was locked. Det. Taylor said, "Well that one is. You can't get in on the other side of that door. Why you think we have to come in that door?" indicating to the one unlocked door. Giddins said, "But you understand what I'm saying?" Det. Taylor retorted, "Are you handcuffed?" Giddins responded, "No, but you understand-" and Det. Taylor said, "Oh, I understand you." Giddins then signed the Miranda waiver at 10:32:10.


         During the next fifteen minutes, the questioning continued. Det. Taylor asked Giddins about where he was during each of the three robberies, his relationship with Fludd, Fitz, and Chandler, and other topics. Giddins responded that he was meeting with his parole officer during the September 25th robbery. Det. Taylor periodically asked questions that required Giddins to look at his phone, and each time after Giddins finished, Det. Taylor instructed him to put his phone back up and away from him. Giddins also told Det. Taylor that he had been in trouble at work two days previously for using his phone while at work. Additionally, Giddins told Det. Taylor that he had been off from work on September 23rd and 24th, but at work on September 25th.

         Finally, at 10:47:31, Det. Taylor showed Giddins a surveillance photo of the robber from the September 25th robbery and told Giddins that he was the robber. When Giddins denied that, Det. Taylor laid out the case for why he suspected Giddins of bank robbery. At 10:50:00, Giddins invoked his Fifth Amendment right to counsel by stating, "No further questions, " and asking for a lawyer, at which point questioning immediately ceased. Det. Taylor seized Giddins's cell phone at 10:50:06, prying it from Giddins's hands and telling him "I'll take that." At 10:50:09, Det. Taylor formally informed Giddins that he was under arrest for bank robbery. At 10:50:15, Det. Taylor cuffed Giddins, and at 10:50:36, Det. Morano re-entered the room through the previously locked door. Giddins was taken out of the interrogation room to be taken to Baltimore City jail at 11:11:37, at which point the videotape stops.


          Giddins was indicted by a federal grand jury in the District of Maryland on three counts of unarmed bank robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) and (f), and one count of conspiracy to commit bank robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. Giddins moved to suppress the statements given to police before trial began. A hearing was held at the start of the trial before jury selection began, and the district court denied the suppression motion by written memorandum opinion. See United States v. Giddins, 57 F.Supp.3d 481 (D. Md. 2014).[5]

         During the course of trial, the video was played for the jury, and the government referred to the video and the statements Giddins made in it during both opening statement and closing argument. The jury convicted Giddins on one count of bank robbery for robbing the M&T Bank on September 25th and one count of conspiracy to commit bank robbery, but acquitted him of the other two bank robbery counts. Giddins timely noted this appeal following his sentencing, and we have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.


          "When reviewing the district court's denial of a motion to suppress, we review factual findings for clear error and the legal determination that the statement was voluntary de novo." United States v. Holmes, 670 F.3d 586, 591 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing United States v. Mashburn, 406 F.3d 303, 306 (4th Cir. 2005)). "A confession made during a custodial interrogation will be suppressed unless police advise the defendant of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and the defendant knowingly, intelligently, and voluntary waives those rights." Holmes, 670 F.3d at 591 (citing United States v. Guay, 108 F.3d 545, 549 (4th Cir. 1997)).


         Although Giddins frames the issue in his appeal primarily as whether the statements were voluntary, and discusses the voluntariness of the Miranda waiver only secondarily, in actuality it is the Miranda waiver issue that is decisive in this case. Indeed, all arguments by both Giddins and the government are directed toward the remarks made by police in the immediate timeframe of the Miranda waiver. Although Giddins argued below that the pre-waiver statements were also involuntary, that argument is not clearly raised before us here. Further, most of the pre-waiver statements appear to be regarding simple biographical booking information, to which no special concerns under the Fifth Amendment apply. See Pennsylvania v. Muniz, 496 U.S. 582, 601 (1990).


         Concerns under Miranda only arise when a defendant is in custody and subjected to interrogation. Montejo v. Louisiana, 556 U.S. 778, 794 (2009); see also Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 300-01 (1980) ("[T]he Miranda safeguards come into play whenever a person in custody is subjected to either express questioning or its functional equivalent."). The parties do not dispute that Giddins was subject to interrogation. Therefore, the issue of whether Miranda applies turns on whether Giddins was in custody.

         The government first submits that Giddins was never in custody prior to his formal arrest, so no warnings under Miranda were even necessary. We disagree. "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.'" United States v. Hashime, 734 F.3d 278, 282 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting United States v. Parker, 262 F.3d 415, 419 (4th Cir. 2001)) (further internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). It is an objective inquiry, and essentially asks "whether a reasonable person would have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave." Id. at 282-83 (internal quotation marks, alterations, and citations omitted). This determination "calls for application of the controlling legal standard to the historical facts . . . . [and thus] presents a 'mixed question of law and fact' qualifying for independent review." Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112-13 (1995). "Facts relevant to the 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 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.'" Hashime, 734 F.3d at 283 (quoting United States v. Day, 591 F.3d 679, 696 (4th Cir. 2010)).

         In concluding that Giddins was not in custody, the district court made findings of fact to support that conclusion:

Giddins voluntarily entered the police station to obtain the return of his car. Giddins was not in handcuffs, and one door was unlocked. Two investigators were present; one asked questions while the other remained silent. No weapons are visible in the recorded interview. Detective Taylor's tone was nonthreatening. Although an arrest warrant had issued, Giddins was apparently unaware of this fact and, thus, it does not alter the objective inquiry.

Giddins, 57 F.Supp.3d at 489 (citations omitted).

         These findings are not clearly erroneous, and thus guide this appeal. However, the findings of the district court are not complete on this, and fail to paint the full picture. It is true that one door was unlocked in the interrogation room, but it was the door past the questioning detective. The door immediately behind Giddins was locked, so in order to leave the room, Giddins would have had to walk past Det. Taylor. Additionally, at least twice during the interrogation, Det. Taylor moved Giddins's phone away from Giddins. Although Det. Taylor did tell Giddins that he was free to leave, "such a statement 'is not talismanic or sufficient in and of itself to show a lack of custody.'" Hashime, 734 F.3d at 284 (quoting United States v. Hargrove, 625 F.3d 170, 180 (4th Cir. 2010)).

         Finally on the custody inquiry, there is the issue of Giddins's car. The district court rejected the argument, repeated here on appeal, that Giddins was not able to leave the interrogation room because he believed that if he terminated the interview, he would not have his car returned to him. The court found "[t]hat Giddins may have believed that terminating the interview would prevent the return of his car does not mean that Giddins felt unfree to leave." Giddins, 57 F.Supp.3d at 489. We find that this is a distinction without a difference.

         As stated above, the custody inquiry is an objective one and does not consider "the subjective views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the person being questioned." J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 564 U.S. 261, 271 (2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). We must still, however, consider how a reasonable person would have understood the situation. The purpose of not considering subjective views is to "avoid[] burdening police with the task of anticipating the idiosyncrasies of every individual suspect and divining how those particular traits affect each person's subjective state of mind." Id. (citations omitted). Keeping this in mind, we fail to see how a reasonable person would have perceived the situation as permitting him or her to leave the room freely. A reasonable person would have felt unable to cease the interview and thus forfeit the opportunity to obtain the return of his or her property. As we explain in more detail in Section III.B.1, infr ...

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