United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Raymond A. Jackson District Judge.
the Court is Defendant Justin Stahmer's Motion to
Suppress. Defendant filed a Memorandum in Support of his
Motion, ECF No. 12, and the Government filed a response, ECF
No. 13. Defendant did not file a reply. Defendant seeks to
suppress Defendant's statements allegedly made to Coast
Guard personnel and law enforcement on or about June 20,
2016. On October 27, 2017, the Court held a hearing on this
matter and denied Defendant's Motion from the bench. ECF
No. 19. This Order further explains the Court's
rationale. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's
Motion to Suppress is DENIED.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
evening of June 20, 2016, at about 9:10 p.m., the Coast Guard
Sector Hampton Roads received a call on the VHF radio
frequency 16 (channel 16) from the vessel Sully Girl. Shortly
after the first call, Sully Girl reported a mumbled message
on channel 16 stating that he had "no cell phone, man
over board, no GPS and fish finder." The Coast Guard
interpreted the call to mean that there may be a person in
the water in distress and both the Hampton Roads and North
Carolina Coast Guard Sections began repeated attempts to hail
the vessel Sully Girl to learn its position and determine the
nature of the emergency.
p.m., the Sully Girl said "mayday mayday" on
channel 16. When the Coast Guard approached, the Sully Girl
had all of her lights out. At that time, Defendant did not
indicate any distress to the Coast Guard by shining his on
board flashlight, hailing, or waiving down the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard then asked standard questions to determine if
they had found the vessel reporting distress. At first,
Defendant denied making a distress call but did not object to
a boarding team embarking upon the vessel. After initial
contact with Defendant, two members of the boarding team
conducted an initial sweep of the vessel to ensure it was
seaworthy and there were no obvious hazards. It is standard
operating procedure to conduct a sweep of the vessel to
ensure the safety of those on board the vessel, other
mariners in the area, and the boarding officers themselves.
After the vessel was deemed safe, the boarding team proceeded
with their initial standard boarding questions to understand
the basic nature of the situation. During these foundational
questions, Defendant denied making any distress calls;
however, Defendant eventually stated that he was out of gas
and had called "mayday."
about 10:23 p.m., Defendant randomly fell overboard. The
boarding team suspected that Defendant was intoxicated after
Defendant fell overboard, combined with the presence of empty
beer cans on the vessel, slurred speech, smell of alcohol,
and failure to follow instructions. The boarding officers
tried to conduct a field sobriety test, but Defendant refused
to cooperate. Defendant became belligerent, uncooperative,
and ultimately confrontational. Because of this behavior,
Defendant was placed in handcuffs for boarding officer
safety. The Virginia Marine Resource Commission Police
("VMRC") came to take Defendant into custody on
suspicion of boating under the influence while the Coast
Guard towed his boat to the pier. While in VMRC's
custody, Defendant made a variety of spontaneous statements
to Officer Mitchell, the Coast Guard boarding officer.
Defendant was never read his Miranda rights while
transiting ashore because "it was noisy on the forward
part of the boat." Instead, Defendant repeatedly made
unsolicited threats to Petty Officer Mitchell. He made
statements such as, he would "take him out" if
Defendant ever saw Mitchell again; and stated that Defendant
knew people in the "Buckroe Boys" who would
"take care" of Mitchell. Mitchell, an African
American, knew the Buckroe Boys were a local, criminal gang
with a reputation of involvement in racial hate crimes in
Hampton, Virginia. When approaching the marina, Defendant was
advised of his Miranda rights by Marine Police
Officer Bryant Stephens. Defendant was then transported to
the Norfolk City Jail.
August 10, 2017, Defendant was indicted on three counts (two
counts of Communicating a False Distress Signal and one count
of Threatening a Federal Law Enforcement Officer). On
September 1, 2017, Defendant pled Not Guilty before Judge
Krask and was released on an unsecured bond. Defendant's
Motion to Suppress was filed on September 22, 2017. The
Government's Response was filed on October 5, 2017.
Defendant did not file a reply. The Court held a hearing on
the Motion to Suppress on October 27, 2017. The Jury Trial is
set for November 7, 2017.
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 United States v.
Massey, 257 Fed.Appx. 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).
Whether Defendant Reasonably Believed He was in Custody at
the Time of His Statements to Coast Guard Boarding
time of Defendant's statements to the Coast Guard
Boarding Officers, Defendant could not have reasonably
believed he was in custody.
warnings are required before law enforcement may properly
engage in any 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.
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,
No. 2:12CR162, 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