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United States v. Rodriguez

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division

June 5, 2018


          Zachary T. Lee, Assistant United States Attorney, Abingdon, Virginia, for United States; Stephen R. Wills, Roanoke, Virginia, for Defendant.



         In this drug trafficking case, the defendant has filed motions to suppress statements made by him to law enforcement officers, as well as evidence seized without a warrant but allegedly with his consent. In addition, the defendant seeks to disqualify the prosecutor. Following an evidentiary hearing, and based upon my factual findings and the applicable law, I will deny the motions.[1]

         I. Motions to Suppress.

         A. Background.

         The defendant, Sanson P. Rodriguez, is charged by Indictment with conspiring to distribute or possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and knowingly using a communication device to cause the facilitation of a felony controlled substance offense, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(b)(1)(A), and 843(d). He is also charged with possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Rodriguez has filed three separate motions to suppress, involving his contacts with law enforcement officers on three different dates. The first occasion was on August 2, 2016, at which time he consented to a search of his home. The second was on December 21, 2016, when he was interrogated and consented to a search of his cell phone. The final occasion was on June 20, 2017, when Rodriguez was questioned at length while being driven to Virginia by a federal agent after his arrest in North Carolina on the present charges. The government contends that on all of these occasions Rodriguez voluntarily waived his constitutional rights.[2]

         Rodriguez challenges the effectiveness of his waivers, based upon his lack of English and the effects of his methamphetamine drug use.

         In this case, law enforcement officers contend that they administered Miranda warnings to Rodriguez, although it is claimed on his behalf that he could not understand or appreciate their meanings. As the Fourth Circuit has stated in regard to similar claims:

Miranda held that once given the now familiar warnings of his rights under the fifth and sixth amendments, a suspect could waive effectuation of these rights, provided the waiver is made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently. The Supreme Court has reiterated that while requiring Miranda warnings does not, of course, dispense with the voluntariness inquiry, cases in which a defendant can make a colorable argument that a self-incriminating statement was compelled despite the fact that the law enforcement authorities adhered to the dictates of Miranda are rare.
As we have previously observed, our inquiry into whether an individual waived effectuation of the rights conveyed in the Miranda warnings has two distinct dimensions. First, 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. Second, in addition to being voluntary, the waiver must have been made with a full awareness of both the nature of the right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon it. We determine whether a Miranda waiver is voluntary, knowing, and intelligent by examining the totality of the circumstances. Only if the totality of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation reveal both an uncoerced choice and the requisite level of comprehension may a court properly conclude that the Miranda rights have been waived.
The voluntariness of a waiver depends on the absence of police overreaching, not on free choice in any broader sense of the word. A defendant's incriminating statement is deemed involuntary only if induced by such duress or coercion that the suspect's will has been overborne and his capacity for self-determination critically impaired. To determine whether a defendant's will has been overborne or his capacity for self determination critically impaired, courts must consider the totality of the circumstances, including the characteristics of the defendant, the setting of the interview, and the details of the interrogation. As relevant to this case, we have held that consumption of pain killers and narcotics are alone insufficient to render a waiver involuntary. Rather, the focus of the voluntariness determination remains whether one's will has been overborne. A deficient mental condition (whether the result of a pre-existing mental illness or, for example, pain killing narcotics administered after emergency treatment) is not, without more, enough to render a waiver involuntary. Similarly, other circuits have held that intoxication does not automatically render a confession involuntary; rather, the test is whether this mental impairment caused the defendant's will to be overborne. The Government has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant's waiver of his Miranda rights was knowing and voluntary.

United States v. Walker, 607 Fed.Appx. 247, 255-56 (4th Cir. 2015) (unpublished) (internal quotation marks, citations, and alterations omitted).

         With respect to the searches of Rodriguez' property, it is established that a search conducted pursuant to a voluntary consent is an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 219 (1973). There is “no talismanic definition of voluntariness” in determining the validity of the consent. Id. at 224 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The voluntariness of a consent to a warrantless search is a factual matter, based upon the totality of the circumstances, including the characteristics of the accused, as well as the conditions under which the consent to search was given. United States v. Lattimore, 87 F.3d 647, 650 (4th Cir. 1996) (en banc).

         While it may be relevant on the question of voluntariness, the consent need not be knowing and intelligent, that is, the subject need not be advised of his right to refuse consent or be told of the consequences of such consent. See United States v. Drayton, 536 U.S. 194, 206-07 (2002). The fact that the defendant was not given Miranda warnings prior to consenting to a search does not require a finding that the consent was involuntary. United States v. Patane, 542 U.S. 630, 634 (2004). A defendant in custody may give a voluntary consent to search. United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411, 424 (1976).

         B. Findings of Fact.

         The following are my findings of fact as to the motions to suppress. In determining the credibility of the witnesses at the evidentiary hearing, I have taken into account the rationality and internal consistency of the testimony, the extent of detail and coherent nature of the testimony, the manner of testifying by the witnesses, and the ...

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