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United States v. Hicks

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

January 2, 2019

United States of America,
Lance Derek Hicks, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant Hicks's motion to suppress. (Dkt. 23). Defendant has been indicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. (Dkt. 13). Defendant seeks to exclude from trial two sets of incriminating statements he made to law enforcement following his arrest on January 13, 2017, along with all the evidentiary fruit of these statements. Defendant contends that law enforcement failed to advise him of his Fifth Amendment rights prior to questioning him, as required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

         Having considered the full record, including evidence provided at a suppression hearing, [1]the Court concludes that the Government has established by a preponderance of the evidence that Miranda warnings were administered to Defendant prior to each interview on January 13, 2017. Accordingly, the motion to suppress will be denied, and Defendant's post-arrest statements, and all attendant evidentiary fruit, will be admissible at trial.

         I. Legal Standard

         The Fifth Amendment provides that “[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” U.S. Const., Amend. V. To safeguard this right, the Supreme Court “adopted a series of procedural rules that must be followed during custodial interrogations” in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). United States v. Jefferson, 562 F.Supp.2d 707, 712 (E.D. Va. 2008). “A confession made during a custodial interrogation will be suppressed unless police advise the defendant of his rights under Miranda[, ] . . . and the defendant knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waives those rights.” United States v. Giddins, 858 F.3d 870, 879 (4th Cir. 2017).

         Generally, the defendant moving to suppress evidence bears the burden of proof. See United States v. Dickerson, 655 F.2d 559, 561 (4th Cir. 1981). “Once the defendant establishes a basis for his motion to suppress, the burden shifts to the government to prove the admissibility of the challenged evidence by a preponderance of the evidence.” United States v. Gualtero, 62 F.Supp.3d 479, 482 (E.D. Va. 2014) (citing United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 177 n.14 (1974)). Thus, when a defendant moves to suppress his statements on the basis that the statements were obtained in violation of Miranda, “the government bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the statement was not obtained in violation of Miranda.” United States v. Jones, No. 3:17-cr-71, 2018 WL 935396, at *19 (E.D. Va. Feb. 16, 2018) (citing Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 168 (1986)).

         II. Factual Findings

         “Motions to suppress fall into the class of issues that are decided by the court and not the jury, ” and “[i]n the course of deciding a motion to suppress, the district court may make findings of fact.” United States v. Stevenson, 396 F.3d 538, 541 (4th Cir. 2005). See also Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(d) (“When factual issues are involved in deciding a [pretrial] motion, the court must state its essential findings on the record.”). Having considered the full record, including evidence presented at a suppression hearing, the Court makes the following factual findings.

         At some time between midnight and 2:00 AM on January 13, 2017, sheriff's deputies in Amherst County, Virginia conducted a traffic stop in the parking lot of the Executive Inn in Madison Heights, Virginia.[2] (Dkt. 23-1 at 7-8, 63). Defendant Lance Hicks, the driver of the stopped vehicle, was placed under arrest and handcuffed. (Id. at 63). At approximately 2:00 AM, Brandon Hurt, a narcotics investigator for the Amherst County Sheriff's Office, received a telephone call from Deputy Malott, one of the deputies who conducted the traffic stop. (Id. at 7- 8). Deputy Malott informed Hurt that officers had apprehended Hicks and one of his associates, both of whom were investigative targets of Hurt's. (Id. at 8). Upon arriving at the Executive Inn, Hurt found Hicks standing in handcuffs with two deputies in front of the stopped vehicle. (Id.). Hurt asked Deputy Malott whether Miranda warnings had been administered to either individual. (Id.). Deputy Malott replied that Miranda warnings had not been administered to either individual, and that Deputy Malott had not conversed with either individual. (Id.).

         Hurt asked Hicks to step away from his associate, and Hicks complied. (Id. at 8-9). Hurt informed Hicks that, since Hicks “was not free to leave, ” Hurt would advise him of his Miranda rights. (Id. at 8). Hurt then read Hicks his Miranda rights from a card Hurt keeps in his wallet.[3](Id. at 9). Hurt asked whether Hicks understood what Hurt had read to him, and Hicks stated that he understood. (Id.). Hurt asked whether Hicks was willing to speak with him and answer questions, and Hicks replied that he was willing to do so. Hicks proceeded to make certain incriminating statements. (Id. at 10-11; dkt. 76-2 at 4).

         Following his interview with Hicks and Hicks's associate, Hurt sought a warrant to search Room 125 of the Executive Inn, where the two men stated they had been staying.[4] (Dkt. 23-1 at 11, 20-21; dkt. 76-2 at 2-4). The affidavit Hurt submitted to demonstrate probable cause for a warrant did not mention that Hurt had administered a Miranda warning to Hicks prior to interviewing him, although it is Hurt's common practice to include these details in such affidavits. (Dkt. 23-1 at 20-21; dkt. 76-2 at 2-3). The state court issued a warrant authorizing the search of Room 125. (Dkt. 23-1 at 20). In executing the warrant, officers found a black box in Room 125. (Id. at 11-12, 64). At Hurt's request, Hicks opened the box using a combination. (Id.). The box contained several cell phones and a “white powder substance” later determined to be methamphetamine. (Id. at 11-12, 22).

         After the search of Room 125 at the Executive Inn, a deputy transported Hicks to the Amherst County Sheriff's Office, where Hicks was eventually placed in “Interview Room 3.” (Id. at 12, 51, 64-65). Interview Room 3 is equipped with an audio and visual recording device. (Id. at 13-14, 50). The device is operated by plugging a USB drive in, powering on the device, and pressing “record.” (Id. at 50-51). At least one interview conducted in Interview Room 3 in 2016 failed to record due to a technical malfunction, but Captain John Grieser, who oversees information technology for the Amherst County Sheriff's Office, believed that Interview Room 3 was functional as of January 2017. (Id. at 51, 52-54).

         Hurt and Jason Thompson, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), joined Hicks in Interview Room 3. (Id. at 34). Hurt plugged in a USB drive, powered the recording device on, and pressed “record.” (Id. at 13-14). Agent Thompson advised Hicks of his Miranda rights by reading from a preprinted “DEA 13A” card he keeps in his wallet.[5] (Id. at 42; dkt. 76-2 at 10). The “DEA 13A” card provides the text for an oral Miranda rights warning. (Dkt. 23-1 at 32-33; dkt. 76-2 at 10). Hicks stated that he understood what Thompson had read to him and that he was willing to speak with Hurt and Thompson. (Dkt. 23-1 at 36). During the course of the ensuing interview, Hicks made certain incriminating statements. (Id. at 15, 37-38; dkt. 76-2 at 5-6). At no point during the interview did Hicks express a desire to stop talking, consult a lawyer, or end the interview. (Dkt. 23-1 at 15). Agent Thompson took notes during the interview, and these notes state that Hicks was advised of his Miranda rights at 12:29 PM on January 13, 2017. (Id. at 46-47).

         After finishing the interview, Hurt stopped the recording but noticed that the “recording box . . . didn't change” in the usual manner. (Id. at 15). Within an hour, Hurt telephoned Captain Grieser and inquired whether he had erred in operating the recording equipment. (Id. at 25-26, 49). Based on Hurt's description of how he had operated the recording equipment, Grieser stated that Hurt had operated the equipment correctly. ...

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