U.S. v. FEYLER

55 F. Supp.2d 55 (1999) | Cited 0 times | D. Maine | June 17, 1999

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT FEYLER'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

On January 25, 1999, Defendant Bryant Feyler filed a Motion toSuppress, asserting that his post-arrest statements "were givenat a time when the Defendant's mental and physical condition werecompromised due to the influence of drugs and that any LawEnforcement Agents knew, or should have known, that the Defendantwas incapable of making a voluntary, intelligent confession."Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Suppress of DefendantBryant Feyler (Docket No. 36) at 1. Shortly after filing thatmotion, Defendant Feyler's counsel withdrew and substitutecounsel was appointed. See Docket No. 41. The Court held anevidentiary hearing on Defendant's motion on March 11 and 24,1999. At the close of the hearing, Defendant's new counselrequested leave of the Court to amend the Motion to Suppress. TheGovernment did not object, and the Court permitted Defendant theopportunity to amend in light of the testimony at the hearing.

Defendant now moves to suppress the post-arrest statements hemade to law enforcement officers on the grounds that thestatements were not voluntarily made. Defendant also argues thathe was not properly advised of his Miranda rights before he wasinterrogated or, if he was properly advised of his rights, thewaiver was invalid because he did not sign a writtenwaiver-of-rights form. The Government responds that Defendant wasproperly advised of his rights according to Miranda, that hemade a valid waiver of his rights to confess to law enforcementofficers, and that the statements he made were a product of hisown free will. The Court agrees with the Government and will denyDefendant's Motion to Suppress.

I. FACTS

The facts revealed at the hearing are as follows. Atapproximately 11:30 on October 29, 1998, Joseph Robitaille, aspecial agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms,went to an apartment in Kennedy Park with three Portland Policeofficers to execute an arrest warrant for Bryant Feyler.Transcript I ("Tr.I") at 3-4; Transcript II ("Tr.II") at 41.1Feyler was not at the apartment, but as the officers began toleave, they spotted Feyler driving into the parking lot. Tr. I at5-6. Defendant was subsequently arrested at gunpoint. Tr. I at 6.

After his arrest, Feyler was placed in a marked police vehicleand taken to the U.S. Marshals' lockup. Tr. I at 7, 9. On theway, the police explained that they would make his cooperationknown to the United States Attorney's office. Tr. I at 9.Defendant responded "What do I do? What do you want me to say?What do you want me to do?" Tr. I at 9. The police told Defendantthat they were looking for his codefendant, Coleman "Joey"Beeler. Tr. I at 9. Defendant said that Beeler had spent theprevious night at the Anchor Inn in South Portland. Tr. I at 9.Defendant cried on the way to the Marshals' lockup. Tr. I at118-19. Robitaille and Portland Police Officer Kevin Cady leftthe Defendant at the Marshals' lockup in Portland and traveled tothe Anchor Inn to look for Beeler. Tr. I at 10-11.

In the meantime, Assistant U.S. Attorney Helene Kazanjiantelephoned Deputy Marshal Kathryn Spellacy and requested thatDeputy Spellacy advise Defendant of his rights and ask if hewanted to give a statement.2 Tr. II at 3-4. Deputy MarshalsMichael Galvin and Spellacy took Defendant into a conference roomat approximately 12:20 p.m. Tr. II at 5. The conference room isabout 25 feet by 15 feet, with a conference table surrounded by12 chairs and a large armoire. Tr. II at 5. Spellacy sat acrossthe table from Defendant, and Galvin sat to his immediate right.Tr. II at 5-6. Spellacy then explained to Defendant that shewanted to talk to him about what occurred on the night that thecar was bombed in Yarmouth and that law enforcement officers werelooking for Joey Beeler. Tr. II at 8. Galvin then read toDefendant — slowly, one line at a time — the official Mirandarights card issued by the Marshals Service.3 Tr. II at 6-7;Govt. Ex. 11. After Galvin finished reading Defendant his rights,he asked if Defendant understood his rights and Feyler repliedthat he did. Tr. II at 6, 27. Defendant then agreed to waive hisrights and answer questions. Id.

Though admittedly knowing nothing about the car bombing,Spellacy began to question Defendant about the incident. Tr. IIat 6, 8. At that point, Defendant asked Spellacy some questions.

Q: Did he ask you — did he ask you any questions?

A: Yeah, he was concerned if he was doing the right thing. We explained to him that the right thing is always to tell the truth. That it was important to us to find Joey Beeler because he was involved, and we wanted to talk to him. He was very concerned about his girlfriend. I guess his girlfriend is Mr. Beeler's sister. And he wondered by cooperating and helping us if he would lose his girlfriend. It was very upsetting for him. That was pretty much it.

Q: Did he ask whether his cooperation would help him?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: What did you say?

A: I said it always helps to tell the truth.

Tr. II at 6-7. At points during the interview, the Defendantcried and said that he didn't want to lose his girlfriend. Tr. IIat 13. Defendant described the events of July 1997, including hisown role in the car bombing, to Spellacy and Galvin. Tr. II at 8;Govt. Ex. 12. Defendant was cooperative, and he never expressedany change of heart about talking to the law enforcementofficers. Tr. II at 25. Defendant never showed reluctance to talkto Spellacy. Tr. II at 26.

Robitaille returned to the Marshals' lockup after learning thatBeeler had checked out of the Anchor Inn one-half hour earlier.Tr. I at 9-11. Spellacy told Robitaille that Feyler had been readhis Miranda warnings and interviewed. Tr. II at 12-13. Spellacythen showed Robitaille a copy of her report of the interview,which she had just completed. Tr. I at 13. Robitaille then askedto have Feyler brought from the lockup into the conference room.Id. Initially, Feyler asked whether they had found Beeler. Tr.I at 14. At that time, Feyler suggested that Beeler might be athis sister or father's house. Id.

Robitaille told Feyler that he had been advised that Feyler hadbeen read a Miranda warning, that he had waived those warningsand voluntarily made a statement. Tr. I at 14. Robitaille alsoinformed Feyler that he did not need to speak with him but that,if he chose to do so, he would listen to him. Id. Feyler saidhe wanted to talk to Robitaille. Id. Feyler subsequently askedRobitaille whether Spellacy had to be there. Tr. I at 14-15.Robitaille asked Feyler why he was concerned about Spellacy'spresence, and Defendant replied that he may have lied to her. Tr.I at 15. Robitaille then reinterviewed Feyler. Tr. I at 15-39.Feyler described the circumstances of the July 1997 car bombingto Robitaille, including his role in the car bombing. Tr. I at17-30, 36-37.

Eric Storms, the U.S. Probation Officer assigned to conduct thepretrial services interview, first saw the Defendant withRobitaille in the Marshals' conference room. Tr. II at 33. Feylerappeared normal and alert, and he was not crying. Id. Stormscompleted the Financial Affidavit and took it to the Clerk ofCourts' office. Tr. II at 34. Later that afternoon, around 2:00p.m., right after Defendant had finished his interview withRobitaille, Storms began his pretrial services interview. Tr. IIat 37-38. Storms advised the Defendant of his rights, includinghis right to have an attorney present. Tr. II at 40. AlthoughDefendant cried a bit at the beginning of the pretrial servicesinterview, he soon stopped and was cooperative throughout theinterview. Tr. II at 49-50.

II. DISCUSSION

Defendant now moves to suppress the statements he made toRobitaille and Spellacy on the grounds that the statements werenot voluntary.4 Specifically, Defendant argues that he wasemotionally unbalanced at the time he was questioned and that hiswill was thus overcome by the law enforcement personnel whointerrogated him. In the alternative, Defendant argues that hewas not properly advised of his Miranda rights beforeinterrogation or, ifhe was properly advised, the waiver was invalid because nowritten waiver of rights was obtained by the deputy marshals. TheGovernment responds that Defendant was properly advised of hisrights according to Miranda, that he made a valid waiver of hisrights to the law enforcement officers and that the statements hemade were a product of his own free will.

The evidence unquestionably shows that Defendant was properlyadvised of his Miranda rights by Deputy Galvin. Galvin read toDefendant, line by line, from the standard card used by the U.S.Marshals Service to advise suspects of their constitutionalrights. See Govt. Ex, 11. After Galvin finished readingDefendant his rights, he asked Defendant if he understood hisrights, and Defendant replied that he did and that he was willingto waive his rights. Tr. II at 6, 27. The record clearlyestablishes that Defendant was properly advised of his rightsaccording to Miranda. The Court further finds that his waiverwas not invalid because of the lack of a waiver of rights form.Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), requires only that the waiver of rights bemade voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently, not that it bemade in writing. The Court is convinced that Defendant's waivermet the Miranda requirements.

Defendant next asserts that, given his condition, DeputySpellacy's statement that "the right thing is always to tell thetruth," was psychological coercion. Specifically, Defendantargues that after his arrest, he was in a weakened psychologicalcondition as a result of his young age, lack of formal education,and his concern for his girlfriend; and that Spellacy's statementcompounded his condition to the point of rendering his statementsinvoluntary, thus, making his waiver of Miranda rights anullity. The Government responds that Spellacy's statement wasnot coercive and that Defendant knowingly, intelligently, andvoluntarily waived his rights.

Since Miranda, the Supreme Court has developed the parametersof the showing of waiver required of the government:

An express written or oral statement of waiver of the right to remain silent or of the right to counsel is usually strong proof of the validity of that waiver, but is not inevitably either necessary or sufficient to establish waiver. The question is not one of form, but rather whether the defendant in fact knowingly and voluntarily waived the rights delineated in the Miranda case. As was unequivocally said in Miranda, mere silence is not enough. That does not mean that the defendant's silence, coupled with an understanding of his rights and a course of conduct indicating waiver, may never support a conclusion that a defendant has waived his rights. The courts must presume that a defendant did not waive his rights; the prosecution's burden is great; but in at least some cases waiver can be clearly inferred from the actions and words of the person interrogated.

North Carolina v. Butler, 441 U.S. 369, 373, 99 S.Ct. 1755,1757, 60 L.Ed.2d 286 (1979) (footnote omitted). In determiningthe validity of a waiver, the Court should consider the totalityof the circumstances surrounding the interrogation, including thedefendant's age, experience, education, background, intelligence,familiarity with the criminal justice system, and his physicaland mental condition. See Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 421,106 S.Ct. 1135, 89 L.Ed.2d 410 (1986); Fare v. Michael C.,442 U.S. 707, 725, 99 S.Ct. 2560, 2572, 61 L.Ed.2d 197 (1979);Butler, 441 U.S. at 374-75, 99 S.Ct. at 1758; Schneckloth v.Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 226, 93 S.Ct. 2041, 2047, 36 L.Ed.2d854 (1973). Defendant was twenty-one years old when he wasarrested, and it was not his first arrest. Defendant does notdispute that Deputy Galvin read the Miranda warnings to him, orthat he understood his constitutional rights. The pretrialservicesworksheet admitted in evidence at the suppression hearingindicates that Defendant attended Portland High School until hereached twelfth grade, at which time he dropped out for failureto complete the necessary credits to graduate. See Govt. Exs. 5and 13. Defendant asserts that at the time of his interrogation,he was emotionally distraught over his girlfriend — the sister ofhis codefendant, Coleman Beeler. This emotional distresspresumably resulted from Defendant's concern over how hiscooperation would impact his relationship with his girlfriend.

Although Defendant was upset, and even cried at various pointsduring the interrogations, nothing in the record tends to showthat Defendant's mental condition was weakened after his arrestto any degree cognizable under the law. Whatever stress oranxiety Defendant felt was not greater than that which isexperienced by suspects generally when considering theirpost-arrest alternatives.

In determining whether a statement was made voluntarily, courtsexamine the conduct of law enforcement officials in creatingpressure, and the suspect's ability to resist that pressure. SeeMincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 398-402, 98 S.Ct. 2408, 57L.Ed.2d 290 (1978). Coercion is a necessary element to establishthat a statement was made involuntarily. See Colorado v.Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 163-64, 107 S.Ct. 515, 93 L.Ed.2d 473(1986). The only claimed coercion was Deputy Spellacy's repeatedresponse to Feyler's questions that the right thing to do was totell the truth. The Government argues that informing a suspectthat "it is best to tell the truth" regarding information hepossesses does not render a confession involuntary.

Advising a defendant that it is always best to tell the truthis arguably a truthful statement from a law enforcementperspective. The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has helda confession voluntary even though a law enforcement officer tolda suspect that the best thing he could do was cooperate andpromised to bring such cooperation to the attention of the UnitedStates Attorney. United States v. Baldacchino, 762 F.2d 170,178-79 (1st Cir. 1985). Other courts have held that "`a lawenforcement officer may properly tell the truth to the accused.'"United States v. Pelton, 835 F.2d 1067, 1072 (4th Cir. 1987)(quoting United States v. Williams, 479 F.2d 1138, 1140 (4thCir. 1973)). Indeed, "[t]ruthful statements about [a defendant's]predicament are not the type of `coercion' that threatens torender a statement involuntary." Id. at 1073; see also Riversv. United States, 400 F.2d 935, 943 (5th Cir. 1968) (holdingthat postal inspector's reference to 18 U.S.C.A. § 1001 during acustodial interview was not coercive but "merely emphasized thatif [the suspect] was going to say anything, he had best tell thetruth.").

Here, Spellacy made the questionable statement in response toDefendant's question regarding whether he was doing the rightthing. Spellacy did not intimate to Defendant that he had a dutyto speak, only that if he spoke, it would be best if he did sotruthfully. Advising or admonishing a suspect to tell the truthduring an investigatory interview does not constitute coercivelaw enforcement conduct rendering a statement involuntary. At thetime of his arrest, Defendant was an adult who, by virtue of hisprevious arrests, was familiar with the criminal justice system.He was apparently experiencing some degree of distress over howhis behavior would bear on his relationship with his girlfriend.Before questioning began, he was informed of his constitutionalrights and stated that he understood those rights. He was alertand answered the questions put to him responsively. In the courseof doing so, he twice confessed. The record in no way suggeststhat lawenforcement officers exerted any improper influence overDefendant. The Government has, therefore, satisfied its burden ofshowing that Defendant's statements manifested a voluntary,knowing, and intelligent waiver of his right to remainsilent.5

III. CONCLUSION

Accordingly, it is ORDERED that Defendant's Motion toSuppress be, and it is hereby, DENIED.

1. "Transcript I" or "Tr. I" refers to the transcript of theMarch 11 hearing and "Transcript II" or "Tr. II" refers to thetranscript of the March 24 hearing.

2. The reason for this, as explained to Spellacy, was thatRobitaille and Cady were not available to interview theDefendant. Tr. II at 3-4.

3. The card reads:

Before we ask you any questions, it is my duty to advise you of your rights.

You have the right to remain silent.

Anything you say can and will be used against you in a criminal proceeding.

You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we ask you any questions, and to have him with you during the questioning.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you, if you wish, before any questioning begins.

If you decide to answer questions without a lawyer present, you still have the right to stop answering at any time. You also have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to a lawyer.

Do you understand your rights?

Are you willing to waive your rights and talk with us?

Govt. Ex. 11.

4. Defendant's first Motion to Suppress argues, and hissupplemental brief continues to halfheartedly assert, that hiswill was overcome as a result of his ingestion of drugs. AmendedMotion to Suppress (Docket No. 59) at 2 (Defendant broadened thescope of his original motion "by asserting that his mentalcondition on that date was not, necessarily, solely caused by hisingestion of drugs."). The Court heard absolutely no evidencethat could lead it to conclude that Defendant was under theinfluence of any drug on the day of his arrest and interrogation.Each of the five witnesses testified that Defendant appearedlucid and sober on the day of his confession. Tr. I at 94, 112,128; Tr. II at 22-23, 45. In fact, when asked about his drug use,Defendant expressly denied using drugs or alcohol that day. Tr. Iat 125; Tr. II at 43; Govt. Ex 6. The Court thus finds thatneither drugs nor alcohol was a factor in the voluntariness ofthe statements Feyler gave to the law enforcement officers.

5. An argument, not raised by Defendant, to which the Courthas given serious consideration is whether Defendant was invokinghis right to counsel when he asked Deputy Spellacy what was theright thing to do and whether she violated that right byresponding that he should tell the truth. Despite thedisconcerting nature of this exchange, the Court cannot concludethat Defendant's right to counsel was violated. In Edwards v.Arizona, 451 U.S. 477, 484-85, 101 S.Ct. 1880, 1884-85, 68L.Ed.2d 378 (1981), the Supreme Court held that law enforcementofficers must immediately cease questioning of a suspect whoclearly asserts his right to have counsel present duringinterrogation. The issue left open by Edwards was how lawenforcement should respond when a suspect makes a reference tocounsel that is ambiguous or otherwise insufficiently clear.

In Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 114 S.Ct. 2350, 129L.Ed.2d 362 (1994), the Supreme Court declined "to extendEdwards and require law enforcement officers to ceasequestioning immediately upon the making of an ambiguous orequivocal reference to an attorney." Id. at 459, 114 S.Ct.2350. The Court held that "after a knowing and voluntary waiverof Miranda rights, law enforcement officers may continuequestioning until and unless the suspect clearly requests anattorney" and "[i]f the suspect's statement is not an unambiguousor unequivocal request for counsel, the officers have noobligation to stop questioning him." Id. at 461-62, 86 S.Ct.1602. The "[i]nvocation of the Miranda right to counsel`requires, at a minimum, some statement that can reasonably beconstrued to be an expression of desire for the assistance of anattorney.'" Davis, 512 U.S. at 459, 114 S.Ct. 2350 (quotingMcNeil v. Wisconsin, 501 U.S. 171, 178, 111 S.Ct. 2204, 2209,115 L.Ed.2d 158 (1991)). "If the statement fails to meet therequisite level of clarity, Edwards does not require that theofficers stop questioning the suspect." Id. The Court explainedthat "if a suspect makes a reference to an attorney that isambiguous or equivocal in that a reasonable officer in light ofthe circumstances would have understood only that the suspectmight be invoking the right to counsel, our precedents do notrequire cessation of questioning." Id. (emphasis added).

In reaching this result, the Court considered theinformation-gathering function of law enforcement. First, theCourt recognized that

when the officers conducting the questioning reasonably do not know whether or not the suspect wants a lawyer, a rule requiring the immediate cessation of questioning "would transform the Miranda safeguards into wholly irrational obstacles to legitimate police investigative activity," . . . because it would needlessly prevent the police from questioning a suspect in the absence of counsel even if the suspect did not wish to have a lawyer present.

Id. at 460, 86 S.Ct. 1602 (quoting Michigan v. Mosley,423 U.S. 96, 102, 96 S.Ct. 321, 326, 46 L.Ed.2d 313 (1975)). Second,the Court considered that Edwards "provides a bright line thatcan be applied by officers in the real world of investigation andinterrogation without unduly hampering the gathering ofinformation. . . . If we were to require questioning to cease ifa suspect makes a statement that might be a request for anattorney, this clarity and ease of application would be lost."Id. at 461, 114 S.Ct. 2350. In weighing the interests at stake,the Court stated:

We recognize that requiring a clear assertion of the right to counsel might disadvantage some suspects who — because of fear, intimidation, lack of linguistic skills, or a variety of other reasons — will not clearly articulate their right to counsel although they actually want to have a lawyer present. But the primary protection afforded suspects subject to custodial interrogation is the Miranda warnings themselves.

Id. at 460, 114 S.Ct. 2350. Finally, the Court stated that"when a suspect makes an ambiguous or equivocal statement it willoften be good police practice for the interviewing officers toclarify whether or not he actually wants an attorney." Id. at461, 114 S.Ct. 2350.

In this case, Defendant twice asked Deputy Spellacy, inessence, what was the right thing to do. Spellacy undertook togive Defendant her moral point of view. However, for a suspectcaught up in the toils of the law, it is not always andundisputably "right," in terms of his own legal self-interest, totell the truth. Indeed, it can be persuasively argued that it isnever right for him to do so until he has talked with hislawyer. It is because these propositions are so transparentlyself-evident that constitutional and legal protections assure himthe right not to say anything. The suggestion to a defendant thathe should tell the truth is advantageous to the investigators,while from a defense standpoint, the best thing to do is normallynot to be quite so forthright. Moreover, if telling the truth isthe chosen path, a properly advised defendant does not oftenundertake this action prior to discussions between his counseland the prosecutor.

Defendant's questions here are indeed ambiguous and, thus, heis not entitled to the protection afforded by Edwards.Nevertheless, the Court has had acute concern that Defendant mayhave been asking for legal advice. If that was the case, lawenforcement personnel are certainly not in a position to givelegal advice to a defendant. It is for a suspect's attorney toadvise him of what the "right thing to do" is in any givensituation. Under these circumstances, a wiser course for DeputySpellacy to have pursued would have been to clarify whetherDefendant wanted to speak to an attorney.

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