United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE
case came before the Court on July 26, 2017, for a hearing on
Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 190) and for a
pretrial conference. This Order memorializes the Court's
rulings from the bench.
MOTION TO SUPPRESS
February 14, 2016, federal agents approached Defendant John
Roberts and his fiancé Kayla Phillips aboard a
Norwegian Cruise Line ship in the Port of New Orleans. The
agents escorted Defendant and Ms. Phillips from the ship to
an area within the customs enforcement area designated for
the Department of Homeland Security. Defendant moves to
suppress the statements he made to the federal agents in the
course of the ensuing interview as well as the evidence
obtained from his cell phone. Defendant argues that the
agents failed to advise him properly of his rights under
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 486 (1966) and its
progeny and that the unreasonable delay between the time the
agents removed Defendant from the ship and the time at which
the agents presented the consent form for the search of his
phone was specifically designed to wear him down and to
convince Defendant to provide his consent.
Miranda, “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. at 444. “[I]ncriminating statements
elicited from suspects in custody cannot be admitted at trial
unless the suspect was first advised of his . . .
Miranda rights.” United States v.
Salvo, 133 F.3d 943, 948 (6th Cir. 1998) (citing
Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 322 (1994)).
Once a suspect has been advised of his rights, he may waive
them, provided that the waiver is “voluntary, knowing
and intelligent, under the totality of circumstances.”
United States v. Walls, 116 F. App'x 713, 717
(6th Cir. 2004). In other words, the waiver must be both
“the product of a free and deliberate choice rather
than intimidation, coercion, or deception” and
“made with a full awareness of both the nature of the
right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to
abandon it.” Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412,
421 (1986). The government bears the burden of proving a
valid waiver by a preponderance of the evidence. Colorado
v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 168 (1986).
Government disputes that Defendant was ever taken into
custody on February 14, 2016. Special Agent Sarah Perry, an
investigator with the United States Army, testified that when
federal agents approached Defendant and Ms. Phillips aboard
the cruise ship, the agents briefly identified themselves and
asked Defendant and Ms. Phillips to disembark with them.
Special Agent Perry further testified that Defendant and Ms.
Phillips were not required to speak with the agents and were
free to leave at any time. However, while agents specifically
told Defendant and his fiancé that they were not
required to speak with the agents, no one explicitly told the
couple that they had the option to remain on the cruise ship
and to later disembark through customary means with the
remainder of the ship's passengers.
of Defendant's custodial status, the undisputed evidence
shows that the agents properly informed Defendant of his
constitutional right to remain silent. Special Agent Perry
testified that Defendant was advised of his rights both
verbally and in writing and that he willing executed a waiver
form. According to Agent Perry, Defendant was remarkably
forthcoming when speaking with the agents and cooperated
freely. Defendant presented no evidence to the contrary. The
Court accordingly finds the Government has met its burden of
proving by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant was
made aware of his Miranda rights and that he
knowingly and voluntarily waived those rights and
DENIES Defendant's motion to suppress
any statements given to the interviewing agents.
Court similarly concludes that Defendant voluntarily provided
consent for the agents to search his cell phone. The Fourth
Amendment permits a warrantless seizure only if an individual
provides valid consent. United States v. Hinojosa,
606 F.3d 875, 881 (6th Cir. 2010). A seizure
“authorized by consent is wholly valid, ” as long
as the government meets its “burden of proving that the
consent was, in fact, freely and voluntarily given.”
Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 222 (1973).
The consent must not be “the result of coercion,
duress, or submission to a claim of authority.”
United States v. Lee, 793 F.3d 680, 685 (6th Cir.
2015) (citations omitted).
motion to suppress, Defendant argues that he did not provide
valid consent because there was an unreasonable delay between
the time he entered the interview room and the time he
executed the consent form. Defendant suggests that his
signature was coerced since he believed that he would be
unable to leave until he acquiesced. However, the
uncontradicted testimony presented at the July 26, 2017
hearing demonstrates that federal agents first approached
Defendant around 7:00 a.m. as he was returning to his room
from breakfast. Defendant, his fiancé, and the agents
then left the ship. The agents spent approximately three
hours interviewing Ms. Phillips. The evidence further shows
that Defendant signed the Miranda waiver around
10:13 a.m. and the consent to search form around 10:45 a.m.
The agents then met with Defendant for another three hours
thereafter. Based on this timeline and the totality of the
circumstances, there is no evidence to suggest that
Defendant's consent to search his cell phone was anything
but voluntary. The Court accordingly DENIES
Defendant's motion to suppress the evidence obtained from
his cell phone.
DEFENDANT'S MOTIONS IN LIMINE
Defendant's Motion in Limine No. 1
moves to exclude any evidence or testimony concerning any
proffer he made on March 4, 2016. At this time, the
Government does not intend to present evidence of
Defendant's proffer and so does not oppose
Defendant's motion. However, in the event that Defendant
elects to testify at trial, the Government reserves the right
to utilize Defendant's proffer for impeachment purposes.
motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN
PART. The Court will permit the Government to use
Defendant's prior statements for the purpose ...