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United States v. Potter

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division

November 14, 2017

MICHAEL J. W. POTTER, Defendant.


          Clifton L. Corker United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and standing orders of the District Court for a Report and Recommendation on Defendant's Motion to Suppress Statements [Doc. 405]. The Government filed a response in opposition [Doc. 430]. On November 6, 2017, the Court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the motion. For the reasons stated, the Court RECOMMENDS the Motion to Suppress [Doc. 405] be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Introduction

         Michael Potter (“Potter”) is charged with conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) [Doc. 3]. The Government has given notice of its intent to seek increased punishment due to Potter having one or more prior felony drug convictions [Doc. 420].

         Potter's motion alleges that law enforcement questioned him on two occasions, one on June 26, 2015 and one on June 27, 2015. For the questioning that occurred on June 26, 2015, he claims that he was subject to custodial interrogation for purposes of Miranda without having received any Miranda warnings. He also claims that he requested an attorney during this questioning but his request was not honored [Doc. 405, pg. 1-2].

         For the interview on June 27, 2015, Potter first claims that law enforcement approached him to question him again, even though he had already invoked his right to counsel. Second, he claims that he again invoked his right to counsel prior to questioning, but that his request was not honored. Third, while he admits to signing the “Advice of Rights” form containing the Miranda warnings and waiver of his right to counsel, he claims that this was an end-around Miranda that involved the “question first” and “warn later” that was condemned in Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004). Potter's motion seeks to suppress his statements from these encounters on the grounds that his statements were obtained in violation of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

         B. Hearing Testimony

         Three witnesses testified at the November 6, 2017, evidentiary hearing regarding Potter's motion. A summary of their testimony follows.

         1. Special Agent Shannon Russell of the 2nd Judicial Drug Task Force

         Special Agent Shannon Russell (“Agent Russell”) testified that in June 2015, he was investigating a methamphetamine conspiracy operating in the region. Potter was not a target, but Agent Russell and Agent Jason Roark, also with the DTF, were interested in speaking with him about what he knew about methamphetamine distribution in the area. Concerning the June 26, 2015 encounter, Agent Russell testified he had no recollection of even talking with Potter on that date. However, he indicated that he had recently spoken with Agent Roark, who reminded him that they had attempted to interview Potter on June 26, but Potter was unwilling to speak with them. Agent Russell testified if anything of substance had occurred at that meeting, he would have kept notes from the meeting. He reviewed the entire contents of his file and found no notes from this June 26, 2015, meeting.

         Agent Russell did recall interviewing Potter on June 27, 2015 at the Sheriffs office. Agent Russell testified that he and Agent Roark met with Potter at Potter's request. At the start of the meeting, Agent Russell read Potter the “Advice of Rights” form which contained the Miranda rights and waiver.[1] After reading the contents of the form to Potter, he and Potter signed it on June 27, 2015 at 11:00 a.m. (Exhibit 1). After executing the waiver form, Agent Roark questioned Potter about what he knew about the distribution of methamphetamine in the region. Potter gave a detailed statement implicating himself and others in an extensive drug conspiracy (Exhibit 2). When Potter indicated he wished to stop the interview, agents ceased questioning him. Agent Russell testified that at no time during the interview did Potter request an attorney. Agent Russell acknowledged that Potter may have spoken about an attorney, but denied Potter requested counsel. Agent Russell also testified that Potter did not ask to stop the interview to obtain counsel. If he had, he and Agent Roark would have terminated the interview.

         2. Testimony of William Crawford, Sullivan County Jail Records Custodian

         Potter called Mr. William Crawford, the records custodian for Sullivan County jail, who brought the jail log records for June 26 and 27, 2015 (Exhibit 3). Crawford explained that the log shows the time a prisoner was brought in and placed in a holding cell. While the log does not denote if a detective comes to the jail to interview a prisoner, it does identify if a prisoner is removed from a cell to meet with a detective. Additionally, the log book does not reflect when an inmate is removed from a cell prior to classification. Once an inmate has been classified, however, Crawford testified that jail personnel should record when an inmate is removed from the cell. Crawford identified log entries on June 27, 2015[2] indicating that Potter left “H” cell to see a detective and then returned thereafter.[3] No entry regarding a meeting with detectives was listed on June 26, 2017.

         3. Testimony of Defendant, Michael Potter

         i. ...

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