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United States v. Hollins

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

April 16, 2018




         Defendant De'Lewis Hollins (“Defendant”) moved to suppress his statements and other evidence recovered in this case based upon alleged violations of his Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (ECF No. 33.) The Motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Charmaine Claxton, who held a hearing on January 18, 2018. (Minutes, ECF No. 45.) On March 16, 2018, Magistrate Judge Claxton issued a Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) on Defendant's Motion to Suppress recommending the Motion should be denied because the record did not support findings that Mr. Hollins' Fifth, Sixth or Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated in eliciting his statements. (R&R, ECF No. 49.) Moreover, the Magistrate Judge recommended that no evidence be suppressed pursuant to the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. (ECF No. 49.) Mr. Hollins filed timely objections to the R & R on April 1, 2018, and the prosecution filed its Response shortly thereafter. (Response, ECF Nos. 54, 58.)


         Mr. Hollins is accused of assaulting and robbing a postal mail carrier and then using the fruits of that theft, a food stamps card. On May 25, 2017, he was charged in a three-count indictment alleging assault/robbery of a person in lawful possession or control of United States mail (Count 1), forcibly assaulting, resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating, or interfering with an officer or employee of the United States (a postal carrier) (Count 2) and knowingly possessing the identification of another and that identification included electronic benefits for someone who had food stamps (count 3). (Indictment, ECF No. 1.)

         Following Mr. Hollins' arrest in this case, he provided two statements to law enforcement officers. The Motion to Suppress seeks to exclude those statements because, according to Mr. Hollins, his requests for counsel were ignored by the officers after his right to counsel “arguably” attached and because his statements were allegedly coerced by law enforcement officers when they hit him during a break in his interrogation. (Mot. to Suppress, ECF No. 33; Objections to R&R, ECF No. 54.)

         The evidence presented at the Suppression Hearing was quite extensive. The Prosecution called six (6) witnesses: Robert Weeks, Robert Riggs, Justin Crutcher, Jacoba Boyd, Brandon Guffey, and Gregory Newbery. The Defense called four (4) witnesses: Demarius Jones, Robert Brown, Gary Myles and De'Lewis Hollins. The parties introduced five exhibits: photos of the arrest scene; the warning and waiver of rights signed by Mr. Hollins; Mr. Hollins' statement with his Miranda Rights that was signed by him; and the Shelby County Sheriff's Office inmate information that includes a thumbnail photograph of Defendant's face and a blown-up-version of the same photograph. (Exhibit and Witness List, ECF No. 46.)

         The Magistrate Court issued a thorough R & R, proposing that Defendant's claims of violations of his Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were not well-founded and that the Motion should be denied. (ECF No. 49.) Magistrate Judge Claxton's opinion contained a detailed summary of each witness' testimony. This Court reviewed the Suppression Hearing transcript, which comprised 258 pages.[1]

         Robert Weeks is a Postal Inspector who was part of the team of officers who conducted surveillance and ultimately arrested Defendant on February 2, 2017, near the Dogwood Trace Apartments in Memphis, Tennessee. (Suppression Hr'g Tr., ECF No. 47, at PageIDs 73-79.) Inspector Weeks testified that when he arrested Defendant, there was no physical struggle. (Id.) Robert Riggs is also a Postal Inspector who assisted in the investigation and arrest of Defendant. Inspector Riggs testified that he never heard Defendant request an attorney. (Id. at PageIDs 86-100.) Inspector Riggs testified that the Memphis Police Department (“MPD”) Officers came to the scene within a few minutes and transported Defendant from the scene. (Id.) Memphis Police Department (MPD) Officer Justin Crutcher testified that he and his partner, Jacoba Boyd, were dispatched to the Dogwood Trace Apartments to assist the Postal Inspection Service in an arrest and transport. (Id. at PageIDs 102-112.) They took separate cars to the scene and found Defendant seated on the curb. Officer Boyd put Defendant in his vehicle. Officer Crutcher testified that he did not engage in any physical violence or struggle with Defendant and did not observe any such struggle or violence toward Defendant at any time. (Id.)

         Officer Jacoba Boyd's memory of the incident was not precise. (Id. at PageIDs 113-32.) This is understandable, given his limited involvement in the case. His only contact with the Defendant was to drive him from the scene of arrest to the MPD Precinct - about seven (7) to ten (10) minutes away. (Id.) Having said that, Officer Boyd did not see Defendant in any sort of physical struggle. Officer Boyd did not strike Defendant, nor did he see anyone else do so. Officer Boyd did not recall Defendant ever requesting an attorney during the ride to the precinct office. (Id.) Officer Boyd noted that he did not conduct any interrogation of Defendant while they were driving to the Precinct. (Id.) Officer Boyd testified that his usual practice was to not engage in a discussion with an arrestee. Thus, if he had had such a conversation with Mr. Hollins that day, it likely would have been memorable. (Id.)

         Next, Postal Inspector Brandon Guffey testified concerning his participation in the interrogation of Defendant at the MPD Mt. Moriah Precinct. (Id. at PageIDs 132-58.) Inspector Guffey and another Postal Inspector, Gregory Newbery, encountered Defendant while he was cuffed to a bench in an interview room. The Postal Inspectors advised Defendant of his Miranda Rights at the beginning of their interview at approximately 11:11 a.m., and Mr. Hollins acknowledged this by signing the waiver form. (Id. at PageIDs 136-38, Miranda warning and waiver of rights form, Ex. 2.) The Inspectors remained in contact with Defendant until about 3:00 in the afternoon. If they were not in the room with him that day, they could observe him through a closed circuit television. MPD Detective Jones and Detective Brown participated in the questioning when Guffey and Newberry were not actively talking with Defendant. Inspector Guffey testified that there was an afternoon break, during which Detective Jones and Detective Brown allowed Defendant to walk outside and smoke a cigarette. Following that break, Detectives Jones and Brown interviewed Defendant for a while before Inspectors Guffey and Newbery came back into the room. At that time, Defendant wrote a confession of his involvement in the robbery and signed the document which included another Miranda warning and waiver of rights. (Id. at PageIDs 141-44, Sworn Statement and Advice of Rights, Ex. 3.)

         Postal Inspector Newbery testified about his interview of Defendant with Inspector Guffey. (Id. at PageIDs 159-79). Inspector Newbery testified that after an afternoon break in which Defendant was given an opportunity to smoke a cigarette, Defendant returned and “admitted” his involvement in the crime at issue by writing the sworn statement and waiver of his Miranda Rights. (Id.)

         MPD Detective Demarius Jones was called by the Defense and he denied that he or Detective Brown ever became violent or abusive, nor did they in any way physically strike Defendant or offer him ten dollars to tell the truth. (Id. at PageIDs 183-209.) Detective Brown testified that he and Detective Jones took Defendant on a smoke break that lasted a few minutes and that Defendant ultimately confessed when they returned. (Id. at PageIDs 210-30.) Detective Brown denied that Defendant ever asked for a lawyer or that the officers ever struck or abused him in any way during their time with him. (Id.)

         The investigator for the Federal Public Defender's Office, Gary Myles, testified about the photographs he took of the smoking area around the Precinct in question. (Id. at PageIDs 231-46.)

         De'Lewis Hollins testified about his arrest and the aftermath, including claims that officers ignored his requests for an attorney and that he was hit by MPD officers shortly before signing his confession. (Id. at PageIDs 249-97.) Defendant testified that when MPD Officer Boyd was driving him to the MPD Precinct he asked for an attorney, and Officer Boyd told him that he would notify the other officers of his request. (Id. at PageIDs 255-57.) Once Mr. Hollins arrived at the MPD Precinct, he claims to have been so intoxicated and confused that he did not understand the two (2) Miranda Rights waiver forms that he signed that day. (Id. at PageIDs 279-81.) Despite reading the terms and signing his name to both waiver forms, Defendant testified that he still expected the officers to make sure that he had a lawyer. (Id. at PageID 273.) Moreover, Defendant testified that, at one point, Detectives Brown and Jones took him for a “cigarette break” when they took him into a dark area and that one held his arms while the other hit him in the stomach and told him to quit ...

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