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United States v. Harris

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

October 2, 2019




         Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc. No. 21, “the Motion”). Via the Motion, Defendant seeks to suppress his statements made to law enforcement officers on the grounds that his statements were obtained in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The Government has filed a response (Doc. No. 34), and Defendant replied (Doc. No. 35). Therefore, this matter is ripe for decision.[1]

         On May 24, 2018, an alleged male victim exited his car in the parking lot of his apartment complex when two male individuals approached him from behind. One of the male individuals pointed a handgun at the victim and demanded that he “empty his pockets.” The male individuals then took the victim's wallet, car keys, and cell phone and drove away in the victim's car. The victim's wife provided the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (“MNPD”) with images of both robbers that she obtained from the apartment complex's camera system. The images were disseminated to local media outlets.

         On May 25, 2019, the day after the robbery, Defendant turned himself in. At the time, there was no warrant issued for Defendant's arrest. MNPD Detectives Brian Stanley and Joseph Haislip subsequently questioned Defendant at the police station. Prior to the initiation of questioning, Defendant signed a Miranda waiver form, which read in relevant part:

         Before we ask you any questions, you must understand your rights:

Waiver of Rights
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”

(Doc. No. 35-1). Defendant signed the Waiver of Rights and then gave incriminating statements to the detectives.

         Defendant argues that the Miranda warnings given to him were invalid because the written Miranda waiver advised Defendant “that he had ‘the right to an attorney,' [but] did not explain that he had that right before and during the interrogation.” (Doc. No. 21 at 4). The Government argues that (1) Miranda warnings were unnecessary because Defendant was not in custody during the interview; and (2) even assuming arguendo Defendant was in custody during the interview, the written Miranda warnings provided to Defendant did not violate Defendant's Fifth Amendment rights. (Doc. No. 29 at 3-9). The Court agrees with the Government that, assuming arguendo Defendant was in custody, the written Miranda waiver provided to Defendant passes Fifth Amendment scrutiny.

         The Fifth Amendment provides that a defendant in a criminal case cannot be compelled to be a witness against himself. See U.S. Const. amend. V. Consistent with that right, in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 478-79 (1966), the Supreme Court held “if a person in custody is to be subjected to interrogation, he must first be informed in clear and unequivocal terms that he has the right to remain silent [and the right to counsel].” The right to counsel includes both “the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with [you] during interrogation.” Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370, 383 (2010).

         With respect to the adequacy of Miranda warnings, the Sixth Circuit in a recent opinion explained:

Warnings need not be formulaic. Powell, 559 U.S. at 60; Duckworth v. Eagan, 492 U.S. 195, 202-03 (1989); [California v. Prysock, 453 U.S. 355, 359-60 (2012)]. Indeed, there is no “talismanic incantation” officers must follow. Prysock, 453 U.S at 359. Rather, what officers must do is warn a suspect in a manner that, to invoke a baseball analogy, “touch[es] all of the bases” reasonably to convey to a suspect his rights under Miranda. Duckworth, 492 U.S. at 203. With some play in the joints, courts should not “examine Miranda warnings as if construing a will or defining the terms of an easement.” Id. Instead, our test is a practical one: Would a suspect hearing the warnings reasonably understand his options regarding interrogation?

United States v. Clayton, No. 18-2237, 2019 WL 4125275, ---F.3d---, at *6 (6th Cir. Aug. 30, 2019) (emphasis added). The court then narrowed in on the right-to-counsel aspects of Miranda and discussed the Supreme Court's decision in Florida v. Powell, 559 U.S. 50, 60 (2010).

In Powell, a Florida police officer told a suspect: “You have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed for you without cost and before any questioning. You have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview.” Id. at 54[.] The Florida Supreme Court deemed this warning misleading because it interpreted “before questioning” as imposing a time limit on the right to counsel. Id. at 55[.] That phrasing, the Florida Supreme Court concluded, erroneously suggested that the suspect (Powell) could consult with an attorney ...

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