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United States v. Davis

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 7, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES DAVIS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), the Supreme Court established procedural safeguards designed to protect the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. U.S. Const. amend. V. Before suspects in a criminal investigation can be interrogated, Miranda requires that law enforcement officers provide suspects with basic information about these rights, including that they have “a right to remain silent, that any statement [they] make can be used against [them], and that [they have] the right to the presence of an attorney.” 384 U.S. at 444. Though suspects may waive the right to remain silent, they cannot be coerced to do so. Id. And the right to an attorney is sacrosanct; once invoked, it is vital that the “interrogation must cease until an attorney is present.” See Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477, 484-85 (1981) (quoting Miranda, 384 U.S. at 474). In this case, the Defendant clearly asked for an attorney on no fewer than three occasions at the beginning of his interrogation, to which law enforcement officers responded primarily with efforts to persuade and pressure the Defendant into choosing to waive the right instead. Although the Court finds no merit in Defendant's allegations that officers used access to his cell phone as leverage to coerce a waiver, because the Court holds that law enforcement officers should have stopped interrogating Defendant after he requested an attorney, the statements made by Defendant during the interrogation will be suppressed.

         The Government has charged Defendant James Donnell Davis with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, two counts of possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance, and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. ECF No. 1 at 1-5.[1] Presently pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress Statements. ECF No. 76 at 1. An evidentiary hearing was held on August 20, 2018. ECF No. 91. For reasons explained in more detail below, Defendant's Motion to Suppress Statements is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 25, 2018, Defendant filed a motion to suppress statements made during his September 28, 2017, interview with law enforcement. ECF No. 76 at 1-2. The Government opposed this motion. ECF No. 85. At the evidentiary hearing held on August 20, 2018, the Government presented two witnesses: Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Margaret Mande and Prince George's County Police Officer Sean Chaney. The defense presented one witness: Defendant Davis. The Court will summarize its finding of facts herein.

         On September 28, 2017, Defendant was arrested by law enforcement officers while taking out the trash outside his residence in Springfield, Virginia.[2] Among the officers involved were Agent Mande and Prince George's County Police Officers Chaney and Mike Margulis.

         Upon Defendant's arrest, he was handcuffed and searched, and officers removed a number of items from his person, including his cell phone. These items were given to his wife.

         While in the transport van at the scene of the arrest, Defendant-apparently concerned that his wife could discover evidence of his relationships with other women if she retained possession of his cell phone-asked officers to retrieve the phone from his wife. The officers agreed to do so, but Defendant's wife initially gave the officers the wrong cell phone. Defendant then asked if the officers would take him to the door so he could ask his wife directly for the correct cell phone. Once more, officers agreed and Defendant successfully retrieved his phone.

         The parties dispute, however, the officers' motivation for helping Defendant retrieve his phone. Defendant testified that Agent Mande told him they would only help him get his phone if he agreed to “help [him]self.” He further testified that Officer Margulis held onto his cell phone in the transport van, and told him that only “when you do what you got to do, you'll get your phone back.” Agent Mande and Officer Chaney testified that neither they, nor any of the other officers, ever made any such suggestion. Neither of the government witnesses testified to when or how the cell phone was returned to Defendant, but Defendant himself testified that it was not returned until Officer Margulis gave the phone to a United States Marshal just prior to Defendant's release at the courthouse. During the approximately hour-and-a-half of Defendant's videotaped interrogation, none of the parties made any reference to Defendant's cell phone or its use as leverage.

         After Defendant's arrest, he was transported to the Criminal Investigation Division of the Prince George's County Police Department on Barlowe Road. He was placed into an interrogation room where he was joined by Agent Mande and Officers Margulis and Chaney. Agent Mande handed Defendant a Federal Bureau of Investigation Advice of Rights form that contains an explanation of Defendant's Miranda rights. ECF No. 85-3 at 2. As Agent Mande verbally explained these rights, the following video-recorded exchange occurred:

Mande: And if you decide to answer questions now, without a lawyer present, you have the right to stop answering questions at any time.
Davis: If, if I'm, if I'm going to answer questions, I'm going to need a lawyer here.
Mande: Alright, well, this is just so you understand that…and then down here, it's just now we're, this is the part where, if you want a way to talk to us and answer questions, that's where you sign there. If you don't want to talk to us, don't…
Davis: I want to talk to you, but I just need my lawyer.
Chaney: Ok, ok, so here's what you're telling us-you do want your lawyer?
Davis: I want to talk, yeah. But I need my lawyer present.
Chaney: We wanna… either you talk to us now…if you want to talk to us now, without anybody else present, you have to sign that waiver. If not, all bets are off, you go into the system, ok?
Margolis: And this isn't sitting here to discuss your charges here and to talk to you and ask you questions about your charges here. That's not what that's for. We're here for you to tell us what you think you want to do to try to help yourself out. I'm not here to ask you questions about your case today, or go into it today. You're going to get all that, you're going to get your paperwork today when you have your initial appearance.
Davis: My question is this, alright. If y'all want me to…such and such…I can't be going to ...

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