Friday, August 18, 2017

Denial of Suppression Reversed Because of De Facto Arrest

In United States v. Wrensford, __ F.3d __, 2017 WL 3222511, No. 16-1373, No. 16-1395 (3rd Cir. July 31, 2017), the Third Circuit addressed the appeals of two co-defendants who were convicted of first degree murder and charges related to the illegal use and possession of a firearm.  In reversing and remanding the case as to one defendant and affirming as to the other, the Circuit provided guidance on the parameters of the Fourth Amendment and de facto arrests.  It also reaffirmed prior rulings regarding the standards for reviewing (1) motions for a mistrial based on non-unanimous jury verdicts; (2) refusal to give a voluntary manslaughter instruction; and (3) arguments that the evidence submitted at trial was insufficient to support a conviction.

In the most salient part of this opinion, the Third Circuit held that the police conducted a de facto arrest when they forcibly removed Wrensford from the place where he was stopped, brought him to a police station, and placed him in a cell without probable cause and without reading him his Miranda rights.  Further the identification that stemmed from that arrest was tainted.  The Court remanded the case to the district court to determine whether a Fourth Amendment exception would have nonetheless protected the identification and whether admission of the information during trial was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Court also found the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying motions for mistrial based on non-unanimous jury verdicts.  It reasoned that counsel’s failure to object to further polling of a dissenting juror, the interest in obtaining at least a partial verdict in a case involving multiple defendants and multiple counts, the Court’s supplemental jury instruction, and the lack of evidence that a juror’s will had been overborne during re-deliberation all weighed in favor of affirming the conviction.
Also proper was the district court’s refusal to give a voluntary manslaughter jury instruction because the evidence in the case did not indicate that the crime resulted from a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion.  Finally, the Court reaffirmed its established holding that any review of the sufficiency of the evidence is highly deferential.  The evidence supporting Muller’s conviction—which included witness testimony placing Muller at the scene of the crime, an identification based on a valid photo array, and Muller’s confessional conduct when apprehended by law enforcement—was sufficient to uphold his conviction.

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