Monday, December 19, 2005

Third Circuit Offers Split Decision on Miranda Challenge Involving a Confidential Informant

In United States v. Jacobs, No. 04-2214 (3d Cir. Dec. 14, 2005), the Third Circuit considered whether statements made on two separate occasions by a confidential informant to her FBI handler were involuntary and taken in violation of her rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The first set of statements, made in March 2000, were offered by Jacobs on her own terms - she called her handler, requested a meeting, set the time and place of the meeting, and controlled the amount and type of information offered. The second set of statements, made in April 2000, were made in response to an interrogation by Jacobs's handler at the FBI office after Jacobs had been summoned to the office without explanation and without being told that her status as an informant had been "closed."

The district court suppressed both the March and April statements on voluntariness grounds after concluding that Jacobs's handler made an implied promise that her statements would not be used against her. The Third Circuit refused to determine whether there was an implied promise and, instead, simply considered Jacobs's relationship with her handler as one factor in the totality of the circumstances analysis of voluntariness. Applying the totality test, the Third Circuit agreed that the April statements - made in a custodial setting in response to interrogation without adequate warnings - were involuntary. It reversed the district court's decision on the March statements, however, finding that the circumstances of the March statements point to Jacobs's willingness to speak by her own choice.

Judge Aldisert filed a dissenting opinion arguing that the district court decision should have been affirmed in its entirety because the district court did not clearly err in concluding that Jacobs's handler made an implied promise that her statements would not be used against her.

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