Thursday, November 20, 2014

Delay in presentment in pursuit of cooperation was unreasonable. Defendant's motion to suppress confession should have been granted.

In United States v. Thompson, 13-1874, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's denial of Mr. Thompson's motion to suppress fruits of an unlawful search, but reversed the suppression ruling regarding his statements.

Thompson was the subject of a traffic stop in Texas.  During the stop officers located a quantity of marijuana and cocaine.  He was charged locally with the marijuana and posted bond.  He was not charged locally with the cocaine, nor was he informed that law enforcement discovered it.  Weeks later, the DEA believing Thompson to be involved with a drug trafficking group known as the "Cali Connect" executed search warrants at residences believed to be associated with that group in various states, including Pennsylvania, Indiana, and California.  Agents searched Thompson's home in California and discovered a quantity of cocaine.  He was subsequently taken the DEA head-quarter's which was an hour and a half drive.  During the drive the agents "laid the case out" for him.  More than 6 hours after his arrest, Thompson agreed to cooperate.  Agents then interrogated Thompson and had Thompson place phone calls in an effort to do a "reverse buy bust" on a co-conspirator.  The agents did not present Thompson with a written waiver of his right to prompt presentment until more than 12 hours after his arrest.  Once they did, Thompson ceased the interview.  Although the cooperative efforts resumed the next day, it was clear that the reverse buy bust" would not come to fruition.  Thereafter Thompson was taken for his initial appearance, which was nearly 48 hours after his arrest.

Thompson filed a motion to suppress the traffic stop in Texas and the statements in California.  Both were denied.  Thompson pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine with a plea agreement that permitted an appeal of the denial of his suppression motions.  He was sentenced to 292 months imprisonment and this appeal followed.

Thompson first argued that the extension of the traffic stop to include a K-9 search was not based on reasonable suspicion.  At the outset, the parties agreed the initial stop was valid because Thompson was speeding.  But once the purpose for that stop ended, Thompson argued the extension of the stop was unlawful.  The Third Circuit disagreed, finding that the stop was lawfully extended based on the totality of the circumstances which included the following:  1) the officer has approximately 1500 traffic stops, 10 of which involved the discovery of contraband on the very corridor that Thompson was traveling; 2) the officer was trained to recognize indicators of drug smuggling; 3) Thompson's explanation about his travel to Indiana for three weeks and corresponding small amount of luggage was suspicious; 4) Thompson was visibly nervous with a shaky voice and a visible pulse in his neck; and 5) when questioned about his criminal history he only mentioned one firearms conviction but neglected to mention his prior convictions for drug offenses.

Thompson next argued that his confession should be suppressed because it was taken in violation of the McNabb-Mallory exclusionary rule, i.e. per F.R.Cr.P Rule 5(a)(1)(A) one who is arrested must be taken "without unnecessary delay before a magistrate judge" for presentment.  This way, a judge can inform the defendant of the right to remain silent, inform him/her of the charges, and the right to counsel - all in an effort to prevent Government overreaching.    In reviewing this claim, the Court determined without difficulty that Thompson's confession occurred outside of the "safe-harbor period" - i.e. beyond the first 6 hours of the his detention.  The Court next reviewed whether the confession made outside this time period was reasonable and necessary.  It found neither.  The Court remarked that delays related to transportation and related to searching Thompson's residence were reasonable.  But, the Court found the remaining hours of delay were "in pursuit of cooperation" and that was unreasonable.  The Court held firmly that, "[w]e must hold that pursuit of cooperation is not a reasonable excuse for the delay in presentment.  Were we to hold otherwise, the resulting imprecision would lead to confusion on where to draw the line between engagement based on a mutual desire to cooperate, versus law enforcement's desire to interrogate, with the hope that cooperation may result."  The Court did not want any grey area on this issue.  As such, Thompson's statements should have been suppressed and the judgment was vacated and the matter remanded.

McKee, Fuentes, and Greenaway, Jr.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Exclusionary rule does not apply when agents executing an otherwise valid search warrant fail to provide to the homeowner a list of items sought

U.S. v. Franz, No. 13-2406, 2014 WL 5565457 (3dCir. Nov. 4, 2014)

A police officer executing an otherwise valid search warrant failed to provide the list of items sought to the homeowner.  Although it acknowledged that the warrant, as presented to the homeowner, was constitutionally deficient, the Court examined the totality of the circumstances. It considered the officer's conduct in obtaining and executing the warrant, and what the officer knew or should have known.  The rookie officer consulted with federal prosecutors and explained to the homeowner what items the warrant sought, but mistakenly believed that an order sealing the warrant prohibited him from providing the list of items sought to the homeowner.  Under these circumstances, application of the exclusionary rule would have little deterrent effect since the officer’s conduct was not deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent.  

During trial, the court allowed the prosecutor to show graphic images of children being sexually assaulted to the jury using a projector that enlarged the images on a screen.  The trial court later ruled that the images were inadmissible, told the jury to disregard them, and gave a curative instruction.  On appeal, the Third Circuit agreed with the government that the display of the graphic images to the jury was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. 

The District Court's indication of the sentence it would impose before the defendant allocuted was not reversible plain error.

              In United States v. Packer , 83 F.4th 193 (3d Cir. Sept. 26, 2023), , the ...