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United States v. Ricks

United States District Court, E.D. Texas

April 5, 2019




         Came on for consideration the report of the United States Magistrate Judge in this action, this matter having been heretofore referred to the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636. On March 28, 2019, the Magistrate Judge entered a Report and Recommendation, containing proposed findings of fact and recommendations that Defendant Hayden Ricks's Motion to Suppress be denied (#31). On April 4, 2019, Defendant filed Objections to the Report and Recommendation (#37). On April 5, 2019, the Government filed a Response (#38). Having received the report of the Magistrate Judge, having considered Defendant's objections and the Government's response, and having conducted a de novo review, the Court is of the opinion that the Magistrate Judge's report should be adopted.


         Defendant seeks suppression of: “(1) the interview/interrogation of the Defendant that was conducted by law enforcement officers on or about September 13, 2018, at the Collin County Courthouse and any and all information obtained therefrom, including passwords or passcodes and all recordings either audio or video made of the interview itself; [and] (2) any and all evidence obtained or derived from the search of the Defendant's cell phone conducted by law enforcement pursuant to a search warrant which required the use of the illegally obtained passwords or passcodes” (#23 at 1-2). On March 19, 2019, the Magistrate Judge held a full evidentiary hearing on Defendant's Motion, at which Defendant argued the aforementioned evidence should be suppressed because“[t]he statements obtained as the result of the custodial interrogation...should be suppressed as being in violation of the Defendant's due process rights, his right against self-incrimination, and his right to counsel as set out in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments” (#23 at 3). The Magistrate Judge, in recommending denial of the Motion, concluded that no reasonable person in Defendant's position, after the brief questioning at issue, would have believed that his freedom was so restrained that he was in custody for purposes of Miranda, and therefore, Defendant's statements were voluntarily made and not the result of a custodial interrogation. The Magistrate Judge further found that no violation of Defendant's Sixth Amendment rights existed, and that at no time during his interaction with the officers did Defendant personally invoke his right to counsel, and therefore, there was also no Fifth Amendment violation. Furthermore, the Magistrate Judge found that on balance of the relevant factors, Defendant consented to the search of his cell phone. Finally, the Report noted that Defendant had previously agreed as a term of his deferred adjudication to allow any law enforcement to inspect his phone.


         Defendant raises five (5) primary objections to the conclusions by the Magistrate Judge: (1) officers were required to give Defendant his Miranda warnings because Defendant was in custody when he was interviewed by the officers; (2) Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated when he was interviewed by the officers because he was represented by counsel in the state case for which he was on probation; (3) Defendant's counsel in the state court case invoked Defendant's right to counsel, and therefore, officers violated Defendant's Fifth Amendment right when they continued to speak to Defendant; (4) officers deceived Defendant into returning to the courthouse with the power of the court, thereby violating Defendant's Fifth Amendment due process rights; and (5) Defendant did not voluntarily consent to the search of his cell phone.[1] The Government responds that:

Ricks's objections provide no basis for declining to accept the Report and Recommendations, as written. Indeed, his challenges to the factual findings pertain to statements and testimony by the defendant that are largely irrelevant to the issues before the Court. Ricks's objections to the analysis and conclusions contained in the Report and Recommendations raise no new legal challenges, provide no additional legal support for his position, and offer no precedent contrary to or that undermines the Report and Recommendations.


         Defendant Was Not in Custody

         Defendant argues that “[t]he testimony at the hearing shows that the Defendant was in custody at the time of his interrogation and that no Miranda warnings were provided to the Defendant prior to his questioning” (#37 at 3); specifically, Defendant contends that the Report erred in finding Defendant was not in custody because:

the door where the interrogation occurred was closed, he was questioned in the presence of three law enforcement officers, he had to surrender his phone to the officers, he was not able to communicate with either his attorney or family, he was not told that he was free to leave, he was confronted with what the officers indicated was evidence of his guilt, he was told that they were interested in the Defendant's ongoing treatment for any issues associated with state charges involving child pornography, and that he needed to be truthful in his responses to the officers' questions....the officers raised their voices and told the Defendant that he is not being honest with them...the officers first asked where Ricks had been, knowing that he had been to his probation officer who had told Ricks about the contraband located on his least two of the officers had weapons with them....When his state attorney entered the room to stop the interrogation and asked the officers if they were arresting [Defendant], the reply by the officers was-“We're still looking”....Obviously, if [Defendant] [was] free to leave, the officers would have said-“no, he's free to go.” The officers did not convey such information to his attorney because at no time was Ricks free to go.

(#37 at 4-5).[2] Upon independent review of the record, the Court finds that Defendant's characterization of the interaction between officers and Defendant as a custodial interrogation is misplaced. As the Report found, Defendant was never restrained and willingly obliged the plain-clothes officers' invitation to talk, the interaction lasted less than twenty minutes in an unlocked conference room located off a busy public hallway. The interaction between Defendant and the officers involved both a congenial discussion of Defendant's animal, as well as pointed questions regarding the images found on Defendant's cell phone; however, to say that the officers raised their voices or threatened Defendant into giving honest answers to their questions is unfounded in the video and audio evidence of the interaction. See United States v. Wright, 777 F.3d 769, 775 (5th Cir. 2015). To Defendant's point that the officers were armed, the Report recognizes such fact, and further indicates that none of the officers brandished their weapons or threatened Defendant with their weapons at any point in the interaction. Finally, the Court is unconvinced by Defendant's argument that if Defendant was indeed not in custody, the officers would have informed him that “ he's free to go.” The Court is aware of no authority that there are specific words and/or phrases required or even necessary to convey that Defendant was not under arrest. Moreover, while a statement that Defendant was “free to leave” would certainly be relevant to the Court's analysis, its absence is in no way dispositive of the issue of custody. There is likewise no suggestion that Defendant was ever told he had to speak with the officers or was required to answer their questions. On balance, the record demonstrates that Defendant was not in custody, and therefore was not subjected to a custodial interrogation. See United States v. Courtney, 463 F.3d 333, 337 (5th Cir. 2006). Defendant's objection is overruled.

         Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel

         The Report further found that Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel was not ...

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