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United States v. Rahim

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

April 19, 2019




         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress Statements Made to Law Enforcement Agents on March 5 and 6, 2017 (Doc. 79). For the following reasons, the Court DENIES the motion.



         At issue in this motion to suppress are two interviews that Federal Bureau of Investigation agents conducted of Defendant Said Azzam Mohamad Rahim. This case stems from the FBI's investigation of the mobile application “Zello.” Doc. 80, Br. Mot. to Suppress, 1. The FBI began surveilling communications on Zello in the spring of 2016, after suspicions that the application was being used in connection with support for terrorists organizations. Id. (citing Doc. 80, Ex. A). This surveillance led the FBI to believe that Rahim was using Zello to support and promote the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (“ISIL”). Id. The FBI continued to surveil Rahim, eventually discovering that he was planning to travel to Amman, Jordan on March 5, 2017. Id. at 2 (citing Ex. C). Rahim argues that he was traveling to Jordan to see his daughter, who lives there with her mother; the Government, however, suspected he was traveling there to join a terrorist organization. Id. Relevant to this motion, the FBI conducted two interviews of Rahim before his arraignment on the charges he now faces.

         A. Pre-Miranda Interview at DFW International Airport.

         On Sunday, March 5, 2017, Rahim went to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to travel to Jordan. Agents with the FBI and the Department of State Diplomatic Security Services (State Department) were stationed at the airport and planned to interview Rahim after he cleared the security check point. Doc. 83, Gov't's Resp., 2. At that time, the agents had already obtained search warrants to seize and search Rahim's luggage. Doc. 80, Rahim's App'x, Ex. C. Before he went through security, Rahim attempted to obtain a boarding pass with an airline agent, but the airline refused to issue him a boarding pass at that time and instead instructed him to proceed to the departure gate to obtain one. Doc. 83, Gov't's Resp., 2.

         After passing through security, Rahim claims he was immediately detained by law-enforcement agents, identifying themselves as members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and escorted to a private room near his departure gate. Doc. 80, Br. Mot. to Suppress, 2. According to the Government, FBI Special Agent Dan Glick of the State Department approached Rahim at the security checkpoint and discovered from him that he had not received a boarding pass. Doc. 83, Gov't's Resp., 2. FBI Special Agent Dwayne Golomb approached the two once Glick had helped Rahim collect his belongings. Id. The agents were wearing plain, unmarked jackets, and their firearms were not visible. Id. Special Agent Glick then asked Rahim if he would be willing to speak with him in order to clear up any issues with the airline. Id. at 2. Rahim agreed to voluntarily speak to the agents, stating he had no reason not to answer. Doc. 80, Rahim's App'x, 153. The two agents accompanied Rahim to his gate. Doc. 83, Gov't's Resp., 2. During this walk, Rahim “maintained control of his passport, keys, wallet, and bag.” Id.[1] At the gate, the agents led Rahim to a small room off of his gate's jet bridge. Id. Special Agent Golomb directed Rahim to sit in a chair near the door to the room, and he and Special Agent Glick sat across from Rahim. Id. at 2-3. The agents began the interview.[2]

         The interview began sometime around 3:00 p.m. Doc. 80, Br. Mot. to Suppress, 2. Rahim's flight was scheduled to depart at 4:10 p.m. Id. The agents started by asking Rahim basic questions about his contact information (full name, telephone numbers, email address, place of business). Doc. 80, Rahim's App'x, Ex. F (DFW Interview Tr.), 1-4. The agents then told Rahim: “we've got this questionnaire, you know, that we'd like you to answer voluntarily.” Id. at 4:25-5:2. The agents then officially introduced themselves and the respective agencies they work for. Id. at 5. Special Agent Golomb then informed Rahim that he should be truthful and honest in answering their questions and that “lying to us technically is a Federal crime.” Id. at 5-6. They then proceeded to ask Rahim questions from the questionnaire. The agents' questions covered the reasons for his travel to Jordan, what family he had in Jordan, and questions about his knowledge of or association with certain terrorist organizations. Doc. 80, Br. Mot. to Suppress, 3. In total, the interview process lasted over an hour and twenty minutes, and by the time it was over, Rahim's flight had departed without him. Id. At various points in the interview, Rahim asked about the status of his flight and whether he was going to be able to board the plane. See, e.g, Doc. 80, Rahim's App'x, Ex. F (DFW Interview Tr.), 32. The agents assured him at multiple points that his flight had not departed yet and that they were working to find out why he had not received a boarding pass. Id.; id. at 79-80. The agents told Rahim that the problem appeared to be that the German-based airline did not clear him to fly and that, by answering the questions, the agents would potentially be able to help him obtain a boarding pass. Id. at 72, 93; see also Doc. 80, Rahim's App'x, 153-54 (agents informing Rahim of the problem with the airline before the interview).[3] Also, towards the end of the interview, the agents requested, and Rahim consented to, another search of his luggage and a search of his cellphone. Doc. 83, Gov't's Resp., 3. While these items were being searched, the agents “chatted” with Rahim about soccer and also confirmed some of his biographical information. Id. The Government claims any “meaningful questioning” had concluded at this point. Id. The Government also points out that during the interview, airport and airline personnel passed by the room where the interview was taking place on a number of occasions (the Government counts twenty-two, exactly). Id. After the agents finished searching Rahim's things, they informed him that his flight had already departed and that he could try to fly again the following day. Id. at 4.

         It is undisputed that Rahim was never read his Miranda rights at this interview. Rahim also points out that at no time during the interview did the agents inform him that he was free to leave or that he had the option to not answer the agents' questions. Doc. 80, Br. Mot. to Suppress, 2-3. Rahim claims that the agents' representations that they were attempting to help him obtain a boarding pass were a “guise” and that they never intended to let him travel. Id. at 3. Indeed, after he left the interview room, Rahim was arrested while he was still at the airport in the drop-off area of the terminal. Id. at 4. Rahim was arrested for allegedly making false statements to the agents during the course of that interview. Doc. 83, Gov't's Resp., 4. He was then transported to the Dallas County Jail and held there overnight. Id.

         Rahim argues that his statements from this interview should be suppressed because the statements were made while he was in law-enforcement custody and subject to interrogation, requiring the law-enforcement agents to provide Rahim with Miranda warnings before the statements could be admissible in court. Doc. 80, Br. Mot. to Suppress, 4. The Government responds that there was no Miranda violation because Rahim was not in custody when he made the statements. Doc. 83, Gov't's Resp., 5.

         B. Post-Miranda Interview at Dallas FBI Headquarters.

         Rahim was arrested at approximately 4:50 p.m. on Sunday, March 5, 2017. Id. at 4. He was accepted into custody at Dallas County Jail around 6:40 p.m. Id. Around 9:00 a.m. the next morning, federal agents transported him from the county jail to the FBI Dallas field office. Id. He arrived there at around 10:00 a.m. Id. After he arrived, the agents started a second interview of Rahim. Two agents proceeded to question Rahim until around 10:56 a.m. One of the agents from the first interview was present at this one as well. The second agent had not been present at the previous interview.

         The interview started at approximately 10:13 a.m. Id. This time, before the interview started, the agents read Rahim his Miranda rights and Rahim stated he understood his rights. Gov't's Ex. 2, Custodial Interview. Rahim also signed a waiver stating he was read and he understood his rights. Id. The agents explained to Rahim that he had been arrested for making false statements to federal agents in his prior interview. Doc. 80, Br. Mot. to Suppress, 3. This interview covered similar topics as the previous interview, but went into more depth on Rahim's use of the mobile app Zello and his association with terrorists organizations made through the app. Gov't's Ex. 2, Custodial Interview. After approximately forty-five minutes of questioning, Rahim appeared to ask for a lawyer; the agents asked him if this was the case and Rahim confirmed that he would like to speak to a lawyer. Id.; Doc. 80, Br. Mot. to Suppress, 3. The agents immediately stopped the interview. Id.

         After the interview, Rahim was processed out of the FBI field office and transported to this courthouse. He arrived at approximately 12:00 p.m. and made his initial appearance in front of Magistrate Judge Toliver at 2:00 p.m.-the standard time that Judge Toliver conducted initial appearances. Doc. 83, Gov't's Resp., 5.

         Rahim argues two grounds exist to suppress the post-Miranda statements he made in the second interview: (1) there was an unreasonable delay between his detention and presentment to a magistrate, violating Corley v. United States, 556 U.S. 303 (2009); and (2) the statements made in the second interview were the fruits of the illegally obtained pre-Miranda statements and thus inadmissible under Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004). Doc. 80, Br. Mot. to Suppress, 4. As for the first argument, the Government responds that while the post-Miranda interview occurred after a six-hour delay in presentment-past the statutory safe harbor in 18 U.S.C. § 3501(c)-the delay was not unnecessary or unreasonable. Doc. 83, Gov't's Resp., 15-19. And with respect to Rahim's second argument, the Government counters that even assuming the first interview violated Miranda, Rahim's statements in the second interview were in fact voluntary under the circumstances and no deliberate two-step strategy was used to coerce the statements. Id. at 19-24.

         The Court has received the parties' briefing and the relevant exhibits to decide this motion. The Court also held an evidentiary hearing on Monday, April 15, 2019. Based on the parties' arguments and evidence presented at the hearing, the Court denied Rahim's motion to suppress his statements made to law-enforcement agents. See Doc. 100, Apr. 15, 2019 Order. This memorandum opinion provides the reasoning for that Order.


         LEGAL ...

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