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United States v. Arroyo

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division

September 23, 2019




         On this day, the Court considered Defendant Antonio Arroyo Jr.'s [hereinafter "Defendant"] "Motion to Suppress Oral and Written Statements of Defendant" (ECF No. 32) [hereinafter "Motion"], filed on July 22, 2019, and the Government's "Response to Motion to Suppress Oral and Written Statements of Defendant" (ECF No. 58) [hereinafter "Response"], filed on August 15, 2019, in the above-captioned cause. Defendant argues that the evidence obtained at various points during a custodial interrogation should be suppressed because they were the result of violations against his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Mot. 3; see U.S. CONST, amends. V, XIV. Additionally, Defendant requests an evidentiary hearing. Id. The Government provided an audiovisual recording to the Court, which clearly depicts all events at issue in this matter. Resp. Ex. 1, Video Recording of Def.'s Custodial Interrogation, May 22, 2019, ECF No. 51-1 [hereinafter "Video Ex."]. Accordingly, the Court concludes that no evidentiary hearing is necessary. After due consideration, the Court is of the opinion that Defendant's Motion should be denied for the following reasons.


         On May 15, 2019, a Grand Jury issued a two-count indictment charging Defendant with Coercion and Enticement of a Minor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b), and Travel with Intent to Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b). Indictment 1-2. On May 16, 2019, a bench warrant was issued for Defendant's arrest, (ECF No. 8), and in the late-afternoon of May 22, 2019, federal law enforcement officers arrested Defendant while he was at work. Mot. 2; Resp. 1. The arresting officers transported Defendant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's [hereinafter "FBI"] El Paso office located at the El Paso Federal Justice Center, in El Paso, Texas [hereinafter "EPFJC"]. Mot 2; Resp. 1. Shortly after 6:00 p.m. Mountain Time, Defendant was brought to an interview room at the EPFJC for a custodial interrogation. Mot 2.; Resp. 2. The room included an audiovisual recording device, which taped everything that took place between when Defendant entered the interview room at 6:17 p.m., [1] and when his custodial interrogation ended at 8:07 p.m. Mot 2; Resp. 2; see Video Ex.

         Two FBI agents conducted the custodial interrogation, and both were present for all stages of questioning. Video Ex. The room was well lit, with chairs for Defendant and both FBI agents, a table, a desk, and decorative plants. Id. After Defendant entered the room, one FBI agent offered him water and the opportunity to use the restroom. Id. at 6:19:45 p.m. Defendant received water immediately, id. at 6:24:50 p.m., and visited the restroom during the custodial interrogation, id. at 7:28:00. One FBI agent removed Defendant's handcuffs, id. at 6:20:25 p.m., and Defendant remained unrestrained for all stages of questioning, id.

         Before any questioning commenced, the FBI agents informed Defendant of his right to remain silent pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), both orally and in writing. Video Ex. at 6:23:26-26:38 p.m. At one FBI agent's instruction, Defendant read aloud the last section from the written Miranda warning, stating that "I have read the statement of my rights and I understand what my rights are. At this time, I am willing to answer questions without a lawyer present." Id. at 6:26:20-27 p.m. Defendant then signed the written Miranda warning. Id., at 6:26:38 p.m.; see Resp. Ex. 2, Advice of Rights, May 22, 2019, ECF No. 58-2.

         At the start of questioning, Defendant answered freely, at times laughing with the FBI agents. Video Ex. This went on for approximately forty-five minutes. Id., Defendant calmly refused to answer certain questions but continued on to the next question without any attempt to end the custodial interrogation. See Id. at 6:36:30, 40:55 p.m. Defendant exhibited momentary signs of emotion, see Id. at 6:45:30 p.m., but overall, he continued to cooperate and appeared in control of his emotions. Eventually, Defendant's mood changed, and he began giving verbal and physical indications of distress almost an hour into the custodial interrogation.[2] See id, at 7:13:55 p.m.

         Defendant started to cry and breathe heavily, recounting that he had experienced "thoughts of suicide" in the past. Id. at 7:14:00-16:00 p.m. He also appeared to consider the potential consequences of a conviction, claiming that he would die in prison if he did "some serious time" and that he hoped he would die. Id. When the FBI agents suggested that cooperating and serving a sentence might provide Defendant with some form of redemption, Defendant said that he believed "what [he] did was evil man ... there ain't no redemption for people like [him]." Id. at 7:14:00-16:00 p.m. Then, he said that he "would rather be honest," that "the best thing you can do is be honest," and that he was "ready to accept [his] consequences." Id. at 7:16:00-7:17:10 p.m.

         Thereafter, Defendant consented orally and in writing to allow the FBI agents to search his cell phone. Id. at 7:23:00, 25:30 p.m.; see Resp. Ex. 3, Consent to Search, May 22, 2019, ECF No. 58-3 [hereinafter "Consent Form"]. One FBI agent asked Defendant for the necessary information to complete the Consent Form, which Defendant provided. Id. at 7:23:00-40 p.m. When asked, Defendant informed the FBI agents of messages from an undisclosed individual, but did not mention if there was anything incriminating on the phone. Id. The FBI agents did not orally explain to Defendant that he had the right to refuse to give consent before he signed the Consent Form, though the form included language that Defendant had "been advised of [his] right to refuse consent." Id.; Consent Form 1.

         Additionally, Defendant agreed to write a letter to the alleged victim at the FBI agents' suggestion. Id. at 7:20:45-23:00. Immediately, the FBI agents offered to take a break and asked Defendant if he wanted any food. Id. at 7:23:00-23:15 p.m. Defendant visited the restroom but declined food. Id. Once Defendant returned, he wrote the letter to the alleged victim for twenty minutes, in tears and taking frequent pauses. Id. at 7:31:15-50:30; see Resp. Ex. 4, Letter, May 22, 2019, ECF No. 58-4. Defendant continued to say multiple times that he had contemplated suicide in the past or anticipated committing suicide in the future.[3] See Id. at 7:45:48, 47:55, 8:02:45 p.m. On one occasion, the FBI agents asked if Defendant would like to stop writing. 7c?. at 7:48:09 p.m. Although the FBI agents allowed Defendant time to compose himself, Defendant, at not time, refused to continue with the interrogation and completed the apology letter and answered the FBI agents' final questions. See id. 8:07:37 p.m. (video timestamp displayed when custodial interrogation ends).


         Defendant seeks to exclude all evidence obtained through three separate instances during the custodial interrogation: (1) oral statements made after his "will was overborne as evidenced by his mental, emotional and physical breakdown, and his suicidal ideation, "[4] (2) his consent to search his cell phone, and (3) the apology letter he wrote to the alleged victim. Mot. 2. The Court is mindful that Defendant only references the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments on the face of his Motion. Mot. 3. However, the Court construes Defendant's arguments regarding consent to search his cell phone as a Fourth Amendment issue, that is, whether Defendant voluntarily consented such that law enforcement could conduct a warrantless search of his phone pursuant to the "consent to search" exception.[5] See U.S. CONST, amend. IV; United States v. Garcia, 496 F.2d 670, 673 (5th Cir. 1974) ("It is well established that a search conducted pursuant to consent is excepted from the requirements of both probable cause and a warrant." (citing Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 219 (1973))). Accordingly, the Court considers Defendant's challenge to his consent to search through the appropriate Fourth Amendment standards, while continuing to consider Defendant's challenges to his oral statements and the apology letter pursuant to the Fifth Amendment.

         A. Fifth Amendment

         The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that no individual "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." U.S. CONST, amend. V. In Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court "established that the prosecution may not use statements stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination." United States v. Bennett, 626 F.2d 1309, 1311 (5th Cir. 1980) (citing Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)). "The safeguards of Miranda v. Arizona . . . are well-established," United States v. Payne, 954 F.2d 199, 201 (4th Cir. 1992), and include "the now famous Miranda rights," Bennett, 626 F.2d at 1311. "In order to use an in-custody statement against a defendant, the government must demonstrate that the defendant was warned of his right to remain silent and his right to consult with an attorney." United States v. Anderson, 755 F.3d 782, 790 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Miranda, 384 U.S. at 471).

         "The government bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that both the waiver of Miranda rights and the confession were voluntary." United States v. Raymer, 876 F.2d 383, 386 (5th Cir. 1989) (citing Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 168-69 (1986)). Courts consider the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the defendant acted voluntarily such that '"the statement is the product of the accused's free and rational choice."' United States v. Bell, 367 F.3d 452, 461 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting United States v. Broussard, 80 F.3d 1025, 1033 (5th Cir. 1996)). A statement is involuntary when it "result[s] from coercive police conduct," id. (citing Connelly, 479 U.S. at 163-65), and "deprives the defendant of knowledge essential to his ability to understand the nature of his rights and the consequences of abandoning them," id. (citing Soffar v. Cockrell, 300 F.3d 588, 596 (5th Cir. 2002) (en banc)).

         Voluntariness is defined through "the presence or absence of police coercion" and a statement may only be involuntary if there is "an element of official overreach[ ]." Raymer, 876 F.3d at 386-87 (citation omitted); see also United States v. Blake, 481 Fed.Appx. 961, 962 (5th Cir. 2012) ("Coercive police conduct is a necessary prerequisite to the conclusion that a confession was involuntary." (citing Connelly, 479 U.S. at 163-67)). A defendant's mental condition alone is not enough to determine voluntariness. Raymer, 876 F.3d at 386-87 (citing Connelly, 479 U.S. 157). Instead, Courts must ask whether there was "[p]olice exploitation of the mental condition." Id. (citing Connelly, 479 U.S. at 164-65). Courts focus on law enforcement action because "the Fifth Amendment privilege is not concerned 'with moral and psychological pressures to confess emanating from sources other than official coercion/" Connelly, 479 U.S. at 170 (quoting Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 305 (1985)). Thus, the Court's inquiry should be limited to the FBI agents' actions during the custodial interrogation and whether they were calculated to exploit Defendant's perceivable mental condition, not Defendant's claims of past, or possibly future, suicidal thoughts themselves.

         Expressions relating to the continuation of life must never be taken lightly. Today, the Court is required to accept Defendant's statements on their face, and divine objective meaning from the words he has chosen and the context in which his emotions manifested during the custodial interrogation. There is a fine distinction between comments about past and future thoughts, and comments about thoughts in the present. A person's reflections on entertaining suicidal thoughts in the past are not an indication of a desire to end life presently. Similarly, an expression of concern that one might commit suicide in response to a possible outcome of one's case is not a statement of one's current mental condition. The Court is of the opinion that it is impossible to know a thought that is not explicitly shared. Therefore, the Court must set aside sympathy for Defendant's plight, and consider his words as they are spoken, not as they may be possibly construed.

         Fourth Amendment

         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. CONST, amend. IV. The Supreme Court has determined that warrantless searches and seizures are per se unreasonable unless they fall within a few narrowly defined exceptions. United States v. Cardenas,9 F.3d 1139, 1147 (5th Cir. 1993) (citing Coolidge v. New Hampshire,403 U.S. 443, 454-55 (1971)). In addition, "a warrant is generally required before [a search of data on a cell phone], even when a cell phone is seized incident to arrest." Riley v. California,134 S.Ct. 2473, 2493 (2014). "[O]ne of the specifically established exceptions to the requirements of both a ...

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