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United States v. Hale

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division

June 3, 2019

SOUTH UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN DAVID HALE Defendant.

          ORDER

          DOUGLAS HARPOOL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. (Doc. 76). The Magistrate Judge has recommended that the Court grant-in-part and deny-in-part Defendant John Hale's Motions to Suppress, which it considered jointly. (Docs. 39, 40, and 41). For the reasons stated below, the Court will adopt the Report and Recommendation in its entirety and consequently grant-in-part and deny-in-part Hale's Motions to Suppress.

         Findings of Fact

         The Court has carefully reviewed the entire record in this case, including all video and audio recordings, the exhibits, and transcripts of the three suppression hearings conducted by the Magistrate Judge with exception to the findings noted below. (Docs. 64, 68, and 70). The Court concurs with the factual findings made by the Magistrate Judge in his Report and Recommendation. (Doc. 76, 2-11) and hereby adopts those findings for the limited purpose of ruling on Hale's Motions for Suppression, with exception to the findings noted below.

         The Magistrate Judge leaves open the question of whether officers' searched Hale's phone before he gave consent for that search. On review, the Court finds compelling audio evidence that an officer stated to another officer that Hale had called Felix Forjan's daughter at some point after the Home Depot meeting and before being seized. An officer could only have gained this knowledge from searching Hale's phone. Officer Leslie's testimony that Hale's phone was not searched prior to obtaining Hale's consent simply does not accord with the audio recording and will therefore be disregarded. The Court makes a factual finding that Hale's phone was searched by law enforcement before consent for that search was obtained. The Magistrate Judge also leaves open whether Officer Leslie stated “You may want to delete that video” in reference to the dashcam video of the traffic stop. On review, the Court finds compelling audio evidence that Officer Leslie did indeed make that statement.

         Findings of Law

         Hale has filed three Motions to Suppress. The first moves to suppress all statements made by Hale and any evidence derived from those statements. (Doc. 39). The second moves to suppress all evidence derived from Hale's consent to a search of his property and cellphone. (Doc. 40). The third moves to suppress all evidence derived from Hale's warrantless seizure and arrest. (Doc. 41). The Court will address these motions in turn.

         1. Suppression of Statements

         Hale moves to suppress all statements he made and the fruits thereof. Under Miranda v. Arizona, a law enforcement officer must warn a suspect in custody about certain rights, including their right to not incriminate themselves and their right to counsel. 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). If an officer does not inform a defendant of their rights before an interrogation, statements made during that interrogation are inadmissible. United States v. Cowan, 674 F.3d 947, 957 (8th Cir. 2012). In this case, Hale was not informed of his Miranda rights until he was formally arrested at his residence in Bolivar, Missouri, after law enforcement had confiscated drugs on his property. Hale argues he was placed in custody when he was handcuffed on the side of the road after being pulled over, and that any statements made in response to questioning between that moment and the moment he was Mirandized are inadmissible. The government argues that even if he was temporarily placed in custody after being pulled over, he was not in custody during his subsequent questioning by law enforcement at the DEA office, because his handcuffs were removed and he was never told he was not free to leave.

         The issue in this case is whether Hale5 was subject to a custodial interrogation when he was questioned by law enforcement (1) on the roadside; and (2) at the DEA office. Interrogation includes “express questioning” as well as any questioning reasonably likely to elicit incriminating information. Id. at 958. A person is in custody when a “reasonable person in his position would not have felt free to terminate the interrogation and leave.” Id. at 957. The Court is to consider several factors when conducting its analysis, including: (1) whether police told the suspect the questioning was voluntary, that he could leave, or that he was not considered under arrest; (2) whether the suspect's movement was restrained during the questioning; (3) whether the suspect initiated contact with authorities or acquiesced to requests to respond to questions; (4) whether police used strong-arm tactics or deception during questioning; (5) whether the atmosphere of the questioning was police-dominated; and (6) whether the suspect was arrested at the end of questioning. Id. (citing United States v Griffin, 922 F.2d 1343, 1347 (8th Cir. 1990). The key inquiry is not whether the questioning took place in a coercive environment, but whether the Defendant's freedom to depart was at all restricted. United States v. LeBrun, 363 F.3d 715, 720 (8th Cir. 2004) (en banc) (internal quotations omitted).

         The Court will first dispatch with whether Hale was under custodial interrogation on the roadside. After being stopped by law enforcement, Hale was ordered to exit his car, immediately pushed against his own truck, and handcuffed, all the while being yelled at by officers, some of whom had their guns drawn. Immediately following his seizure, officers asked him several question, including why he had been trailing the vehicle he spotted at the Home Depot. There is no question that Defendant, in this situation, was in custody. Nor is there a question that the inquiries by police officers were designed to elicit potentially incriminating information, and thus interrogative. Because Hale was subject to custodial interrogation on the roadside and had not been Mirandized, the Court will adopt the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge and grant Hale's Motion to Suppress as to any statements made by him on the roadside in response to police questioning and any fruits thereof.

         Whether Hale was under custodial interrogation at the DEA's office presents a closer question. The first factor cuts in favor of Hale. Although the police did not tell him he was under arrest, they also did not tell him he was free to leave. The second factor also cuts in favor of Hale. Hale was escorted to the interrogation room in handcuffs. He was never out of the presence of officers once arrested on the roadside. See United States v. Longbehn, 850 F.2d 450, 452-53 (8th Cir. 1988) (holding continuous police supervision rendered detention custodial). Hale at one point testified that the handcuffs stayed on throughout questioning, while Officers Krisik and Leslie testified the handcuffs were removed once he was in the room. The Court does not find it necessary to resolve the conflicting testimony. Whether or not he was handcuffed, Hale testified that he “absolutely” did not feel he could leave. Law enforcement officers testified at the suppression hearing that Hale could have left if he had asked, but their conduct before, during, and after the interview at the DEA Office was plainly calculated to give the impression that Hale was stuck with them. For instance, an officer told Hale at one point that he was “not in the driver's seat right now.” The Court finds that Hale's movement was restrained during his questioning at the DEA office. The third factor cuts in favor of Hale. Hale did not initiate contact with authorities in the interrogation room. Rather, it was the police who took him to the room, sat him down, and initiated questioning after telling Hale that answering their questions was the only way to avoid a 20-year prison sentence.

         The fourth factor cuts in favor of the government, but it is a close call. The Eighth Circuit has held that “coercive aspects of police interviews are largely irrelevant to the custody determination except where a reasonable person would perceive the coercion as restricting his or her freedom to depart.” LeBrun, 363 F.3d at 1026. Hale argues that the officer's used strong-arm tactics when they told him that cooperation with their investigation was the only way to avoid a 20-year prison sentence. After careful review, the Court finds that a reasonable person in Hale's situation, subject to what he characterizes as “strong-arm tactics”, would feel somewhat restricted but would not be entirely robbed of their freedom to depart the interview. The tactics used against Hale to ensure he stayed in the questioning chamber were milder than the tactics used by officers in other cases where the Eighth Circuit has held that strong-arm tactics were not present. See United States v. Sheikh, 367 F.3d 756, 762 (8th Cir. 2004) (finding that police officers did not use strong-arm tactics when they yelled at defendant and accused him of lying); United States v. Laurita, 821 F.3d 1020, 1026 (8th Cir. 2016) (finding that police officers did not use strong-arm tactics when they asked whether a defendant suspected of possessing child pornography had committed child sexual assault because the question was not deceptive and because defendant testified he did not feel pressured). The officers who questioned Hale did not raise their voice. One officer did tell Hale that prisoners in the federal system do not get reduced sentences for good behavior, which is not true, but otherwise did not endeavor to deceive him. The officers were not aggressive, and although they were armed they did not draw their weapons. See United States v. Axsom, 289 F.3d 496, 502 (8th Cir. 2002) (finding that police officers did not use strong-arm tactics when they interviewed Defendant while armed because they did not adopt a “threatening posture”). The most coercive part of the interrogation occurred when the officers told Hale that cooperating with them was the only way to reduce a future prison sentence. These types of statements are intended to pressure defendants into cooperating, and Hale almost certainly did feel that pressure. However, a reasonable person would not feel so pressured as to effectively rob him of his freedom to depart.

         The fifth factor cuts in favor of Hale because the atmosphere of the police-questioning was undoubtedly “police-dominated.” Finally, the sixth factor cuts in neither party's direction. Hale was not technically arrested immediately after questioning, but he was placed in handcuffs and driven to his property in Bolivar, where he was eventually formally arrested after drugs were found there. After considering each indicium noted in Griffin, the Court finds that Hale's freedom to depart during his questioning at the DEA office was indeed restricted and thus he was under custodial interrogation. Consequently, the Court will adopt the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge and grant Hale's Motion to Suppress as to any statements made during that custodial interrogation in response to police questioning and any fruits thereof.

         2. Motion to Suppress Evidence Derived from Hale's Consent to a Search

         Hale argues that he did not voluntarily consent to any searches of his property because he was improperly coerced into signing consent forms. In the alternative, he claims the government exceeded the scope of his consent by searching his outbuildings, his truck in the DEA ...


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