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United States v. Randall

December 14, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Senior Judge



Currently before the Court is Defendant's motion to suppress physical evidence that the police officers seized and statements that he made as a result of his alleged arrest on May 26, 2007. Defendant contends that officers of the Village of Whitesboro Police Department transformed a lawful investigatory stop into an unlawful arrest, thus invalidating any statements or consent that he gave during his detention. Moreover, Defendant argues that the Court should suppress his statements because the officers did not provide him his Miranda warnings. The Government challenges Defendant's assertion that the officers executed an illegal arrest. In order to resolve the factual issues surrounding this dispute, the Court conducted a suppression hearing on December 10, 2007, at the conclusion of which the Court reserved decision. The following is the Court's written disposition of Defendant's motion.


A. The Testimony at the Suppression Hearing

At the suppression hearing, Whitesboro Police Sergeant Jonathan Owens and Officer Jeffrey Buckley testified about the events leading up to Defendant's consent to the search of his home computer and data storage equipment. The following recitation is the essence of their relevant testimony.

On May 26, 2007, at 2:15 p.m., Sergeant Owens received a call that an adult male was seen taking pictures of young boys at a church bazaar in the Village of Whitesboro, New York. Sergeant Owens responded to the call and, once on the scene, identified Defendant as matching the description he had been given. Sergeant Owens was in uniform and driving a police vehicle when he motioned Defendant over to his car. Defendant remained standing outside of the car, while Sergeant Owens engaged him in conversation from within the car. Sergeant Owens asked Defendant whether he had been following small boys around and photographing them. Defendant first responded that he had not but then admitted that he had. Without prompting, Defendant stated his name and produced his driver's license. Sergeant Owens' further questioning revealed that Defendant was a level one registered sex offender. Sergeant Owens then asked Defendant if he had a camera and, as Defendant pulled the camera out of his pocket, Sergeant Owens asked to see the pictures stored on it. Defendant cycled through the pictures on the camera, holding the camera up for Sergeant Owens to see. Sergeant Owens then asked to inspect the camera himself so he could see the pictures more clearly. He noted that, although the camera contained pictures of little boys, those pictures were not illegal. Defendant acknowledged that he would download these pictures to his home computer to use for his personal "gratification." Sergeant Owens then returned the camera to Defendant.

After this exchange, Sergeant Owens asked whether Defendant would allow the police to inspect his home computer. Defendant told Sergeant Owens that he did not have illegal pictures on his computer and was concerned that he would not get his computer equipment back after the search. Sergeant Owens explained the search procedure and told Defendant that he would get the equipment back if the investigators did not find any incriminating material. Sergeant Owens told Defendant that he could sign a handwritten search and seizure consent form right there at the bazaar or he could accompany him to the police station to sign a formal consent form. Defendant said that he would go with Sergeant Owens to the station as long as Sergeant Owens would bring him back to his truck, which was parked near the bazaar. Sergeant Owens advised Defendant that he was not under arrest.

Once Defendant was in the car, Sergeant Owens pulled forward about forty to fifty yards to get clear of pedestrian traffic. Sergeant Owens paused at that point to obtain a telephone number for counseling services for Defendant, who had earlier acknowledged that he had a problem dealing with his sexual attraction to young boys. When they arrived at the police station at about 2:40 p.m., Sergeant Owens led Defendant to an interview room, where he remained seated for ten to twelve minutes while Sergeant Owens attended to other police business. The door to the interview room remained open, Defendant was not restrained, and the police did not confiscate his personal effects. Defendant was not questioned while in the interview room.

At 3:00 p.m., Officer Buckley arrived at the police station to begin his shift and spoke with Sergeant Owens, who explained Defendant's situation and emphasized that Defendant was not under arrest. Sergeant Owens introduced Defendant to Officer Buckley and, in Defendant's presence, again told Officer Buckley that Defendant was not under arrest. Once seated at Officer Buckley's cubicle, Defendant said that he would consent to a search of his home computer equipment. Officer Buckley observed that Defendant was mainly concerned about getting treatment for himself. Defendant asked whether he should have an attorney present. Officer Buckley responded that it was Defendant's decision but he was not under arrest and was free to leave at any time. Defendant did not pursue the issue of consulting an attorney and, ultimately, signed the consent form.

Neither the Government nor Defendant submitted any other evidence. The Court finds the testimony of both officers to be credible.

B. Admissibility of Statements That Defendant Made

The requirement that law enforcement officers must apprise defendants of their rights pursuant to the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self incrimination applies only to custodial interrogations. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). The issue of custody under Miranda is a two-part inquiry. First, a court must determine whether a reasonable person under the circumstances would have believed he was free to leave. See United States v. Newton, 369 F.3d 659, 672 (2d Cir. 2004). Only if this question is answered in the negative must the court address the second question - whether there was a restraint on the defendant's movement similar to that of a formal arrest. See id. (citing California v. Beheler, 463 U.S. at 1125, 103 S.Ct. 3517) (other citation omitted).

Factors indicating that a defendant was not free to leave include "the display of a weapon, physical touching of the person by the officer and language or tone indicating a show of authority that may compel compliance with the officer's request." United States v. Sugrim, 732 F.2d 25, 28 (2d Cir. 1984) (citing [United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980)]). Courts have also found that a reasonable person would not feel free to leave where law enforcement officials transported the defendant to a different location or asked the defendant to accompany them to the police station. See United States v. Babwah, 972 F.2d 30, 33-34 (2d Cir. 1992) (holding that the defendant was arrested when police escorted him to a house they believed was connected with a money-laundering operation); United States v. Ceballos, 812 F.2d 42, 47-48 (2d Cir. 1987) (holding that the defendant was arrested when a secret service agent "flashed his badge and told [him] that [he and his fellow agents] wished to take him to their office for questioning" and denied the defendant's request to follow the agents in his own vehicle). In such cases, the test is "whether the [defendant's] consent to ...

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