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United States v. Morgan

January 21, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
STEVEN RAY MORGAN, DEFENDANT.



MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

On April 28, 2008, Defendant Steven Ray Morgan ("Morgan" or "Defendant") was charged in a five-count indictment with possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A) and (b)(1)(B); possession of a firearm after having previously been convicted of three violent felony offenses and/or serious drug offenses, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e); and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). Indict. (Dkt. No. 6). On August 1, 2008, Morgan filed the instant Motion to suppress all statements he made to law enforcement on March 25, 2008 (the day of his arrest for the aforementioned charges), and all evidence seized on March 25, 2008 from 708 Craig Street and 833 Grant Avenue in Schenectady, New York. Mot. to Suppress (Dkt. No. 13).

By Order dated September 15, 2008 (Dkt. No. 15), the Court denied the Defendant's Motion to the extent that it challenged probable cause and the particularity of the search warrant for 708 Craig Street. The Court also ordered a suppression hearing, to enable the parties to present evidence as to the circumstances of Morgan's oral and written statements to law enforcement; Morgan's standing to assert the Fourth Amendment in relation to the search at 833 Grant Avenue; the execution of the search at 833 Grant Avenue, if the Court finds that evidence introduced on the standing issue so warrants; and the implications of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41. The suppression hearing was held on October 14, 2008. Both the Defendant and the Government provided the Court with further briefing following the hearing.

I. BACKGROUND

In March 2008, law enforcement agents were conducting an investigation into the alleged cocaine base ("crack") trafficking of the Defendant in Schenectady, New York. See Government's Mem. in Opp'n at 2 (Dkt. No. 14). As part of this investigation, a Confidential Informant ("CI") was utilized to make a purchase of an ounce of crack cocaine from an individual the Government contends was Morgan outside of 833 Grant Avenue in Schenectady on March 3, 2008. See id. On March 13, 2008, the CI arranged by telephone to purchase an ounce of crack cocaine from an individual the Government contends was Morgan. See id. The Government contends that Morgan directed the CI to make the purchase from an unidentified female. See id. The CI made the purchase from an unidentified female inside of 833 Grant Avenue. Id.

On March 21, 2008, Detective Daniel Moran of the Schenectady Police Department, who was assigned to the Capital District Drug Enforcement Task Force ("Task Force"), sought and obtained search warrants from Schenectady City Court Judge Vincent Versaci for apartments located at 708 Craig Street and 833 Grant Avenue, Schenectady. Government's Mem. in Opp'n at 2; Search Warrants and Applications (Dkt. No. 13, Attach. 2 and 4). The Task Force consists of federal agents as well as state and local investigators from surrounding local police departments. Suppression Hr'g Tr. at 6. Attached to the applications was a Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") Report of Investigation (DEA 6) prepared by DEA Special Agent Brian Cernak ("Agent Cernak") as well as sworn statements of the CI. Government's Mem. in Opp'n at 2; Search Warrants and Applications (Dkt. No. 13, Attach. 2 and 4).

On March 25, 2008, the search warrants were executed by officers of the Task Force. Government's Mem. in Opp'n at 3; Def.'s Mem. in Supp. at 2 (Dkt. No. 13, Attach. 1). Officers seized marijuana, packaging materials and a scale from 708 Craig Street, and crack cocaine, marijuana, a scale and a loaded handgun from the top of the stairs leading from the first floor apartment to the basement at 833 Grant Avenue. Government's Mem. in Opp'n at 3. The Defendant was located within 712 Craig Street and arrested at about 6:50 a.m. on March 25, 2008. Id.; Def.'s Mem. in Supp. at 2. DEA Special Agent Pasquale DeRubertis ("Agent DeRubertis") alleges that he gave the Defendant Miranda warnings; the Defendant alleges that he was never advised of his Miranda rights. Suppression Hr'g Tr. at 9-10; Def.'s Mem. in Supp. at 5. The Government contends that following his arrest, the Defendant admitted to marijuana trafficking and denied crack trafficking. Government's Mem. in Opp'n at 3. Defendant was placed in a police vehicle and moved to an area outside of 833 Grant Avenue while the agents executed a search of that location. Def.'s Mem. in Supp. at 2. Approximately one hour later, Agents Cernak and DeRubertis obtained a written statement from the Defendant in which he admits to trafficking in crack and admits to his ownership of the crack and weapon seized from 833 Grant Avenue. Id.; Statement (Dkt. No. 13, Attach. 5).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Admissibility of Statements

The Defendant claims he was not administered Miranda warnings prior to the extraction of oral and written statements by means of interrogation by law enforcement subsequent to his arrest on March 25, 2008. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966); Def.'s Mem. in Supp. at 5. Furthermore, Defendant states that he told the officers that he did not wish to speak with them, and did not voluntarily and affirmatively waive his Miranda rights prior to making the alleged oral and written statements. Def.'s Mem. in Supp. at 6-8.

Incriminating statements made to law enforcement officers are admissible under the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment if the officers advised the defendant of his Miranda rights and the defendant validly waived those rights. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444; Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428, 433 (2000). A waiver of Miranda rights is valid if the waiver was voluntary, knowing, and intelligent. Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564, 572 (1987); Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444. When a defendant moves to suppress a statement based on a violation of his Miranda rights, the prosecution bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the statement was made pursuant to a valid waiver of the Miranda protections. Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 168-69 (1986).

Courts evaluate the validity of a waiver of Miranda rights on the basis of the totality of the circumstances. Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 421 (1986). There are two dimensions to this inquiry. First, the waiver must have been voluntary-- that is, "the product of a free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation, coercion, or deception." Id. Second, the waiver must have been knowing and intelligent-- thus "made with a full awareness both of the nature of the right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon it." Id.

The Court concludes that the Government has met its burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the arresting officers did advise Morgan of his Miranda rights. At the suppression hearing, Agent DeRubertis testified that he advised the Defendant of his Miranda rights after Agent DeRubertis and other agents arrested the Defendant on the morning of March 25, 2008. Suppression Hr'g Tr. at 9-10. Agent DeRubertis testified that after he advised the Defendant of his Miranda rights, Agent DeRubertis asked the Defendant if he understood those rights, and the Defendant replied that he did. Id. at 10. DEA Special Agent William McDermott ("Agent McDermott"), the supervisor of the Task Force, also testified that one of the arresting agents informed him that the agent had issued Miranda warnings to Morgan following his arrest. Id. at 47. The Court finds the testimony of the agents to be credible.

Viewing the totality of the circumstances, the Court also finds that Morgan voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights when he agreed to talk to the Task Force agents following his arrest. Although the arresting officers did not record Morgan's Miranda waiver in written form, there is no rule barring oral or implicit waivers. See United States v. Gaines, 295 F.3d 293, 297 (2d Cir. 2002) (citing North Carolina v. Butler, 441 U.S. 369, 373 (1979)); see also United States v. Scarpa, 897 F.2d 63, 68 (2d Cir. 1990) ("While merely answering questions after Miranda warnings have been given does not necessarily constitute a waiver, no express statement of waiver is required.") (citations omitted). Agent DeRubertis testified that after administering a Miranda warning to Morgan, Morgan stated that he did sell marijuana, but not other drugs. Suppression Hr'g Tr. at 10-11. Agent DeRubertis further testified that later that morning, Morgan made statements that he also sold crack cocaine, and admitted to ownership of the crack and the weapon recovered at 833 Grant Avenue. Id. at 13.

There is no evidence that Morgan was subject to intimidation, coercion, or deception which would render his waiver involuntary for Miranda purposes. Morgan does not argue that his statements were the products of "physical violence or other deliberate means calculated to break [his] will." Spring, 479 U.S. at 574 (quoting Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 312 (1985)). There is no evidence of improper conduct by the Task Force officers regarding "any of the traditional indicia of coercion: 'the duration and conditions of detention . . . , the manifest attitude of the police towards [the Defendant], [the Defendant's] physical or mental state, the diverse pressures which sap or sustain [the Defendant's] powers of resistance and self-control.'" Spring, 479 U.S. at 574 (quoting Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 602 (1961)). The duration and conditions of Morgan's confinement following his Miranda warnings--he was handcuffed in the back of a police vehicle for approximately one hour before allegedly confessing to the crack and gun ownership--do not constitute a level of coercive or oppressive police conduct that would cause the Court to question the voluntariness of Morgan's statements. While Morgan was handcuffed in the back of the vehicle, Agent McDermott explained to Morgan the benefits of cooperation--that if Morgan provided helpful information, the agents would forward that information to the prosecutors, and a judge would decide whether that cooperation would warrant a downward departure or reduced sentence. Suppression Hr'g Tr. at 44-45. However, "statements to the effect that it would be to a suspect's benefit to cooperate are not improperly coercive . . . [but] are merely common sense factual ...


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