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United States v. Miller

July 21, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, United States District Judge


Defendant Courtney George Miller is charged with use of a false passport and aggravated identity theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1542, 1028A. On April 10, 2009, defendant moved to suppress incriminatory statements he made to agents of the United States Customs and Border Patrol ("CBP") and the Department of State ("DOS") on November 2 and 3, 2008, after his arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport ("JFK").

For the reasons set forth more fully below, the court finds that the CBP's pre-Miranda warning interrogation was a routine administrative interview at a border entry point, and thus exempt from Miranda's requirements. Even assuming otherwise, exclusion of defendant's confession obtained during the second interview conducted by the DOS is not warranted because that interview cannot be deemed part of a deliberate, two-step strategy to obtain the post-warning confession. Moreover, the Miranda warnings administered by the DOS effectively cured any potential defects. Thus, defendant's motion is denied in its entirety.


A. Motion to Suppress

Defendant arrived at JFK airport on November 2, 2003 on a flight from London and presented a passport in the name of Martin David Morris. (See Def.'s Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Suppress Statements ("Mot.") at 1.) He was escorted by a flight attendant to the CBP primary passport control area, where he was immediately referred to secondary review. (Decl. of Courtney George Miller ("Miller Decl.") at ¶ 2.) During the secondary review process, CBP officers Victor Marrero and Frank Umowski determined that defendant was not the real Martin David Morris, based on inconsistencies in the information provided by defendant and data from the criminal history for his purported identity. (See Mot. at 1; Government's Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. ("Opp'n")at 3-4.)

Defendant contends that his initial interrogation lasted a few hours, but does not specifically challenge or even identify any questions not geared towards verifying his identity, stating only that he was "quizzed about [his] real identity."(See Miller Decl. at ¶¶ 3-4.) Defendant further alleges that, after the examination concluded, he was fingerprinted and told by the CBP officer that he was going to be arrested as a "John Doe" because the CBP could not determine his true identity, and "for all they knew I could be a terrorist or something." (Miller Decl. at ¶ 4.) Although he was not handcuffed, defendant states it was made clear to him that he could not leave. (Id.)

Defendant ultimately disclosed his social security number, which led to his true identity and discovery of an outstanding arrest warrant from the DOS for passport fraud. (Miller Decl. at 5; see also Opp'n at 5.) The CBP officer then transported defendant to a different airport building, where DOS Special Agent Eric Donelan placed the defendant under arrest, read the defendant his Miranda rights for the first time, and gave defendant an opportunity to sign a Miranda waiver form. (Miller Decl. at ¶ 5-6; Opp'n at 6.) After the waiver form was signed, the DOS special agent proceeded to take defendant's confession in the presence of the CBP officer to whom defendant had disclosed his social security number. (Miller Decl. at ¶ 6; Opp'n at 6.) According to defendant, this second interview covered "much of the same subject matter" as the initial interview. (Miller Decl. at ¶ 6.) Although defendant provided details about his true identity and how he obtained a passport under a false identity, he was unwilling to make a written confession. (Miller Decl. at ¶ 6; Opp'n at 6-7.)

Defendant now contends that the initial CBP interview went far beyond the routine border questioning admissible without Miranda warnings, and asks the court to suppress incriminatory statements made during that interview. He further argues that subsequent statements made after he was provided Miranda warnings and interrogated by the DOS should also be excluded as part of a continuous interrogation meant to circumvent Miranda's requirements. The government opposes, arguing that there is no basis for suppression of statements made in the initial CBP interview because that interview comprised a routine border inspection and was thus exempt from Miranda's requirements. The government further asserts that suppression of statements made to the DOS during the second interview is similarly inappropriate, because there is no allegation that defendant failed to understand his Miranda rights once they were administered, or that his waiver of those rights was not voluntary.

B. Evidentiary Hearing

On June 16, 2009, this court held an evidentiary hearing on defendant's motion. The government presented testimony from CBP Officers Victor Marrero and Frank Umowski, as well as DOS Special Agent Eric Doelan, all of whose testimony the court finds credible.

1. CBP Officer Victor Marrero

Officer Marrero testified that he has worked for CBP and its predecessor agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS") for nineteen years. In November 2008, and on the date of the hearing, Officer Marrero was employed as a CBP Re-enforcement Officer whose primary function was to perform "secondary inspections," that is, to determine whether passengers arriving into the United States are eligible for admission after the CBP officers conducting primary inspection find that more in-depth admissibility inquiries are required. (Tr. at 5:13-23.)*fn1 Passengers may be referred to secondary inspection when they present potentially fraudulent documents, or have periods of unauthorized employment, criminal histories, outstanding arrest warrants, or other similar issues. (Id. at 5:6-6:2.) Officer Marrero indicated that he has conducted "thousands" of secondary inspections, which can take "minutes to hours," depending on the situation. (Id. at 8:14.)

According to Officer Marrero, verification of an individual's identity involves review of that person's travel documents, including passport, visas, or resident alien cards. (Id. at 7:12-8:8.) CBP officers also query various computer databases based on pedigree information (such as address) or other documents (such as a driver's license), to assess whether that individual has a criminal history or is the actual owner of the documents presented. (Id. at 7:12-8:11.)

Officer Marrero testified that he has never administered Miranda warnings or charged anyone criminally, nor are such tasks within the scope of his employment. (Id. at 6:3-7.) Any issues that arise during secondary inspection must be referred to the supervising officer for discussion with his or her superiors, who "determine what action will be taken." (Id. at 22:14-22.) Officer Marrero believes that the decision as to whether an individual should be charged criminally is made in consultation with the U.S. Attorney's Office by the CBP prosecution unit, to which he does not belong. (Id. at 6:9-16.) If the individual in question has an outstanding arrest warrant, the CBP officers determine whether they "are actually dealing with the right person," and then contact the warrant's originating law enforcement agency for pick up and arrest. (Id. at 19:22-20:5.)

On November 2, 2008, while on duty at JFK's Terminal Seven, Officer Marrero conducted a partial secondary inspection of defendant, who was known to him by the name on his passport, "Martin David Morris." (Id. at 10:2-22.) Passengers subject to secondary inspections in Terminal Seven sit on one of several chairs across from an officer sitting at a tall countertop with a computer. (Id. at 9:6-24.) Primary inspection Officer Bonifacio escorted defendant to the secondary inspection area at approximately 7:10 p.m. after discovering an outstanding arrest warrant for Martin David Morris. (Id. at 11:1-18.) Officer Marrero first ran a search in a computer database to corroborate Officer Bonifacio's findings. (Id. at 11:19-22.) He then took defendant's fingerprints to verify his identity, but found that the fingerprints did not correspond to any criminal history in the system. (Id. at 11:23-12:2.) From this, Officer Marrero inferred that defendant was not the Martin David Morris for whom there was an outstanding arrest warrant. (Id. at 12:3-5.)

Additional computer database searches, including passport and license queries, yielded further discrepancies. (Id. at 12:11-17.) For instance, defendant's passport revealed that he left the United States on January 27, 2008, whereas, according to the criminal history, Martin David Morris had been arrested twice, including once on January 27, 2008, and had been convicted while defendant was outside of the United States. (Id. at 16:2-7.) Both defendant's state identification card and driver's license were from Pennsylvania, and, like the rest of his documentation, were acquired in 2007. (Id. at 14:10-15:13.) In contrast, the addresses reflected in the criminal history of Mr. Morris going back to 1990 were all from New York. (Id. at 16:9-17:9.) Since defendant presented documents bearing the same purported date and place of birth as the Martin David Morris named in the arrest warrant, Officer Marrero thought it unlikely that he was dealing with two different individuals by the same name. (Id. at 29:4-17.) Similarly, because all of defendant's documents were acquired in 2007, Officer Marrero found it improbable that defendant had been a victim of identity theft. (Id. at 30:15-31:1.)

Officer Marrero was released from his shift at 9:00 p.m., before he could ask defendant about any discrepancies. (Id. at 17:10-17, 26:18-23, 28:20-24.) Before leaving, he briefed CBP Officer Frank Umowski about the status of his review and his findings for completion of the secondary inspection. (Id. at 17:21-18:4.) He had no further contact with defendant or any other involvement in the case. (Id. at 18:5-10.)

2. CBP Officer Frank Umowski

CBP Officer Frank Umowski testified that he has worked for CBP for eight years, and is currently employed as supervisor of the Passenger Analysis Unit. (Tr. at 32:1-6.) In November 2008, he worked as a CBP officer assigned to the Alien Smuggling and Interdiction Unit, which is responsible for identifying high risk travelers before their entry into the United States. (Id. at 32:10-17.) As part of his training, Officer Umowski completed the Immigration Officer Basic Training course in 2001, as well as a ten-day course on passenger analysis and numerous courses on detection of fraudulent documents, all administered by the CBP. (Id. at 33:5-13.) He testified that he never charged anyone criminally or administered Miranda warnings as part of his responsibilities in ...

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