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United States v. Valentine

September 16, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CLEVELAND NATHANIEL VALENTINE, A/K/A JONAS, A/K/A DEAN GRAY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

This Court referred all pretrial motions and other preliminary matters in this case to United States Magistrate Judge Jonathan W. Feldman pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). Defendant, Cleveland Valentine, moved to suppress statements that he made to the police at around the time of his arrest on March 16, 2008 in Rochester, New York.

Magistrate Judge Feldman held a suppression hearing and also gave counsel an opportunity to submit post-hearing briefs.*fn1 On July 9, 2009, Magistrate Judge Feldman issued a Report and Recommendation (Dkt. #30), familiarity with which is assumed, recommending that Valentine's motion to suppress be granted.

The Government has filed objections (Dkt. #31) to the Report and Recommendation. I have reviewed both the Report and Recommendation and the Government's objections, as well as the transcript of the suppression hearings (Dkt. #26). I believe that the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation is sound and correct and, accordingly, I adopt it.

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review

A district court reviews those portions of a report and recommendation to which a party has timely objected under a de novo standard of review. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). After reviewing the Report and Recommendation and the objections thereto, the district court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

If the magistrate judge made credibility findings with respect to witnesses' testimony at a suppression hearing, the district court has discretion to accept those findings based on the written record, but the court may not reject the magistrate judge's credibility findings without conducting an evidentiary hearing at which the district judge has the opportunity to observe the witnesses and evaluate their credibility firsthand. See In re Karten, 293 Fed.Appx. 734, 736 ("The Supreme Court has held that a district judge has broad discretion to accept a magistrate's credibility findings without hearing witness testimony, in the criminal suppression hearing context, consistent with due process") (citing United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 680-81 (1980)); Cullen v. United States, 194 F.3d 401 (2d Cir. 1999) ("without an evidentiary hearing, the District Court could not reject the Magistrate Judge's proposed credibility finding").

The district court may adopt those portions of a report and recommendation to which no objections have been made, as long as no clear error is apparent from the face of the record. See White v. Fischer, No. 04-CV-5358, 2008 WL 4210478, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 12, 2008). The clearly-erroneous standard also applies if a party makes only "conclusory or general objections, or simply reiterates his original arguments." Barratt v. Joie, No. 96-CV-324, 2002 WL 335014, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 4, 2002).

II. The Magistrate Judge's Findings and Conclusions

In the case at bar, Magistrate Judge Feldman based his recommendation that defendant's suppression motion be granted on several findings. First, he found that "Miranda warnings were never given to Valentine at any point during his March 16th encounter with law enforcement." Dkt. #30 at 8. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). The Government does not appear to object to or disagree with that finding.

Second, the magistrate judge concluded that Valentine was "in custody," for Miranda purposes, at the time that he made the statements in question, based on the factors set forth by the Second Circuit in United States v. Newton, 369 F.3d 659 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 543 U.S. 947 (2004). Dkt. #30 at 11-16. The Government objects to that finding, particularly as to the statements made by defendant in the back of the police vehicle, prior to his being taken to the Public Safety Building for further questioning.

Magistrate Judge Feldman also found that Valentine's statements were not admissible under the "pedigree exception" to Miranda, under which the "solicitation of information concerning a person's identity and background does not amount to custodial interrogation prohibited by Miranda[,] ... whether the solicitation occurs before ... or after ... Miranda warnings are given." United States v. Adegbite, 846 F.2d 834, 838 (2d Cir. 1988) (citations omitted). The Magistrate Judge found the pedigree exception inapplicable in this case, on the ground that the questions asked by the officers were not designed simply to gather ...


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