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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. DANIAL E. WIDNER

November 30, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DANIAL E. WIDNER, DEFENDANT.



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

DECISION AND ORDER

Defendant Danial E. Widner has been charged in a one-count indictment with possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252A(a)(5)(B) and 2252A(b)(2). The Court had referred pretrial matters in this case to United States Magistrate Judge Marian W. Payson pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).

Defendant moved to suppress physical evidence seized from his residence, and a post-arrest statement that Widner made to a New York State Police investigator. After an evidentiary hearing, Magistrate Judge Payson issued a Report and Recommendation on August 20, 2010, recommending that Widner's motion to suppress physical evidence be denied, but that his motion to suppress his post-arrest statement be granted. Dkt. #33. Both the Government and Widner have filed objections to that Report and Recommendation. For the reasons that follow, the Report and Recommendation is accepted in part and rejected in part, and defendant's motion to suppress is denied in its entirety.

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 (11th Cir. 2008) ("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"). In this case, the material facts are not disputed and credibility issues do not control.

II. Physical Evidence

In the case at bar, Magistrate Judge Payson found that, in seizing from the searched premises five computers, over forty compact disks, and other physical evidence, the search team had not complied with the provision in the search warrant that they "take reasonable measures to limit the necessary seizure of computer hardware and/or software from the premises by conducting onsite previews of the computers and digital media located or found therein." The Magistrate Judge set forth the justifiable reasons why some materials were examined off the premises. Nevertheless, Magistrate Judge Payson concluded that suppression of the seized evidence was not warranted, on the ground that, "even if the material previewed could be said to fall outside the scope of the warrant, the search can hardly be construed as an 'indiscriminate rummaging' resembling a general search." Dkt. #33 at 15 (quoting United States v. Shi Yan Liu, 239 F.3d 138, 140 (2d Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 816 (2001)). In addition, Magistrate Judge Payson found that "the agents would have discovered the child pornography whether the forensic preview had been conducted onsite, as directed, or offsite, as in fact occurred," so that "the failure to conduct the forensic preview at the residence cannot be considered the 'but-for cause of obtaining the evidence' ... ." Id. at 16 (quoting Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586, 592 (2006)).

I agree with Magistrate Judge Payson's findings and conclusions in this regard, and accordingly I accept her recommendation that defendant's motion to suppress physical evidence be denied. To justify suppression, the search "must actually resemble a general search." United States v. Liu, 239 F.3d 138, 141 (2d Cir. 2000). This search clearly did not resemble anything like a general search of the premises, and as the magistrate judge explained, the search teams' failure to conduct an on-site forensic preview was not a "but-for cause of obtaining the evidence." Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. at 592.

III. Defendant's Statements

At the time of his arrest, Widner told the arresting officers that he "wanted a lawyer," but that he could not afford one. Dkt. #24 at 13. After he made that statement, Widner was transported to the state police barracks for processing and was not interrogated by the officers.

At the police barracks, Investigator Tracy Cass, after filling out some paperwork, prepared to take Widner to the Rochester City Jail, for an overnight stay pending his arraignment the next day. As they were getting ready to leave the barracks, Cass informed Widner of the charges against him, and asked Widner if he had any questions. Widner replied, "Where did they find it?" It is this comment that the defendant seeks to suppress. Cass responded, "I didn't find it, the computer analyst found it." Cass asked no follow up questions. Widner said nothing further, and he was then taken to the jail.

In her Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Payson, while acknowledging that the facts here presented a "difficult issue," concluded that by "follow[ing] up" her recitation of the charges with the question, "Do you have any questions?," "Cass should have known that her follow- up inquiry to Widner would likely be perceived by him as directed to the charges, rather than the post-arrest procedure, and would likely elicit an incriminating response." Dkt. #33 at 19.

After conducting a de novo review of the record, I disagree with that conclusion, and I find that Widner's statement, "Where did they find it?" is not subject to suppression. In my view, the evidence here does not support a finding that Cass either knew or should have known that her question, "Do you have any questions?" was reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from defendant. See United States v. Robinson, 586 F.3d 540, 546 (7th Cir. 2009) ("there is no violation unless a reasonable objective observer would have believed that the law enforcement officer's statements to the defendant were reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response") (internal quotation marks omitted); Acosta v. Artuz, 575 F.3d 177, 191 (2d Cir. 2009) ("courts have not endorsed the proposition that 'statements by law enforcement officials to a suspect regarding the nature of the evidence against the suspect constitute interrogation as a ...


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