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United States v. Male

United States District Court, E.D. New York

September 11, 2013


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For The United States: Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of New York, Brooklyn, New York; Raymond A. Tierney, Assistant U.S. Attorney.

For Defendant: Richard A. Miller, Miller & Skubik LLP, Commack, NY.


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JOSEPH F. BIANCO, United States District Judge.

On September 18, 2012, the government filed a Juvenile Information against defendant Juvenile Male[1] (" Juvenile Male" or " the defendant" ), an alleged member of the MS-13 street gang, charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act Robbery, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a); six counts of Hobbs Act Robbery, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a); and five counts of brandishing firearms during the commission of a crime of violence and one count of brandishing and discharging firearms during the commission of a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Specifically, the defendant's charges arise from his involvement in a series of armed robberies that took place between December 2011 and February 28, 2012: the Health Mart robbery that occurred on February 28, 2013; the Mi Tierrita Restaurant robbery that occurred on February 12, 2012; the Iglesia Church robbery that occurred on January 11, 2012; the Lempa Delicatessen robbery that occurred on January 4, 2012; the Off The Track Quick Mart robbery that occurred on January 6, 2012; and the Chapi Delicatessen robbery that occurred on January 26, 2012.

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On March 15, 2013, the defendant moved to suppress statements he made to law enforcement officers after his arrest on February 28, 2012, arguing that (1) he is not competent to be questioned in English or to waive his Miranda rights in English (and that, therefore, he could not understand the substance of the statements as they were written by the officers in English, nor could he waive his rights knowingly and voluntarily), and (2) he was coerced into providing the statements to the officers. The defendant also moved to suppress the evidence seized from his home on February 29, 2012, arguing that the search of the premises was conducted in the absence of a warrant.[2] On May 2, 2013, the government opposed the motion to suppress. The Court conducted an evidentiary hearing regarding the defendant's motion on May 23 and 31, 2013. The Court allowed the defendant to submit a post-hearing memorandum, which was filed on June 12, 2013. The government responded by letter dated June 28, 2013.

For the reasons that follow, the motion to suppress is denied. In particular, the defendant argues, inter alia, that his post-arrest statements should be suppressed because he is not competent in English and because the statements were the product of coercive police tactics, and that the evidence obtained pursuant to a search of his home should be suppressed because there was no probable cause for the issuance of the search warrant.

Having conducted a full evidentiary hearing (including an evaluation of the demeanor of the testifying witnesses), the Court finds the defendant's version of the events in his affidavit to be wholly incredible and, instead, fully credits the version of the interviewing detectives, as elicited at the hearing. Based on all of the evidence produced during the suppression hearing, and based on its evaluation of the credible testimony elicited at the hearing, the Court concludes that the defendant's arguments for suppression of his post-arrest statements and evidence seized from his home are without merit.

First, the Court finds that the defendant had a sufficient command of the English language to waive his rights, be questioned, and give post-arrest statements in that language. Second, the Court concludes that none of the defendant's post-arrest statements were made involuntarily; it is clear that the defendant voluntarily confessed to the crimes in question, and that no coercive or improper inducement tactics were employed by the detectives that questioned the defendant. In short, the government has met its burden of proving that the defendant knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights and gave the post-arrest statements. Finally, the Court finds that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily consented to the search of his home. The Court also finds that there was, in fact, probable cause for the issuance of the search warrant for the defendant's home, and that even in the unlikely event that probable cause did not exist, the exclusionary rule is not served by suppressing the evidence obtained pursuant to the search under the facts of this particular case. For all of these reasons, the Court finds that the government has met its burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence,

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that the defendant's post-arrest statements and the evidence obtained from the defendant's home on February 29, 2012, should not be suppressed.

I. Findings of Fact

The Suffolk County Police Department (" SCPD" ) detectives who detained and interviewed the defendant on the day of his arrest testified at the suppression hearing. The defense called one witness, a childhood friend who testified about the defendant's education and difficulty speaking English.[3] After evaluating the credibility of the witnesses (including their demeanor) and the other evidence offered at the evidentiary hearing, as well as the defendant's affidavit, the Court makes the following findings of fact.

On February 28, 2012, a Health Mart Pharmacy in North Bay Shore, New York, was robbed. (Tr. 9:4-17.)[4] SCPD Detective Thomas E. Reilly was told that three Hispanic males wearing masks had committed the robbery. ( Id . 48:15-49:4.) When Detective Reilly arrived on the scene of the crime, he witnessed four suspects standing outside of their vehicle, a Mustang. ( Id . 52:13-17.) The individuals, including the defendant, were placed under arrest in connection with the Health Mart robbery at approximately 10:00 p.m., and were taken to the Third Precinct for questioning. ( Id . 10:6-21, 55:15-23, 94:21-95:5.)

A. Detective Reilly's Interview: The Health Mart Robbery and the Defendant's Consent to Search

Detective Reilly interviewed the defendant at approximately 11:50 p.m. on February 28, 2012, in a room at the Third Precinct. ( Id . 11:17-21.) He was accompanied by Detective George Michels. ( Id . 12:2-5.) Upon entering the interview room, Detective Reilly asked the defendant if he spoke English, a question to which the defendant responded " yes." ( Id . 12:6-14; 18:14-18.) Detective Reilly also asked the defendant if he could read English, and the defendant answered in the affirmative. ( Id . 66:7-10.) Detective Reilly testified that Spanish-speaking detectives were available, but that he did not utilize them because the defendant spoke English ( id . 40:12-20), and never requested

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the aid of a Spanish interpreter ( id . 87:22-24). Detective Reilly informed the defendant that he was at the Third Precinct because of the Health Mart robbery that occurred that night, and then read him his Miranda rights from a " Rules of Interrogation" card (with the card facing the defendant so that he could read along as Detective Reilly read out loud). ( Id . 12:16-14:16; Ex. 1.) After reading each line, Detective Reilly paused to ask the defendant if he understood; the defendant answered that he understood what had been read after each pause. (Tr. 67:9-18.) Detective Reilly then read the two waiver questions printed on the card (inquiring as to whether the victim understands his rights and whether he, having been informed of his rights, now wishes to speak to law enforcement). The defendant answered the waiver questions in the affirmative. Detective Reilly denoted the defendant's responses and also asked the defendant to initial both questions to confirm that his response to each question was, in fact, " yea." ( Id . 15:11-16:24.) Detective Reilly then had the defendant sign the card. ( Id . 17:2.) Detective Reilly testified that, during the course of their exchange, he had no difficulty understanding the defendant and the defendant did not appear to have any trouble understanding him. ( Id . 18:7-13.)

Detective Reilly also asked the defendant for permission to search his house. He received the defendant's permission in writing. ( Id . 19:10-16; Ex. 2.) Detective Reilly prepared the consent to search form, read the form to the defendant, explained the wording of the form, and gave the defendant an opportunity to examine the document before asking him to sign it. (Tr. 20:16-21:16; 70:7-15.) Detective Reilly also explained to the defendant that, by signing the form, he was giving the SCPD permission to search his room and his house. ( Id . 71:1-4.) Detective Reilly also informed the defendant that, by signing the form, he was agreeing that anything found in the search could be used against him in a court of law. ( Id . 75:14-76:5.) The defendant signed the consent to search form at approximately 11:52 p.m. ( Id . 21:17-25.)

During the interview with Detective Reilly, the defendant initially stated that he was playing soccer with three others (the three individuals with whom he was arrested) on the night of the Health Mart robbery, and that they went to a McDonald's on Deer Park Avenue at the time of the robbery. ( Id . 22:7-11; 97:17-24.) The defendant also provided Detective Reilly with some information about a murder that occurred nearby, information that Detective Reilly later shared with the Homicide Section. ( Id . 23:20-24:24.) Detective Michels left while Detective Reilly and the defendant were discussing the murder. He went to the McDonald's on Deer Park Avenue to see if the defendant was on the restaurant's surveillance tapes. He was not. ( Id . 25:12-24.) Eventually, the defendant admitted to Detectives Reilly and Michels that he was involved in the Health Mart robbery. ( Id . 26:3-4.) The defendant stated that, on the day of the robbery, he was the driver (and that he remained in the car while the three others went in to rob the Health Mart). ( Id . 26:7-11.)

The Detectives then took a statement from the defendant regarding the commission of the Health Mart robbery. ( Id . 27:2-5; Ex. 3.) First, Detective Reilly re-read the defendant his Miranda rights from the Suffolk County arrest form upon which he later took the defendant's statement. He read them line by line, and had the defendant initial each line after it was read to denote his understanding and acceptance. (Tr. 28:6-25; Ex. 3.) He also read the waiver questions from the form,

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wrote the defendant's answer to each question, had the defendant initial next to each answer, and then had the defendant sign the form. (Tr. 29:15-30:17; Ex. 3.) Detective Reilly finished reading the defendant his rights for the second time that evening at approximately 2:10 a.m. (Tr. 31:1-6.)

Detective Reilly then took the defendant's statement about the Health Mart robbery. The defendant stated that he went to the Health Mart a week early to gather information, i.e., how many people were in the store at the time and the store's hours. The defendant was the driver on the night of the robbery -- he parked the car in the woods and his friends went into the store (each friend had a gun, but only two of the guns were loaded). The defendant stated that, after ten minutes, his friends returned (without money). He drove them to his house so that they could change their clothes and he placed their guns in the boiler room. (Ex. 3.) Detective Reilly testified that he took the statement two sentences at a time -- he wrote down two sentences, read them back to the defendant, and then moved on to the next two sentences. When he got to the end of the three-page document, he read the entire statement out loud to the defendant, asked him to sign the statement, had him swear to the truth of the statement, and asked him to make and sign off on any corrections to the statement. (Tr. 31:14-32:25.)

B. Detective Reilly's Interview: The Mi Tierrita Restaurant Robbery

Detective Reilly had been assigned to investigate an armed robbery that occurred at the Mi Tierrita Restaurant in Brentwood, New York, on February 12, 2012. ( Id . 8:17-9:3.) During the February 28, 2012 interview, he also questioned the defendant about the restaurant robbery. The defendant stated that he and two others went to rob a bakery on Brentwood Road near the Brentwood Railroad Station, but it was closed when they got there. Instead, they parked their car behind Mi Tierrita, entered from the rear, and robbed the restaurant. ( Id . 33:7-24.) Detective Reilly then proceeded to take a statement from the defendant about the Mi Tierrita robbery. Detective Reilly testified that he informed the defendant of his rights again and had him sign off on the waiver questions, both orally and in writing. ( Id . 35:8-37:20; Ex. 4.)

Detective Reilly then took a statement from the defendant, reading it out loud to him as he went along, and asked the defendant to sign the statement when it was complete and to make any necessary corrections. (Tr. 37:21-38:22.) The defendant stated that his friends had three guns when they went to rob the restaurant. He stated that he was personally carrying a loaded semi-automatic hand gun. He and his friends entered from the back door and grabbed two men who were standing in their way. The defendant stated that it was his job to keep those people on the floor. Waitresses then started collecting money off the tables, which the defendant took and put in his jacket. His friends went to get money out of the safe. As they were walking out, one of them slipped, causing his gun to go off. The defendant and his friends drove back to the defendant's house, where the defendant hid the guns and masks. In total, they stole approximately $4,000. (Ex. 4.)

C. Detective Michelis' Interview: The Iglesia Church Robbery

Detective Michelis questioned the defendant about a robbery that had occurred at the Iglesia Church on January 11, 2012. They spoke about the robbery for approximately 15 to 20 minutes, and the defendant gave a written statement about the incident. (Tr. 104:1-11; Ex. 5.) Detective Michelis

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explained the form that he was using to take the statement of the defendant. He also went through each of the Miranda rights, asking the defendant to place his initials on each line as the corresponding right was read to him. (Tr. 105:16-106:19.) He also read the waiver questions to the defendant; he asked the defendant if he understood each question before the defendant initialed next to his response. ( Id . 106:20-25.)

Detective Michelis then began writing the defendant's statement based on the notes he had taken about the Iglesia Church robbery while speaking to the defendant about the incident. He occasionally asked the defendant questions to clarify certain details and, when he finished writing the statement, read it to the defendant as the statement sat in front of him so that the defendant could follow along word for word. ( Id . 107:20-108:12.) In his statement, the defendant explained that he and three of his friends went to the Church with the intent to rob it on that particular evening because they had learned, from one of the friend's grandmother, that on that day members of the Church were supposed to bring and hand over $2,000. He and his friends went to the back of the Church. The defendant stated that he was carrying a .25 caliber semi-automatic in the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt, and that one of his friends was also carrying a hand gun. They were unable to find money. Instead, they stole two laptop computers and three digital cameras, which they later sold. They also stole a lock box, but it turned out to be empty. (Ex. 5.) The defendant placed his initials next to any corrections that he made to the statement as it was read. (Tr. 109:6-13.) Detective Michelis testified that he read the statement to the defendant, rather than have him read it alone, because the defendant had expressed that reading English was difficult for him, but that he could understand and speak the language. ( Id . 108:4-12.) The defendant then signed all three pages of the statement. ( Id . 108:24-25.)

D. Detective Michelis' and Detective Ziegler's Interviews: The Lempa Delicatessen Robbery

After Detective Michelis took the defendant's statement about the Iglesia Church robbery, he started to ask the defendant some questions about a robbery that had occurred on January 4, 2012, at the Lempa Deli in Brentwood, New York. ( Id . 109:18-20.) Detective Steven Ziegler accompanied Detective Michelis during this line of questioning. ( Id . 109:22-110:8; id . 182:24-183:4.) The defendant stated that he was involved in the robbery of the Lempa Deli on Calebs Path in Brentwood. He outlined the facts of the robbery and his involvement for the detectives. ( Id . 110:12-19.) After about a half hour of talking about the robbery, Detective Ziegler left the room. Detective Michelis then asked the defendant if he would be willing to give a statement about the ...

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