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United States v. Jones

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 11, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MICHAEL JONES, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. SKRETNY United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Defendant Michael Jones is charged in a one-count indictment with possession of cocaine base with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §' 841 (a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). (Docket No. 1.) Trial is scheduled to start on June 13, 2017.

         On June 6, 2017, this Court conducted an evidentiary hearing relative to Defendant's Motion in Limine to suppress a post-arrest, pre-Miranda statement that he made to law enforcement. (Docket No. 84.) After the short hearing, this Court denied Defendant's motion from the bench and indicated that this written decision would follow.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The background of this case is fully set forth in this Court's decision denying Defendant's previous motion to suppress evidence, familiarity with which is presumed. See United States v. Michael Jones, 15-CR-133S, 2016 WL 7208756 (W.D.N.Y. Dec. 13, 2016). In short, on March 7, 2015, at 10:45 p.m., Buffalo police officers William Robinson and Anniel Vidal were on routine patrol in the City of Buffalo, N.Y., when they came upon a vehicle parked on Westminster Avenue with its hood open. As the officers approached, they observed Defendant on the passenger side of the vehicle, along the curb, by the front wheel well, hunched over the open hood. The officers pulled up to Defendant's vehicle to investigate. After a brief encounter, Defendant fled on foot, with Officer Vidal chasing him. When Officer Vidal apprehended Defendant, he discovered a black bag containing rocks of crack cocaine.

         What happened during the foot chase was the subject of the June 6, 2017 evidentiary hearing before this Court. Officer Vidal was the only witness. He testified that he gave chase when Defendant fled. He estimated that he was between 10 and 15 feet behind Defendant when Defendant began “tearing something up in his hands” as he ran. This action created a dust cloud through which Officer Vidal ran as he chased Defendant. Officer Vidal testified that as he passed through the dust cloud, he ingested whatever material Defendant had been breaking up, which tasted bitter. Although Officer Vidal testified that he thought he had ingested a narcotic, he stated that he could not identify the substance for certain.

         When Officer Vidal caught up to Defendant, he tackled him and held him face-down on the ground. He then immediately asked him what he was “spraying.” Defendant responded, “Nothing. All I had was some weed.” Either simultaneous to or right after asking this question, Officer Vidal saw what he believed to be a rock of crack cocaine on the ground near where he had tackled Defendant. Officer Vidal testified that he asked Defendant what he was spraying because he wanted to know what he ingested and was concerned that he could have ingested a harmful substance.

         After Defendant's arrest, Officer Vidal sought medical treatment at a local hospital, though he could not recall whether he sought treatment before or after he returned to the police station to prepare Defendant's booking paperwork. Other than having his vital signs monitored, Officer Vidal received no medical treatment at the hospital. Officer Vidal completed and filed an “exposure form” with the Buffalo Police Department, but he did not file a workers' compensation claim or seek any additional medical treatment.

         III. DISCUSSION

         It is undisputed that Defendant's statement to Office Vidal-“Nothing. All I had was some weed.”-was a custodial statement made in the absence of Miranda warnings. As such, it would ordinarily be suppressed. See United States v. Simmons, 661 F.3d 151, 155 (2d Cir. 2011) (“It is well settled that statements obtained during a police interrogation that are not preceded by Miranda warnings cannot typically be used by the prosecution in its case in chief.”).

         But an exception to the Miranda rule exists for “questions reasonably prompted by a concern for the public safety or for the safety of the arresting officers.” United States v. Newton, 369 F.3d 659, 677 (2d Cir. 2004). This exception, first set forth by the United States Supreme Court in New York v. Quarles, is narrow. 467 U.S. 649, 655-56, 104 S.Ct. 2626, 81 L.Ed.2d 550 (1984).

         In United States v. Estrada, the Second Circuit distilled its cases addressing the public-safety exception to three principles:

First, we have observed that Miranda warnings need not precede questions reasonably prompted by a concern for the public safety or for the safety of arresting officers, so long as the questioning relates to an objectively reasonable need to protect the police or the public from an immediate danger. While the facts in Quarles raised the specter of danger to the public, the public safety ...

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