Post Maryland v. Schatzer Confession Appeal Denied

On May 3, 2010 in UNITED STATES, Appellee, v. HARRY GUZMAN, Defendant, Appellant. No. 08-1693 the U.S. Appeals Court heard an appeal relating to a confession and its subsequent admission at trial. The court also had the opportunity to apply the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Maryland v. Schatzer as it relates to breaks in interrogation and the invocation of a right to an attorney.

In reviewing the facts and deciding the case the court stated “Harry Guzman appeals from his January 2008 conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 844(i), and his life sentence for his role in an April 3, 2003, arson that killed a mother and her infant daughter. As to trial error, Guzman primarily argues that the district court should have suppressed a November 2003 confession he made to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (“ATF”) agents, given that Guzman, when earlier arrested for a June 9, 2003, arson, had invoked his right to counsel and had been released on bail for that offense. At the time of his November 2003 confession he was in state custody for violating his July bail conditions. This claim requires us to apply the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Maryland v. Shatzer, 130 S. Ct. 1213 (2010).

Guzman claims error in the district court’s failure to suppress his November 12, 2003, statements. “We review the district court’s findings of facts for clear error and its application of the law to those facts de novo.” United States v. Dunbar, 553 F.3d 48, 55 (1st Cir. 2009).
Guzman argues that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress for two reasons. First, he argues that the November 12 statements were made during a custodial interrogation and that because he had invoked his right to counsel five months earlier to the state police following his June 9 arrest, the ATF agent’s questioning of him violated the rule of Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981). Second, Guzman insists that, under the circumstances of his meeting with the ATF agents, he did not validly waive his Miranda rights.
1. Shatzer Forecloses Defendant’s Argument Based on Edwards
In his original briefing for this case and at oral argument, Guzman argued that he was in the ATF agents’ custody at the time that he gave the November 12 statement, and that, as a result, his June 9 invocation of his right to counsel barred the ATF agents from initiating further interrogation, even though he was released on bail for a period of about four months between the time of the first and second interrogations. See Minnick v. Mississippi, 498 U.S. 146, 153 (1990); Arizona v. Roberson, 486 U.S. 675, 682-83 (1988); Edwards, 451 U.S. at 484. Because of the very recent Supreme Court decision in Shatzer, Guzman’s argument fails. Even assuming arguendo that the November 12 meeting between Guzman and the agents was a “custodial interrogation,” Shatzer forecloses the claim.

In Shatzer, the Supreme Court established a bright-line rule that if a suspect who has invoked his right to have counsel present during a custodial interrogation is released from police custody for a period of fourteen days before being questioned again in custody, then the Edwards presumption of involuntariness will not apply. 130 S. Ct. at 1223. The Court stressed that the Edwards rule was a non-constitutional, judicially-crafted rule, which could be “justified only by reference to its prophylactic purpose.” Id. at 1220. In reaching this decision, the Court noted its concern that a suspect, held in uninterrupted custody in an unfamiliar, police-dominated atmosphere, might be “coerced or badgered” into abandoning his earlier invocation of the right to counsel. Id. at 1220. In contrast to that situation, the Supreme Court noted that “[w]hen . . . a suspect has been released from his pretrial custody and has returned to his normal life for some time before the later attempted interrogation, there is little reason to think that his change of heart regarding interrogation without counsel has been coerced.” Id. at 1221. Under those circumstances, the suspect’s decision to speak to officers is not likely to be attributed to badgering but to the suspect coming to believe that cooperation is in his best interest. Id.

In this case, Guzman was released on bail for about four months between the time that he originally invoked his right to counsel and the ATF agents’ subsequent attempt to question him. This far exceeds the time period required by Shatzer and thus its break-in-custody exception to Edwards applies.

After Shatzer was decided, we obtained supplemental briefing from the parties. Guzman acknowledged in his supplemental brief that a break-in-custody exception to Edwards exists, but argued that even after Shatzer the Edwards rule should nonetheless apply because his Miranda rights were not scrupulously honored in the first instance when Trooper Gravini questioned him on June 9. He cites no authority in support of such a contention and we conclude that, after having been released for four months, Guzman cannot contend that his prior invocation of his Miranda rights applied.

2. The Court Did Not Err in Finding There Was a Valid Waiver
That leaves Guzman’s argument that the trial court erred in holding that he validly waived his Miranda rights during the November discussions with the ATF. “A defendant may waive his Miranda rights if the waiver is made voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently.” United States v. Palmer, 203 F.3d 55, 60 (1st Cir 2000). An express waiver is not required. United States v. Mejia, No. 08-2505, 2010 WL 850184, at 3 (1st Cir. Mar. 12, 2010); see also North Carolina v. Butler, 441 U.S. 369, 373 (1979). “We review the determination of whether a waiver of rights was voluntary de novo.” United States v. Bezanson-Perkins, 390 F.3d 34, 39 (1st Cir. 2004).
Here, the trial judge supportably found that Guzman’s waiver was voluntary. The court was presented evidence that Guzman consented in writing to speak with the ATF agents before the meeting even began. The ATF agents explained to Guzman his Miranda rights and Guzman signed a form indicating that he understood them. It is true that he did not sign the portion of the form waiving his Miranda rights at the time; apparently he was not asked to do so. Nonetheless, as counsel for Guzman admitted before this court at oral argument, Guzman verbally agreed to speak with the agents about the events of April 3 without a lawyer present. At the close of the interview Guzman signed a form indicating he had waived his right to remain silent. Oral waivers of Miranda rights are sufficient, and individuals may properly invoke their right to counsel before making written statements while still waiving their Miranda rights with respect to oral statements. See Connecticut v. Barrett, 479 U.S. 523, 529 (1987).

The district court rejected counsel’s reliance on language from Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004), that failure to give warnings and obtain a waiver before initiation of custodial questioning generally requires exclusion of any statement obtained. The court distinguished Seibert and found that the ATF agents had told Guzman he could leave if he did not want to talk and had shown him the door was unlocked. That the agents spoke with Guzman for approximately an hour before he agreed to tell his side of the story does not mean his decision to speak was coerced or involuntary.
Guzman argues that the ATF agents misled him by presenting him with the waiver form and by not asking him to sign the waiver form until the end of the interview. He couples that with the argument that the ATF agents knew from Guzman’s June 9 conversation with Trooper Gravini that Guzman drew a distinction between what he said and written statements, and that Guzman was spooked by requests to write things. That may be true, but Guzman was told his rights and he confirmed that he understood them. See United States v. Van Dusen, 431 F.2d 1278, 1281 (1st Cir. 1970). That the agents chose certain conversational tactics after giving the warning does not make Guzman’s choice to talk a coerced choice.”

Commentary,

As the court stated in Schatzer, the invocation of the right to counsel and the use of the Edwards rule will be more limited now. A break in custody, and subsequent return to “normal life” of a period over 2 weeks will necessitate a new invocation on the part of the defendant.

Attorney Ronald A. Sellon

About Attorney Ronald A. Sellon

Ronald A. Sellon is a licensed Attorney in the state of Massachusetts and U.S. District Court, Massachusetts as well as a Sergeant with a Municipal Police Department and U.S. military Veteran. Additionally, he has taught Criminal Procedure at the Massachusetts State Police Academy in New Braintree and has written a text on Criminal Procedure for police field training officer programs. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, was a 2008 recipient of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police (Mass C.O.P.) Presidents award and holds a Bachelors Degree in Law Enforcement, a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice Administration, and a Juris Doctor Law Degree. Questions related to content material may be directed to RSellon@PoliceLegalPromotions.com
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