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United States v. Abdulmutallab

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

January 13, 2014

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Umar Farouk ABDULMUTALLAB, Defendant-Appellant.

Argued: Dec. 5, 2013.

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ARGUED:

Travis A. Rossman, Jewell & Rossman Law Office, PLLC, Barbourville, Kentucky, for Appellant.

Jonathan Tukel, United States Attorney's Office, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Travis A. Rossman, Jewell & Rossman Law Office, PLLC, Barbourville, Kentucky, for Appellant.

Jonathan Tukel, United States Attorney's Office, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.

Before: McKEAGUE and STRANCH, Circuit Judges; COLLIER, District Judge.[*]

OPINION

McKEAGUE, Circuit Judge.

Defendant-Appellant Umar Abdulmutallab challenges his life sentence for attempting to detonate an explosive device on Northwest Airlines Flight 253. Abdulmutallab challenges his conviction with the following claims: (1) the district court erred by ordering him to stand trial and accept a guilty plea despite doubts as to Abdulmutallab's competency; (2) the district court erred by allowing Abdulmutallab to represent himself at trial despite

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doubts as to his competency; (3) the district court erred by admitting incriminating statements Abdulmutallab made while authorities questioned him without a Miranda warning; (4) 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) is unconstitutional because Congress lacked the power to enact the statute under the Commerce Clause; (5) Abdulmutallab's life sentence is cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth Amendment as well as substantively unreasonable under the Sentencing Guidelines. We conclude that none of these claims have merit and therefore AFFIRM the district court.

I.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (" Abdulmutallab" ), known nationally as the " underwear bomber," attempted to detonate an explosive device in his underwear on Christmas Day in 2009. Abdulmutallab's chosen path towards radicalization began in August 2009 when he traveled to Yemen for the purpose of becoming involved in a violent jihadist group associated with Al Qaeda, a designated terrorist organization pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2339B(a)(1) and 8 U.S.C. § 1189(a). During his time in Yemen, Abdulmutallab received training at an Al Qaeda camp under the direction of the radical Imam Anwar Awlaki and agreed to carry out a suicide attack by bombing a United States air carrier over the United States. The bomb given to Abdulmutallab was built into a pair of underwear and Abdulmutallab was assured that the bomb would defy airport security because it contained no metal parts.

On Christmas Day, Abdulmutallab boarded the flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Detroit, Michigan to execute his martyrdom mission. The flight carried 289 passengers. When the flight was close to landing in Detroit, Abdulmutallab went to the bathroom to prepare to detonate the bomb. Upon returning to his seat, Abdulmutallab told the passenger in the seat next to him that he was not feeling well, pulled a blanket up to his head, and pushed the button to detonate the bomb. The result was a single, loud pop, which other passengers described as sounding like a firecracker. The explosive device did not work as intended, and caused only a large fireball around Abdulmutallab and then a fire coming out of Abdulmutallab's pants, igniting the carpeting, walls, and seat. A number of passengers restrained Abdulmutallab and attempted to put the fire out. As a result of the emergency, the pilot brought Flight 253 into a deep descent, landing approximately four minutes later. Once the plane landed, Abdulmutallab was taken to the University of Michigan Hospital for medical treatment.

The superseding indictment charged Abdulmutallab with eight counts:

(1) Conspiracy to Commit an Act of Terrorism Transcending National Boundaries in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2332b(a)(1) and 2332b(a)(2).
(2) Possession of a Firearm/Destructive Device in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A), 924(c)(1)(B)(ii), and 924(c)(1)(C)(ii).
(3) Attempted Murder Within the Special Aircraft Jurisdiction of the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1113 and 49 U.S.C. § 46506.
(4) Use and Carrying of a Firearm/Destructive Device During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A), 924(c)(1)(B)(ii), and 924(c)(1)(C)(ii).
(5) Willfully Placing a Destructive Device in, upon, and in Proximity to a Civil Aircraft Which was Used and Operated in Interstate, Overseas and Foreign Air Commerce, which was Likely to Have Endangered the Safety of Such Aircraft in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 32(a)(2).

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(6) Possession of a Firearm/Destructive Device in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A), 924(c)(1)(B)(ii), and 924(c)(1)(C)(ii).
(7) Attempted Use of a Weapon of Mass. Destruction in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2332a(a)(2).
(8) Willful Attempt to Destroy and Wreck a Civil Aircraft in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 32(a)(8) and 32(a)(1).

R. 28, First Superseding Indictment at 1-10, PageID # 86-95.

Abdulmutallab's Initial Appearance occurred on December 26, 2009. At that time, the district court explained to Abdulmutallab his right to counsel. Abdulmutallab stated that he did not have sufficient funds to hire his own counsel and agreed to the appointment of the Federal Public Defender's Office.

Abdulmutallab continued to be represented by the Federal Public Defender's Office until he stated at a pretrial conference on September 13, 2010 that he wanted to represent himself because he believed that any representation appointed by the district court would not be in his best interests. The district court explained that the attorneys representing him were experienced lawyers who had dedicated their careers to defending those accused of wrongdoing. The district court then advised Abdulmutallab of the following:

THE COURT: Mr. Abdulmutallab, I must advise you that in my opinion you would be far better defended by a trained lawyer than you can be by yourself. I think it is unwise of you to try to represent yourself. You're not familiar with the law, you are not familiar with court procedure, you're not familiar with the rules of evidence, and I would strongly urge you not to try to represent yourself.
Now, in light of the penalty that you might suffer if you are found guilty, and in light of all the difficulties of representing yourself, is it still your desire to go forward and represent yourself without giving another try to having an attorney represent you, just even over the next month or two, to see if perhaps we can appoint an attorney who would have what you believe to be your best interests in mind?
THE DEFENDANT: Yeah, I don't want that, no. THE COURT: You don't want another attorney? THE DEFENDANT: No.
THE COURT: Is your decision entirely voluntary on your part?
THE DEFENDANT: Yeah.
THE COURT: All right. I find that the defendant has knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to counsel, and I will permit him to represent himself. However, I am going to appoint standby counsel, which I would always do in the case of trial, but I believe this case demands that we have standby counsel available for you to consult with for any questions that you might have as you prepare to represent yourself at the trial in this matter.

R. 23, 09-13-10 Pretrial Conference at 10'11, PageID # 67'68.

The district court appointed standby counsel, Anthony Chambers (" Chambers" ), to assist Abdulmutallab with his defense. A number of pretrial conferences were held in the course of 2010 and 2011 to ensure that the relationship between Chambers and Abdulmutallab was working. At each pretrial conference, Abdulmutallab confirmed that standby counsel was effectively assisting him with his defense.

On August 5, 2011, Chambers filed a motion to suppress statements given by Abdulmutallab at the University of Michigan

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Hospital and a motion for a competency hearing under seal. The district court held a hearing on the motion for a competency hearing on August 17, 2011. Chambers' motion stated that he questioned Abdulmutallab's " psychological well-being," as Abdulmutallab had begun exhibiting " spontaneously erratic behavior" which is why he believed that a mental examination was necessary. Chambers clarified that he was asking the district court to simply make a determination of whether a full competency hearing was necessary. The district court then placed Abdulmutallab under oath and the following exchange occurred:

THE COURT: Okay. You understand— have you gone over the indictment in this case on your own and with ...

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