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United States v. Gray

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort

June 24, 2014

DONALD ROY GRAY, Defendants.



While FBI agents were searching his home, Defendant Donald Gray told them of his involvement in child pornography activities. Gray now seeks to have those statements suppressed because the agents elicited them without notifying him of his Fifth Amendment rights under Miranda v. Arizona. The Court referred this matter to Magistrate Judge Robert Wier, who recommends denying Gray's motion to suppress. [R. 21]. Judge Wier finds that, though these agents did not Mirandize Gray, they were not required to do so because Gray was not "in custody" at time he made the relevant statements. Gray objects to this conclusion citing the police control of his residence, the number of armed agents at his home, his isolation from his family during the questioning, as well as the accusatory nature of the interview. [R. 24]. These objections trigger this Court's obligation to conduct a de novo review. See 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1)(c). The Court has satisfied that duty, reviewing the entire record, including the parties' arguments, relevant case law and statutory authority, as well as applicable procedural rules. For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants' objections to the Magistrate Judge's Recommended Disposition shall be OVERRULED [R. 24], and his motion to suppress shall be DENIED. [R. 12].


The Magistrate Judge conducted an evidentiary hearing on the issues of the Defendants' motion and sets out the factual and procedural background of the case in his Recommended Disposition. [R. 21]. The Court shall not attempt to fully detail what has already been thoroughly described and incorporates his discussion of the record into this Order.[1] However, to briefly summarize, in December 2011, the FBI located information arousing suspicion that Donald Gray was involved with a website containing child pornography. [R. 14-1]. After securing a search warrant, approximately eight law enforcement officials arrived at Gray's residence for the purposes of conducting a search of his home. [R. 21 at 5]. This number included six FBI agents, an FBI task force officer, and Chief Willhoite of the Carrolton Police Department. [ Id. ] Although all of these officers were armed and their weapons were drawn upon entry, they did not point them at any individuals and holstered them for the remainder of the search. [ Id. at 11].

Without forcing entrance or physically restraining Gray, the officers required him to exit his residence while they conducted the search. [ Id. at 12]. While Gray was outside his home with Chief Willhoite and Agent Schafer, FBI Special Agent Hoover approached him and asked to speak with him about his internet activities. [ Id. at 2]. Gray agreed to speak with him, but was concerned that the conversation might be overheard by members of his family who were also outside. [ Id. at 3, 5, 12]. In response to Gray's concern, Agents Hoover and Schafer accompanied Gray to the living room of his home in order to provide more privacy for the discussion. [ Id. at 12]. Though they did not read Gray his Miranda rights, the agents did assure Gray that he was under no obligation to answer the questions and was free to leave. [ Id. at 5, 13]. Gray again indicated that he was willing to speak with the agents. [ Id. at 12]. The agents informed Gray of the evidence they had discovered linking him to child pornography activities, but did not threaten him with arrest or criminal charges. [ Id. ] Gray subsequently admitted involvement in certain child pornography activities and provided the officers with information about these activities. [ Id. at 3].

The interview lasted one and a half to two hours and concluded when Gray agreed to take a polygraph test at the police station. [ Id. at 13]. Only at the conclusion of the interview did Gray ask to get up so that he could use the restroom, get his shoes, and smoke a cigarette. [ Id. at 4]. The police officers allowed him to go to the restroom, but escorted him there because the search had not ended. [ Id. at 12]. Though he was not arrested or required to travel to the station by police car, Gray rode with Chief Willhoite because he did not have alternative transportation. [ Id. at 6-7]. Chief Willhoite did not engage in further discussion with Gray while he was being transported. [ Id. ] Upon arrival to the police station, Gray remained alone in the waiting room while the agents made ready the polygraph examination. [ Id. at 6]. Before commencing the examination, Agent Schafer read the Miranda warnings to Gray, allowed him to review the warnings on a form, and electronically attached his signature as an indication that he understood them. [ Id. ] Agent Schafer conducted the examination, and informed Gray that the polygraph had designated some of his responses as deceptive. [ Id. ] Gray then become agitated, said he did not wish to speak any longer, and left the room. [ Id. ] Law enforcement officials subsequently arranged for Gray to be returned home. [ Id. ]

The parties disagree as to whether Gray was "in custody" under these circumstances such that it was necessary for the law enforcement officials to read him his Miranda rights. Gray believes that this interaction constituted a custodial interrogation and that the agents' failure to advise him of his rights under Miranda means that his inculpatory statements must be suppressed. The Magistrate Judge agrees with the United States that Gray was not "in custody" for Miranda purposes, and, therefore, the agents did not offend the Constitution in questioning Gray without first notifying him of his Miranda rights.


The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "[n]o person...shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." U.S. Const. Amend. V. This right is guarded by the prophylactic rule of Miranda v. Arizona, which requires law-enforcement officers to give warnings, including the right to remain silent, before conducting a custodial interrogation. 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966); Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 322 (1994). However, "police officers are not required to administer Miranda warnings to everyone....they question." Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 495 (1977). The warnings are required only "when there has been such a restriction on a person's freedom as to render him in custody.'" United States v. Hinojosa, 606 F.3d 875, 883 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Oregon, 429 U.S. at 495 (1977)). In determining whether an interrogation occurred while a defendant was "in custody, " courts are to consider the totality of the circumstances surrounding the encounter "with the ultimate inquiry turning on whether a formal arrest occurred or whether there was a restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest." United States v. Panak, 552 F.3d 462, 465 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Stansbury, 511 U.S. at 322). (internal quotation marks omitted). This inquiry is objective, focusing on how "a reasonable person in the suspect's position would perceive his or her freedom to leave, " rather than the suspect's actual mindset. J.D.B. v. N. Carolina, 131 S.Ct. 2394, 2402 (2011) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); Yarborough, 541 U.S. at 667. In making this determination, this Court is guided by the following factors articulated by the Sixth Circuit:

(1) the location of the interview; (2) the length and manner of the questioning; (3) whether there was any restraint on the individual's freedom of movement; and (4) whether the individual was told that he or she did not need to answer the questions.

Hinojosa, 606 F.3d at 883 (citing Panak, 552 F.3d at 465, United States v. Swanson, 341 F.3d 524, 529 (6th Cir. 2003), United States v. Salvo, 133 F.3d 943, 950 (6th Cir. 1998)).


Judge Wier concludes that the location of the interview militates against a finding that Gray was "in custody" because the questioning took place in the living room of Gray's home. Gray objects to this application of the first factor because, in his view, the number of officers and their actions transformed his own home into a police-dominated environment similar to an arrest.

"[A]n important factor underlying Miranda was the interrogator's goal of isolating the suspect in unfamiliar surroundings for no purpose other than to subjugate the individual to the will of his examiner.'" Panak, 552 F.3d 462, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Beckwith v. United States, 425 U.S. 341, 346 & n. 7 (1976)). Because these concerns do not usually apply to interrogations at the suspect's home, "such a venue generally does not present a coercive environment." Hinojosa, 606 F.3d 875, 883-84 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Panak, 552 F.3d at 467; Salvo, 133 F.3d at 950). Indeed, in Miranda, the Supreme Court referenced a police manual which encouraged officers to question a suspect at the police station rather than his home, because "[i]n his own home he may be confident, indignant, or recalcitrant....more keenly aware of his rights and more reluctant to tell of his indiscretions of criminal behavior...." Panak, 552 F.3d at 466 (citing ...

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