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United States v. Roberts

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London.

June 30, 2014




When a federal agent came to his residence, Defendant Aaron Roberts made incriminating statements concerning his role in manufacturing methamphetamine. After being indicted and arraigned several months later, Roberts filed a motion to suppress the statements he made to the federal agent because the agent did not first notify him of his Fifth Amendment rights under Miranda v. Arizona. [R. 78.] The Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Hanly A. Ingram, who, after conducting a hearing and considering additional briefing from both parties, recommends denying Roberts' motion to suppress. [R. 111.] Roberts timely objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation, arguing that a reasonable person in Roberts' position would not have felt free to leave when being questioned by law enforcement, and that both his statements and their direct and derivative fruit must be suppressed. [R. 120.] These objections trigger this Court's obligation to conduct a de novo review. See 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1)(c). Having reviewed the entire record, including the parties' briefs and relevant case law, for the reasons set forth below, Defendant Roberts' objections to the Magistrate Judge's Recommended Disposition shall be OVERRULED and his motion to suppress shall be DENIED.


The Magistrate Judge conducted an evidentiary hearing on the issues in Roberts' motion to suppress, and also requested further post-hearing briefing. [R. 91.] The Recommended Disposition sets out the factual and procedural background of the case, and Roberts does not offer any particularized challenge to the Magistrate Judge's factual recitation beyond the context of the enumerated objections.[1] Moreover, the testimony of the two witnesses who testified at the hearing was consistent and, as Roberts has not presented any other evidence, there does not appear to be any factual dispute concerning the relevant facts. Accordingly, the Court need not sift through again every fact found by the Magistrate Judge, and will only briefly describe what has already been thoroughly discussed and incorporated into the record.

Upon receiving information from a defendant in a related case, United States Forest Service Special Agent Bob O'Neill went to the address listed as Roberts' residence in a database that contained information about Roberts' pseudoephedrine purchases. [R. 111 at 2.] Upon Agent O'Neill's first visit to that address, he spoke with Roberts' parents, who were seated on the front porch of the residence. [ Id. at 3.] Roberts' parents said that Roberts was not there, that he had taken their car without permission, and that they did not know where he was. [ Id. ] When Agent O'Neill told them that he had received a complaint that Roberts was manufacturing methamphetamine in one of the outbuildings on their property, Roberts' father gave him permission to search the outbuilding. [ Id. ] Agent O'Neill testified that when he did so, he found materials needed to manufacture methamphetamine in the outbuilding, and that he confiscated those materials. [R. 120 at 2.]

The next day, Agent O'Neill returned to the residence accompanied by Captain Charles Peace of the Kentucky Army National Guard Joint Readiness Recon Station, and two other members of the National Guard, all of whom arrived in one un-marked vehicle. [R. 111 at 3.] According to Agent O'Neill, the Roberts residence is located about 20 to 25 yards off the highway and has a paved "pull-off area" instead of a driveway. [ Id. ] Roberts' father was in the front yard, told the officers that Roberts was in "his room, " and asked Roberts' mother to go get him. [ Id. at 3-4.] Agent O'Neill testified that Roberts came out of the house and sat down unprompted in the only chair on the small front porch. [ Id. at 4.] Agent O'Neill testified that he identified himself as a special agent involved in conducting an investigation of manufacturing methamphetamine, and that he had been there the day before and found evidence of those activities on the property the previous day. [R. 120 at 3.] Agent O'Neill did not tell Roberts he would be arrested, saying that he was not there to take him to jail that day, but asked if Roberts were willing to cooperate and said that if he did, he would favorably report Roberts' cooperation to the U.S. Attorney's office. [ Id.; R. 111 at 4.] According to O'Neill's testimony, Roberts at that point started talking to him, saying that "meth was destroying the community" and agreeing to cooperate because the problem was "so bad" that it "needed to be cleaned up." [R. 111 at 4.]

Agent O'Neill then proceeded to conduct an interview with Roberts that lasted about an hour. [ Id. ] Agent O'Neill admitted that he did not advise Roberts of his Miranda rights at any point, nor did he specifically tell him that he did not need to answer questions or inform him that he could end the interview at any time. [ Id. at 6.] During the interview, Agent O'Neill was standing on the ground in front of the center of the porch about five feet away from Roberts with his left foot up so he could use his knee as a writing surface, and Roberts remained seated in the chair with his head higher than the agent's. [ Id. at 4.] Agent O'Neill further testified that he did not threaten to arrest or detain Roberts, and denied telling him that he had enough evidence to arrest him. [ Id. at 6.] Agent O'Neill also testified that Roberts never asked for an attorney, nor did he ask to take any breaks during the interview although Agent O'Neill would have allowed him to take a break had he requested it. [ Id. ] As a result of the interview, Roberts incriminated both himself and others in a signed statement as well as orally. [R. 120 at 4.]

Captain Peace initially accompanied Agent O'Neill to the porch but then joined the other two members of the National Guard shortly afterward who were talking to Roberts' father about topics unrelated to the investigation near their car about twenty to twenty-five yards away from the house. [R. 111 at 5.] Captain Peace testified that they were far enough away that they could not hear the conversation between Roberts and Agent O'Neill. [ Id. ] He also testified that he never heard Agent O'Neill raise his voice to Roberts, nor did he overhear Agent O'Neill make any statements or threats about arresting him or take any other action toward him. [ Id. at 6.] The National Guard members and Agent O'Neill were all armed, but their guns remained in the holsters and were never brandished. [ Id. at 5.] None of the four men wore uniforms. [R. 99 at 3.] Agent O'Neill carried handcuffs, but they were concealed in pouches, and he never removed them. [R. 111 at 5.] The National Guard members do not carry handcuffs and do not have the authority to arrest anyone. [ Id. ] They were present for security purposes and could have detained Roberts if he had tried to flee, but Captain Peace testified that they would not have chased him unless Agent O'Neill instructed them to do so or unless Roberts posed a threat of imminent danger to another person. [ Id. ]


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)).

Here, Roberts presents three objections to the Magistrate's findings. As an initial matter, the Court notes that Roberts primarily reiterates what he has already argued in his previous briefs and at the hearing, rather than making specific objections to the analysis or factual findings contained in the recommended disposition. However, given that this is de novo review, the Court will address Roberts' "objections" in turn and analyze the totality of the ...

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