United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. Thapar, United States District Judge
the police searched his house, Maurice Sydnor made two
statements to the officer waiting with him in the living
room. But he had not been read his Miranda rights.
Sydnor moves to suppress those statements at trial. He also
moves to suppress the statements of three eyewitnesses who
identified a photo of him.
Judge Hanly A. Ingram has held a suppression hearing and
determined the relevant facts. R. 80; R. 130 at 2-5. As
neither party objects to his findings, the Court will adopt
them and only give the highlights here.
June 2016, the Kentucky police were investigating a suspected
drug dealer, Timothy Harris. One day they sent a confidential
informant to meet Harris and his associate, “Black,
” at Black's home. After Harris got into the
informant's car, Black brought a brown bag from his home
and handed it to Harris. Harris then told the informant to
drive away. They had not gone very far before Harris forced
the informant out of the car and took off. But he did not get
too far by himself, either; the car had a tracking device.
Officers caught up with Harris, pulled him over, and found
nearly three pounds of crystal methamphetamine in the brown
bag that Black had given him.
officers sought the help of Detective Larry Walker, a
drug-enforcement officer, to secure a search warrant for
Black's home. Black, it turns out, was defendant Maurice
Sydnor. The warrant authorized the officers to search his
house for drugs, guns, and ammunition. At around 2:45 a.m.
the next morning, Detective Walker and other officers headed
to Sydnor's house. They knocked and announced themselves,
to no answer. So they forced their way in. They smelled
freshly burnt marijuana. Sydnor finally emerged and
identified himself as the resident. Detective Walker ordered
him onto the floor and cuffed his hands behind his back.
Sydnor sat on the sofa for the duration of the search (one
hour and fifteen minutes total). Detective Walker sat with
the other officers searched, Detective Walker explained what
they were looking for and why. He said that Sydnor was not
under arrest (although he never told Sydnor that he was free
to leave). He also said that officers believed Sydnor had
handed Harris a brown bag of crystal meth the day before. To
this, Sydnor responded that he did not know what was in the
bag that he had handed Harris.
thirty minutes later, an officer called from the master
bedroom that he needed a camera up there. Apparently he had
found something worth photographing, though he did not say
what. Nevertheless, after hearing that, Sydnor asked
Detective Walker if he could put his shoes on before going to
jail. Detective Walker asked, “Why would you be going
to jail?” In response, Sydnor gave a hint as to what
the officer might have found in his room: He said that he was
a convicted felon, that the rifles were his, and that he kept
them for protection. Upstairs, the officer had indeed found
two rifles in the bedroom.
Sydnor made these two statements-the bag statement and the
rifle statement- Detective Walker asked him whether he wanted
to cooperate in the investigation of Harris. Sydnor declined.
The officers then arrested him for being a felon in
possession of a firearm.
the course of its investigation, the police showed three
people a single photo. It was the picture from Sydnor's
driver's license. All three of these eyewitnesses
correctly identified him, either as Sydnor or Black.
government eventually indicted Sydnor for conspiring to
distribute methamphetamine and heroin. Sydnor moves to
suppress three things: (1) his bag statement, (2) his rifle
statement, and (3) the identifications. R. 65. As to the
statements, he argues that he was unlawfully arrested when he
made them. R. 114 at 11-16. As to the IDs, he argues that the
picture was unduly suggestive and also that cross-racial
identification is inherently unreliable (the witnesses were
white; Sydnor is black). Id. at 17-21.
the suppression hearing, R. 80, Judge Ingram prepared a
thorough Report and Recommendation (“R&R”),
R. 130. He reached four conclusions: First, that though
Sydnor was not under formal arrest during the search, he was
“in custody”-meaning the Court must suppress any
non-Mirandized statements he might have made under
interrogation. Id. at 2. But second, that
Sydnor's bag statement was an “unsolicited
voluntary utterance, ” which the government may use at
trial even though Sydnor gave it without a Miranda
warning. Id. Third, that Sydnor's rifle
statement was a response to interrogation, which the
government may not use at trial absent a Miranda
warning. Id. And finally, that the photo
identifications were reliable. Id. Thus, Judge
Ingram recommends suppressing the rifle statement but not the
bag statement or the identifications. Id. at 25.
and the government both object to the recommendations not in
their favor. R. 139; R. 140. The Court reviews those
objections de novo. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.
R. Crim. P. 59(b)(3).
objects first to the conclusion that he was not under formal
arrest during the search. R. 139 at 2-3. After all, officers
placed handcuffs on him when they began their search. And
when the handcuffs went on, he argues, he was arrested.
Id. Because the officers lacked probable cause to
arrest him, he says, the ...