United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
September 12, 2005.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
TYRONE POOLE, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: SYLVIA RAMBO, Senior District Judge
Before the court are Defendant Tyrone Poole's Motion to
Suppress Evidence (Doc. 26) and Motion to Suppress Statements
(Doc. 28). For the reasons that follow, the court will deny both
A. Factual Background
i. The Search Warrant and February 25, 2005 Search
The search warrant at issue was issued on February 24, 2005
upon a finding of probable cause by District Justice Roy Bridges.
(Def.'s Mot. to Suppress, Ex. A.) Pennsylvania State Police
Trooper Jon J. Mearkle submitted the supporting affidavit.
(Id.) Trooper Mearkle stated that as a member of the
Pennsylvania State Police he has conducted numerous drug
investigations involving the illegal sale and possession of
marijuana, heroine, and cocaine. (Id.)
Trooper Mearkle stated in the affidavit that, while undercover,
he purchased crack cocaine from Defendant on February 11, 2005
and on February 22, 2005 (one and one-half and one-half ounces,
respectively). (Id.) The affidavit also stated that on both occasions police officers observed Defendant
travel from his residence at 1525 South 12th Street in
Harrisburg, PA, directly to the location where he completed his
transactions with Trooper Mearkle. (Id.)
Trooper Mearkle, along with other members of the Pennsylvania
State Police, executed the warrant and searched Defendant's
residence on February 25, 2005. (Id.) The police recovered an
electronic scale, one bag of sandwich bags, one bag of marijuana,
one small bag of cocaine, and two additional bags of cocaine.
ii. Defendant's February 25, 2005 Statements
Defendant made the statements at issue on February 25, 2005,
during conversations with Trooper Mearkle and Corporal
Fenstermacher that took place before and after the search of his
residence. (Def.'s Mot. to Suppress Statements, Ex. A.) The
pre-search conversation took place in the conference room of the
FBI office in Harrisburg, PA. (Id.) Defendant had been ordered
to appear before the court, which is located in the same
building, for an unrelated proceeding on February 25th.
Trooper Mearkle indicated that he waited for Defendant to
arrive at the FBI office following the court proceeding, per
Corporal Fenstermacher's instructions. (Suppression Hr'g, Aug.
30, 2005.) Defendant arrived at the FBI office with his attorney
Sanford Krevsky, Corporal Fenstermacher, another police officer,
and others. (Id.) Trooper Mearkle and Corporal Fenstermacher
then met with the Defendant and Mr. Krevsky. (Mot. to Suppress
Statements, Ex. A.)
Trooper Mearkle stated that he informed Defendant and Mr.
Krevsky that he was a Pennsylvania State Police Trooper and that
he had a search warrant for Defendant's residence. (Id.)
Trooper Mearkle said he then asked Defendant if he wanted to cooperate with the police and indicated that such
cooperation would be in the Defendant's best interests with
respect to diminishing his criminal liability. (Id.)
Trooper Mearkle and Corporal Fenstermacher then left the
conference room and allowed Defendant and Mr. Krevsky to confer
privately for about 10-15 minutes. (Suppression Hr'g, Aug. 30,
2005.) When Trooper Mearkle and Corporal Fenstermacher returned
to the conference room both Mr. Krevsky and Defendant indicated
that Defendant wanted to cooperate with the police. (Id.)
During the meeting, Trooper Mearkle also questioned Defendant
regarding the location of 2 ounces of crack cocaine that
Defendant had been planning to sell to Trooper Mearkle later that
day. (Mot. to Suppress Statements, Ex. A.) Defendant said he had
not gotten the cocaine yet and that there was nothing illegal in
his house. (Id.) Defendant also said the police could search
his whole house. (Id.) The police did not arrest Defendant at
that time. (Id.)
Defendant then rode with Corporal Fenstermacher and Trooper
Mearkle when they drove to his residence to conduct the search;
Defendant sat in the front seat next to Corporal Fenstermacher.
(Suppression Hr'g, Aug. 30, 2005.) Defendant was not handcuffed
or otherwise placed in restraints. (Id.) When the search
yielded illegal narcotics, the Defendant apologized and told the
officers that there was nothing else in the house. (Mot. to
Suppress Statements, Ex. A.) Defendant also indicated that he
wanted to cooperate in order to help himself if possible.
(Suppression Hr'g, Aug. 30, 2005.) Trooper Mearkle did not arrest
Defendant at that time. (Id.) B. Procedural Background
Defendant was indicted on various drug charges on March 9,
2005. Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence and a Motion
to Suppress Statements, with supporting briefs, on July 22, 2005.
The Government filed its opposition briefs on August 8, 2005. The
court subsequently held a hearing on both issues on August 29,
2005. Trial is scheduled for October 11, 2005.
The issue before the court with respect to the warrant is
whether there was sufficient probable cause to support the
issuance of a warrant to search Defendant's residence on February
25, 2005.*fn1 With respect to Defendant's February 25, 2005
statements, the issues are 1) whether Defendant was in custody
when he spoke to the police before or after the search on
February 25, 2005 and 2) whether the police coerced Defendant
into making the statements. Because the court finds that
sufficient probable cause existed to support the issuance of the
warrant and because Defendant has failed to establish that he was
in custody at any time while he made his statements on February
25th or that any statements were coerced or made under
duress, the court will deny both motions.
A. The Search Warrant and February 25, 2005 Search
i. Legal Standard
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects
against unreasonable searches and seizures and provides that "no
warrant shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and
particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons
or things to be seized." U.S. Const. Amend. 4. The threshold
requirement for issuance of a warrant is probable cause. United
States v. Ritter, 416 F.3d 256, 262 (3d Cir. 2005). The issuing
magistrate must "simply ? make a practical, common-sense
decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the
affidavit before him . . . there is a fair probability that
contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular
place." Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983). Affidavits
must contain "sufficient information . . to allow [the
magistrate] to determine probable cause." Id. at 239.
Statements that are merely conclusory will be inadequate. Id.
Moreover, "the duty of a reviewing court is simply to ensure
that the magistrate had a `substantial basis for . . .
concluding' that probable cause existed." Id. at 238-39. Thus,
"a reviewing court is to uphold the warrant as long as there is a
substantial basis for a fair probability that evidence will be
found." United States v. Conley, 4 F.3d 1200, 1205 (3d Cir.
1993). In doing so, reviewing courts should pay "great deference"
to a magistrate's probable cause determination. Gates,
462 U.S. at 236 (quoting Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410, 419
(1969)). Even if the reviewing court itself would not have found
probable cause, it must uphold the warrant "so long as the
issuing magistrate's decision was made consistent with the
minimal substantial basis standard." Conley, 4 F.3d at 1205.
The February 24, 2005 search warrant contained sufficient
information to support a probable cause determination. Trooper
Mearkle's affidavit provided more than mere conclusory
statements; it provided sufficient detail to satisfy the substantial basis standard. Specifically, Trooper Mearkle's
statements that he had twice purchased quantities of cocaine from
Defendant and that on both occasions officers observed Defendant
travel directly from his residence to the location where he
completed the sales to Defendant, and consideration of Trooper
Mearkle's training and experience, sufficiently support a
"practical, common-sense decision" that there was a "fair
probability," id. at 238, that illegal substances would be
found at Defendant's residence on February 25, 2005. Thus, there
was sufficient probable cause to support issuance of the warrant.
Accordingly, Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence will be
B. The February 25, 2005 Statements
i. Legal Standard
The Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination
provides the foundation for well-settled procedural safeguards in
custodial interrogation. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444
(1966). However, Miranda warnings are required only prior to
"custodial" interrogation. California v. Beheler,
463 U.S. 1121, 1124 (1983); see also Steigler v. Anderson, 496 F.2d 793,
798 (3d Cir. 1974).
Custodial interrogation is determined by an "objective test of
whether the government has in some meaningful way imposed
restraint on a person's freedom of action." Steigler,
496 F.2d at 793; see also Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444. Although the
totality of the circumstances informs the inquiry, the ultimate
question is "simply whether there is a `formal arrest or
restraint on freedom of movement' of the degree associated with a
formal arrest." Beheler, 463 U.S. at 1125. The "determination
requires individualized analysis on a case-by-case basis."
Alston v. Redman, 34 F.3d 1237, 1245 (3d Cir. 1994). Courts have considered a number of factors in determining
whether a person was in custody, including, but not limited to,
age of the accused, his level of education, his intelligence,
whether he has been advised of his constitutional rights, the
length of detention, the nature of the questioning, the presence
or absence of restraint on his liberty, and the use of physical
punishment. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 226
(1973); Steigler, 496 F.2d at 800. In sum, "in the absence of
actual arrest something must be said or done by the authorities,
either in their manner of approach or in the tone or extent of
their questioning, which indicates that they would not have
heeded a request to depart or [allowed] the suspect to do so."
Id. at 800.
The Fifth Amendment also prohibits the use of involuntary or
coerced confessions made outside the custodial setting. See
United States v. Walton, 10 F.3d 1024, 1028 (3d Cir. 1993). The
determination of whether a confession is voluntary requires
consideration of the totality of the circumstances. Id. (citing
Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279, 286-87 (1991)). Although
he totality of circumstances approach includes consideration of
promises made in exchange for a person's statement, a promise
does not "automatically render inadmissible any statement
obtained as a result of that promise." Walton,
10 F.3d at 1028-29. The inquiry must consider whether, in light of all of
the circumstances, an "agent's statements were so manipulative or
coercive that they deprived the defendant of his ability to make
an unconstrained autonomous decision to [make the statement]."
Id. at 1030. ii. Analysis
Upon consideration of the totality of the circumstances, the
court finds that Defendant was not in custody when he made the
statements at issue to Trooper Mearkle and Corporal Fenstermacher
on February 25, 2005. The most relevant factors influencing the
court's finding include Defendant's opportunity to be advised of
his constitutional rights (through the presence of counsel), the
absence of restraints, the length of the detention, and the
nature of questioning. Schneckloth, 412 U.S. at 226.
A significant factor in the court's decision is the presence of
counsel. Defendant's attorney was present during the initial
meeting between Trooper Mearkle, Corporal Fenstermacher, and the
Defendant at the FBI office conference room. In addition, the
Defendant and his attorney were able to confer privately for
10-15 minutes before telling the police that Defendant wanted to
cooperate with their investigation. Thus, Defendant had ample
opportunity to discuss his constitutional rights with his
attorney before speaking with the police.
Although Defendant's attorney was not present during the search
of Defendant's residence, the complete absence of restraints at
any time during the meeting in the FBI conference room, while
traveling to the residence, or after the search, also establish
that Defendant was not in custody. The police did not place
Defendant under arrest at any time on February 25th. In addition,
both Trooper Mearkle and Corporal Fenstermacher left the
conference room while Defendant met with his attorney. Finally,
when the police and Defendant traveled to Defendant's residence
to conduct the search, Defendant rode in the front seat, next to
Corporal Fenstermacher, and was not handcuffed or otherwise restrained in
any manner. Such absence of restraints further supports a finding
that Defendant was not in custody.
Finally, nothing about the duration of detention or nature of
questioning suggest that Defendant was in custody. There is no
evidence that the meeting in the conference room lasted for an
unreasonable period of time or that the manner of questioning was
coercive. Trooper Mearkle simply revealed his identity to
Defendant and told him about the search warrant. Again, the
police then left the room so that Defendant and his attorney
could talk privately. Thus, the court finds nothing about "their
manner of approach or in the tone or extent of their questioning"
that suggests that Defendant was not free to leave. Steigler,
496 F.2d at 800. This finding, combined with the lack of
restraints and presence of counsel, establish that Defendant was
not in custody at any time on February 25, 2005.
Thus, because the statements at issue were made in a
non-custodial setting, Miranda is not an issue. Therefore, any
additional issues raised in Defendant's Motion to Suppress
Statements regarding waiver are moot.
Upon consideration of the totality of the circumstances, the
court finds that Defendant's statements were made voluntarily and
not as the result of coercion or duress. The presence of counsel
during the initial meeting and Defendant's consistent position
that he wanted to cooperate show that Defendant's statements were
voluntary. Trooper Mearkle's statements that Defendant's
cooperation would be helpful do not alter this finding.
Again, the presence of counsel is a significant factor in the
court's decision. "With a lawyer present the likelihood that the
police will practice coercion is reduced. . . ." Miranda, 384 U.S. at 470. Defendant's
attorney was present during the initial meeting in the FBI
conference room and, as noted previously, the police allowed
Defendant and Mr. Krevsky to confer privately. Both Mr. Krevsky
and the Defendant subsequently told the police that Defendant
wished to cooperate. Defendant's later statements, following the
search at his residence, are consistent with this willingness to
cooperate. Thus, the court finds that the statements made before
and after the search were voluntary.
Trooper Mearkle's promises of leniency do not constitute
coercion or duress. The statement that Defendant's cooperation
would "help diminish [Defendant's] criminal liability," taken
alone, fails to establish that Defendant's statements were not
voluntary. See Miller v. Fenton, 796 F.2d 598, 605 (3d Cir.
1986) (describing situations where confessions were found to be
voluntary even though interrogators indicated that honesty would
be helpful for a suspect hoping for leniency from the state and
"that [a suspect] could help himself by cooperating"). The court
does not find Trooper Mearkle's statement to be manipulative or
coercive. Moreover, when considered with all of the
circumstances, the court finds that nothing prevented Defendant
from making "an unconstrained autonomous decision" to make the
statements. Walton, 10 F.3d at 1030.
Accordingly, because the court finds that Defendant made the
February 25, 2005 statements voluntarily and in a non-custodial
setting, the court will deny Defendant's Motion to Suppress
III. Conclusion In accordance with the foregoing discussion, the court will
deny Defendant's Motions to Suppress Evidence and Motion to
Suppress Statements. An appropriate order will issue. ORDER
In accordance with the accompanying memorandum of law, IT IS
HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
1) Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence (Doc. 26) is
2) Defendant's Motion to Suppress Statements (Doc. 28) is
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