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United States of America v. Terrell Hampton


February 8, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dalzell, J.


We here address the question of whether silence says anything, particularly in a federal criminal prosecution. Almost five hundred years ago, Sir Thomas More sought to use silence as a shield, wrapping himself in the maxim "silence gives consent"*fn1 when all of England knew he meant no such thing about Henry VIII's Acts of Succession and Supremacy.*fn2

At a far less exalted plane, the Government here sought to make Terrell Hampton's silence a sword against him. As this is a subject that has received relatively little judicial attention, we turn ours to it at some length.

Specifically, the Superseding Indictment in this case charges Hampton with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). At defendant's first trial the jury could not reach a verdict and, finding manifest necessity, we declared a mistrial.

Before the second trial began, the Government filed a motion in limine to admit evidence of defendant's choice not to answer certain questions during his custodial interview. The interrogating Secret Service agents posed these (unanswered) questions to Hampton after he had explicitly waived his Miranda rights and uttered only one responsive statement during the course of the interrogation. After receiving defendant's response opposing the Government's motion, we ordered the parties to familiarize themselves with four cases and several issues that their memoranda had not addressed. In response to our Order, the Government filed a memorandum in further support of its motion. Counsel then convened in Chambers on the morning of the first day of trial to discuss the pending motion in limine.

After a brief colloquy, we denied the Government's motion in limine under Fed. R. Evid. 403 explaining that a memorandum would follow to fully explain our reasoning.

I. Factual Background

On May 12, 2011, Secret Service agents conducted a warranted search of a house on Delancey Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ("the House"). Hampton was inside the House at the time of the search, but the Government alleged -- and it has never been disputed -- that this House was not his primary residence. The Government contended that when the agents entered the House to conduct their search that day, they saw Hampton on the stairs. When the agents searched the dwelling -- and, more specifically, the upstairs middle bedroom -- they recovered, from under the mattress in that room, the semi-automatic firearm charged in the Superseding Indictment.

In connection with the investigation that led to the search warrant's execution, agents obtained a photograph of Hampton from his Facebook page ("Facebook photograph" or "photograph"). That photograph allegedly shows Hampton with an object in his belt that the Government contends in the Superseding Indictment is the same firearm recovered on the day of the search.

Hampton was arrested at the House. After being taken to the Secret Service's offices in Center City, Philadelphia, Hampton signed a waiver of his Miranda rights. The subsequent interrogation took place in two parts. The first portion focused on the felon-in-possession offense before us. Once that part of the interview concluded, another Secret Service agent questioned Hampton about an alleged house-theft scheme that gave rise to the search of the House, but is unrelated to this felon-in-possession case.

During the course of the first part of the interview --the only portion of the interrogation relevant to this trial --Hampton was asked about the gun recovered at the House. He did not answer such questions. The agents then confronted Hampton with the Facebook photograph that showed him with an object in his belt that the Government asserts is a firearm -- indeed, the same firearm recovered from the House. When asked about the object in the Facebook photograph, Hampton again remained silent. But when the agents asked him a more general question about the photograph, Hampton admitted it was he in the photograph.

The Government's motion in limine sought to elicit testimony in its case-in-chief that was expected to be the same, or similar to, an agent's testimony from the first trial.*fn3 In particular, the Government sought admission of "evidence that, having waived his Miranda rights, the defendant failed to respond to questions put to him about (i) the gun found during the search of the Delancey Street House and (ii) the gun pictured in the Facebook Photograph." Mot. 1. The Government also sought leave "to comment on that failure in [its] closing argument[,]" Mot. 2, but this "comment would not be addressed to the defendant's silence, but rather to the inconsistency in the statement he knowingly and voluntarily chose to make." Mem. 13.

The Government's motion was doubtless prompted by defense counsel's objection to the Government's references to the supposed significance of those silences in closing arguments at the first trial. As we shared the defense's concerns under the recent teaching of our Court of Appeals in United States v. Waller, 654 F.3d 430 (3d Cir. 2011), we sustained the objection and instructed the jury to disregard the offending references.

II. Analysis

A. The Evidence At Issue Is An Adoptive Admission

Though the Government described the evidence at issue in its motion as a "fail[ure] to respond to questions"*fn4 , Mot. 1, offered for the purpose of highlighting an "inconsistency in the statement he knowingly and voluntarily chose to make[,]" such a description will not withstand scrutiny. Mem. 13. As to Hampton's silence in response to questions about the gun in the Facebook photo, the Government specifically sought to admit silence evidence to counter Hampton's argument "that the gun shown in the Facebook Photo might well be a toy or a replica of a firearm." Id. The Government contended that "[i]f that were the case, one would have expected Hampton to inform the agents of that fact when they questioned him [after he waived his Miranda rights]. The fact that he did not do so is entirely inconsistent with his current claim." Id.

When the parties appeared in Chambers to discuss the motion in limine before the second trial commenced, we initiated the following exchange:

THE COURT: What I'm trying to zero in on is what exactly is the probative value of the silence in this context.

* * * [THE GOVERNMENT]: One of the issues that is in the case through examination and cross-examination, argument, is the replica/toy issue. Was the gun in the photo truly a gun or was it, in fact, a replica or a toy. And the defendant doesn't need to take the stand in order for that issue to be a part of the case. It's, as the Court knows, integral to the case.

THE COURT: Correct, because the Government's burden is that it's a firearm. [THE GOVERNMENT]: Correct. And one of the arguments that counsel made through cross-examination and through argument in the last trial and I think it is -- I think it's, as the Court recognizes, a necessary part of this case is whether the gun in the photo --THE COURT: Is a firearm. [THE GOVERNMENT]: Is a firearm.

THE COURT: And that's an issue for the jury to decide. [THE GOVERNMENT]: Correct. And it seems to me that in the circumstances of this case, given the defendant's waiver of his Miranda rights followed by presentation of the picture with which the Court is familiar and his -- and his being directed to the gun in the picture and simply not answering, that is inconsistent with the argument that it was a toy because as --

THE COURT: But it's the argument that it's a toy. It's not that the defendant made a statement that it was a toy, because there was no statement of any kind. [THE GOVERNMENT]: Correct. At trial.

THE COURT: Because that's a defense that [defense counsel] raised, quite properly, to the Government's burden[ to prove) the elements of the case. But the defendant never said, oh, that's a toy or words cognate to that. Would you agree with that? [THE GOVERNMENT]: I'm shaking my head up and down, yes. I do agree with you. 2-1-12 Draft Tr. 4-5.

Thus, put another way, the Government sought admission of Hampton's silence because it contended a reasonable jury could and should be allowed to infer an inconsistency from defendant's post-arrest, post-Miranda silence as compared against his trial counsel's argument that the Government had not met its burden of proof on an essential element of the offense.

We cannot agree that the two things the Government compared are inconsistent. The cases that the Government cited in support of its "inconsistency" theory arose in contexts where Miranda-waiving defendants were not silent after waiving their Miranda rights, but took the stand in their own defense at trial or otherwise offered exculpatory stories against which the silence could be compared.*fn5 Thus, there were two possible stories for the jury to compare in those cases. Here, Hampton's silence was not being offered to rebut or impeach any testimony he gave at trial, since he gave none at both trials. Indeed, our Circuit's Model Jury Instructions are at pains to explain that the arguments of lawyers are not evidence, and therefore cannot be subject to evidentiary impeachment. Third Circuit Model Criminal Instructions 1.08 (Nov. 2011) ("The following are not evidence: . . . [s]tatements and arguments of the lawyers for the parties in this case[.]"). Thus, the Government sought to compare apples with oranges, and the inconsistency argument necessarily fails. See United States v. Johnson, 302 F.3d 139, 146 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002) ("[B]ecause [defendant] had not yet testified -- and thus had not testified to an exculpatory version of events and claimed to have told the police the same version upon arrest -- the prosecutor's question was not a permissible use of a defendant's post-arrest silence to challenge his testimony as to his behavior following arrest." (internal quotation marks and alterations in original omitted)).

In reality, the Government's argument distills to the claim that defendant's silence was an "adoptive admission."*fn6

This would be so because Hampton, in his silence, neither confirmed nor denied "know[ing] anything about the gun that was found in the morning during the search warrants[,]" 12-1-11 Tr. 191, or having "any knowledge of that [item that appears to be a gun in his waistband of the Facebook photograph,]" Id. 192.*fn7

The Government's contention that "one would have expected Hampton to inform the agents of [the fact that the photo might depict a toy or replica firearm] when they questioned him[,]" Mem. 13, thus amounts to an adoptive admission theory. The Government's argument may be recast in "adoptive admission" terms as follows: if defendant had been innocent of possessing a firearm at the House or in the Facebook photograph, then when the agents questioned him about those two things it would have been reasonable to expect him to disclaim any knowledge of the firearm, or object alleged to be a firearm, and thus exculpate himself.*fn8

B. Adoptive Admission Evidence Does Not Categorically Implicate Constitutional Concerns

Now that we have identified the type of evidence the Government sought to admit and reference in closing argument, we consider Hampton's contentions that the admission of these adoptive admissions would: (1) use his silence against him under the due process rationale in Doyle and its progeny, (2) violate his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, and (3) shift the burden of proof by implying defendant had the opportunity to explain himself but failed, thus violating due process.*fn9

But these arguments do not persuade. First, Hampton's "selective silence" may*fn10 be admissible since a reasonable jury could find on the facts here that he waived his Miranda rights, did not remain silent, and did not unequivocally re-invoke his right to remain silent. Thus, he shed his prophylactic right to remain silent during the custodial interrogation, making both his statements and silence fair game for admission without raising a constitutional concern.*fn11

Second, despite Hampton's contention that his privilege against self-incrimination would be violated, a reasonably jury could, as already noted, have found that he waived and did not re-invoke his Miranda rights. In other words, Hampton negated or waived any privilege against a self-incrimination argument that might otherwise have arisen at trial because of an alleged coercive custodial interrogation.*fn12 See Berghuis v. Thompkins, 130 S. Ct. 2250, 2260 (2010), ("[Defendant] did not say that he wanted to remain silent or that he did not want to talk with the police. . . . [Thus, he did not] invoke[] his right to cut off questioning. . . . [nor] did [he] invoke his right to remain silent.") (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)); United States v. Teleguz, 492 F.3d 80, 88 (1st Cir. 2007) ("A defendant's choice, after signing a Miranda waiver, to selectively answer questions, is not in itself an unequivocal assertion of his right to remain silent.").

Third, though Hampton's due process burden-shifting argument has first blush appeal, it will not withstand careful scrutiny.*fn13 A defendant bears no burden in the context of the adoptive admission inquiry. Instead, the Government, as the proponent of the adoptive admission, carries the evidentiary burden of convincing the Court "whether the statement was such that, under the circumstances, an innocent defendant would normally be induced to respond, and whether there are sufficient foundational facts from which the jury could infer that the defendant heard, understood, and acquiesced in the statement." United States v. Jinadu, 98 F.3d 239, 244 (6th Cir. 1999); see United States v. Ward, 377 F.3d 671, 675 (7th Cir. 2004); Vazquez v. Lopez-Rosario, 134 F.3d 28, 35 (1st Cir. 1998) (reasoning that proponent must "convince the [district court] that in the circumstances of the case a failure to respond is so unnatural that it supports the inference that the party acquiesced in the statement[]" (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks omitted)); United States v. Monks, 774 F.2d 945, 950 (9th Cir. 1985). In fact, our Circuit's Model Instructions recommend a jury instruction for this purpose that tracks this very language.*fn14 If this instruction had been given, it would have likely been accompanied by a general instruction on the presumption of innocence and burden of proof. Third Circuit Model Criminal Jury Instructions 1.13.

At most, our Circuit's Model Instruction allows the jury to reach a permissive inference (not a presumption) that defendant acquiesced to these statements of fact. See Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 515-17 (1979). This permissive inference of an adoptive admission is in accord with Hampton's constitutional due process trial rights because it does not (1) conflict with the presumption of innocence, nor (2) alter the Government's burden of production on each essential element of the offense. The factfinding function of the jury is preserved because the jury is obliged to consider whether [defendant]'s silence was an admission of the truth of the statement[,] and thus a far cry from a conclusive presumption against defendant. See id. at 523. Furthermore, inviting the jury to entertain the question of whether an adoptive admission arose does not impermissibly shift the burden to the defendant because, as the language we have canvassed shows, the defendant is never called upon to adduce or refute any facts. The onus is thus on the Government alone to establish an adoptive admission.

Rather to the point here, no part of the Instruction suggests defendant had a duty to speak -- the language merely requires the jury to consider whether the circumstances were such that an innocent defendant would be expected to deny, object to, or contradict the statement offered as an adoptive admission. Third Circuit Model Criminal Jury Instructions 4.34. The defense can hold the Government to its burden without incurring any additional duties by asserting the defense (as it does here) that the Government has failed to carry its burden of proving the existence of an adoptive admission -- which is also an essential step here. See In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970) (due process "protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged"); see generally Paul H. Robinson, et al., 1 Criminal Law Defenses § 33 (current through June 2007).

C. The Alleged Adoptive Admission Here Is Inadmissible Under Rule 403 This brings us at last to our core inquiry: did the

Government carry its burden of proof on the adoptive admission it sought to enter into evidence? Has the Government here convinced us that a reasonable jury could infer that "sufficient foundational facts [have been alleged] . . . that the defendant heard, understood, and acquiesced in the statement[ offered as an adoptive admission,]" and "whether the statement was such that, under the circumstances, an innocent defendant would normally be induced to respond"? Jinadu, 98 F.3d at 244.

Since the agents' interrogation of Hampton took place in a small room and involved, at most, four individuals (including the defendant), a reasonable jury could indeed reasonably infer that Hampton heard and understood the questions that he left unanswered about the firearm recovered at the House and the object alleged to be a firearm in the photograph.

But it is far less clear if a jury could reasonably infer anything from Hampton's silence in the face of the unanswered statements. This inquiry distills to a determination of the probative value of Hampton's silence.*fn15 We find Judge Hastie's commentary in United States v. Brierly, 387 F.2d 597, 600 (3d Cir. 1967), on the adoptive admission's historical predicate -- the "tacit admission rule" -- persuasive.*fn16 He wrote that:

We begin with the relevant, though not necessarily decisive observation, that one's normal response to hearing derogatory statements about himself is substantially inhibited by the very fact that he is under arrest on a criminal charge and is being questioned by police officers in an obvious effort to substantiate that charge. On such an occasion a prisoner is likely to be wary and cautious. The circumstances simply are not such as to evoke a spontaneous response to an accusatory statement. Yet, the sole justification for the tacit admission doctrine is the psychological premise that, normally, an innocent person confronted with a charge of wrongdoing will be strongly impelled to utter a spontaneous denial.

Thus, it is difficult at best to justify the application of the tacit admission concept to a prisoner's response when confronted by the police with a statement accusing him of complicity [or a photograph more or less doing the same] in the very crime for which he has been arrested.

Id. (emphasis added). Judge Hastie's reasoning holds true regardless of whether a defendant has or has not been Mirandized or waived his Miranda rights because the underlying circumstances remain that "a prisoner is likely to be wary and cautious. . . . [and] not such as to evoke a spontaneous response to an accusatory statement." Id. Judge Hastie's comment is congruent with Justice Marshall's reasoning for the Supreme Court in United States v. Hale, 422 U.S. 171 (1975),*fn17 observing that "silence during police interrogation lacked significant probative value[.]" Agee, 597 F.2d at 357 (quoting Hale, 422 U.S. at 177).

While, as Judge Hastie notes, it may be "difficult" in particular cases to justify the tacit admission rule, we are obliged to apply it here as an adoptive admission. During his interrogation, Hampton neither confirmed nor denied "know[ing] anything about the gun that was found in the morning during the search warrants[,]" 12-1-11 Tr. 191, or having "any knowledge of that [item in his waistband of the Facebook photograph that was pointed at by agents and alleged to be a gun by them.]" Id. 192.

His only articulated comment was his confirmation of his identity in a photograph that the agents had already procured from his Facebook page after sending him a "friend" request using an agency account.*fn18 To gauge the extent to which Hampton's selective silence is probative of his acquiescence, a comparison of our facts to those in United States v. Goldman, 563 F.2d 501 (1st Cir. 1977), and United States v. Agee, 597 F.2d 350 (3d Cir. 1979) (en banc) will be instructive. We find under our facts and in light of these cases that the Government's proffer of the adoptive admissions barely satisfies the acquiescence prong of the analysis. Put another way, Hampton's silence is only marginally probative of his acquiescence to these statements.

Goldman and Agee found adequate probative value of silence in light of Hale's silence-skeptical evidentiary rule. In Goldman, the First Circuit held that "[w]hat [defendant] said [during the "exculpatory story" delivered during his interrogation following the waiver of his Miranda rights] provided a context that enhanced the probative value of his silent response to a particular question." Goldman, 563 F.2d at 503-04. Our Court of Appeals in Agee, 597 F.2d at 356, twice made the point that defendant "simply did not remain silent regarding the facts of the crime with which he was charged" and was not "silent regarding the facts of the incident." Consequently, in considering Hale's application to the facts, Agee held that defendant's later statements "regarding what he chose to do and say when he approached the police officers provided a context which emphasized the probative value of what he chose not to say to the police." Id. at 357.

To be sure, Hale is not directly applicable to the facts here since it involved the introduction of defendant's silence for impeachment purposes following his invocation of his right to remain silent. We nevertheless take the silence-skeptical statements in Hale, Goldman and Agee to counsel hesitation regarding any probative value of Hampton's selective silence. Considering Hampton's silence in the context of his one and only statement to the agents, his failure to answer any questions about the firearm recovered at the House is of little probative value to a claim of acquiescence since the firearm at the heart of the questioning -- and of this prosecution -- was not recovered from Hampton's person but from under a bed in a house that was not his primary residence. Thus, in the setting of Hampton's interrogation -- such as it was -- it is likely that Hampton may have had no idea that the firearm was in the residence. Thus, an adverse inference would be too speculative to pass Rule 403 muster.

To be sure, Hampton's voluntary identification of himself in the photograph provides some probative value for the claim that he adopted the contention that the object in the photograph was a firearm. His failure to answer questions about the object alleged to be a firearm could reasonably be construed as disingenuous since he would have had first-hand knowledge of what was in his belt on his waist. But the probative heft of this silence is offset since Hampton never offered an exculpatory story during his interrogation or at trial from which any inconsistency or ulterior motive could be inferred. In addition, Hampton's sole statement pertinent to the felon in possession charge did not address facts relevant to the essential elements of the felon-in-possession case -- namely the possession of the recovered firearm or the particulars of the gun within the statutory meaning of a firearm.

It also warrants reiteration to note that Hampton's silence about the felon-in-possession case under questioning here occurred during a custodial interrogation. It was precisely such a circumstance that both Justice Marshall and Judge Hastie reasoned would lead an accused "to be wary and cautious" with his answers and would likely minimize the potential for a spontaneous response to an accusatory statement given the inherent power imbalance between the accused and the accuser. See Hale, 422 U.S. at 176-77; Brierly, 387 F.2d at 600.

Given the radical power imbalance in play during a custodial interview, it is also unclear whether an innocent defendant would normally be induced to speak up or remain "wary and cautious." This is why the jurisprudence in this area understandably avoids categorical rules and instead approaches those questions with a hefty skepticism toward the Government.

Thus, even if the Government's proffer of the adoptive admissions satisfied its own threshold test for admissibility, it does not necessarily follow that it survives a Rule 403 balancing.*fn19 See United States v. Musquiz, 45 F.3d 927, 930-31 (5th Cir. 1995) (applying a probative value versus prejudice balancing to defendant's argument). As noted earlier, the "acquiescence" and probative value inquiries are largely the same, and we have already concluded that, on the whole, the probative value of defendant's silence here is minuscule.

Drawing again on the teachings of Hale and Brierly, we note that silence has great potential for unfair prejudice because the jury -- untutored in Justice Marshall's and Judge Hastie's healthy skepticism -- is likely to draw a strong negative inference from a defendant's failure to immediately tell the police what happened. Johnson, 302 F.3d at 146 (quoting Hale, 422 U.S. at 180). This potential for unfair prejudice is especially grave here because Hampton never provided a contradictory statement -- or, indeed, any exculpatory statement -- regarding evidence pertinent to his felon in possession case. As a result, Hampton's "story," in a sense, has been consistent over the course of this litigation because he never advanced one. He has left it to the Government to carry its burden of proving its case against him with the evidence that it collected from the House and through its online investigation.*fn20

Though we tell jurors that they are to follow our instructions and accept with no adverse inference defendant's right not to testify at trial, we are nevertheless concerned that allowing the Government to introduce evidence and comment on defendant's silence without anything to measure that silence against invites a degree of confusion in the minds of the jurors that an instruction is unlikely to remedy. See Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 135-36 (1968) ("[T]here are some contexts in which the risk that the jury will not, or cannot, follow instructions is so great, and the consequences of failure so vital to the defendant, that the practical and human limitations of the jury system cannot be ignored."). Here, the implications of defendant's minimally probative silence would have been powerfully incriminating because of its alluring logical appeal to ordinary, innocent people -- i.e., jurors -- who naturally would be unaware of the reality of custodial wariness and caution that Hale and Brierly identify.

In the end, we heed the warnings of Justice Marshall and Judge Hastie and hold that the danger of unfair prejudice to Hampton substantially outweighed the de minimis probative value of his silence to establish acquiescence. We therefore denied

the Government's motion to admit and comment on evidence of Hampton's silence in its case-in-chief and in closing argument.


Stewart Dalzell

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