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United States v. Woodson

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 4, 2017



          Mark R. Hornak United States District Judge.

         Defendant Michael David Woodson is charged with making a false statement in the purchase of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6), sale of a firearm to a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(1), and making a false statement to the government in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2). Woodson filed a Motion to Suppress Testimonial Evidence, ECF No. 56, in which he moved to suppress oral statements he made to two Pittsburgh Police officers, Detective Joseph L. Bielevicz and Officer Brett Novak (collectively, the "Officers"), on May 20, 2014-statements Woodson anticipates the United States will offer as evidence against him at trial. Woodson also filed a Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence, ECF No. 57, a Motion for a Pretrial Hearing on the Admissibility of Co-Conspirators' Statements, ECF No. 49, and a Motion to Compel Disclosure of Plea Bargains, Preferential Treatment, and Promises to Government Witnesses, ECF No. 42. The Court held a suppression hearing on October 14, 2016.

         Woodson's Motions will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         At the suppression hearing, the Court heard testimony from Detective Bielevicz, Officer Novak, and Defendant Woodson. Notwithstanding the attacks each side launched on the credibility of the other side's witnesses, what we know from the uncontradicted, material testimony follows.

         During the course of their investigation into Woodson and certain firearms, the Officers called Woodson's grandmother looking for him, and, since he was not at home, they left their phone number. Woodson called back and voluntarily agreed to meet with the Officers, believing the purpose of the meeting was for the Officers to return certain of Woodson's firearms to him. The Officers let Woodson choose the location of the meeting. The location Woodson chose was an open, public area with which he was well familiar: a park bench on a sidewalk on a public street outside of the Rankin, PA police station, just a few hundred yards from the apartment where his girlfriend lived with their new baby.

         During the meeting, Detective Bielevicz and Woodson sat on the park bench, while Officer Novak stood near the car. The Officers inquired about a pistol registered in Woodson's name. Woodson responded that he kept the pistol at the apartment. The Officers asked Woodson to show them the pistol, and Woodson agreed to take the Officers to the apartment to show it to them. The Officers were not familiar with the neighborhood, so Woodson led them to the apartment on foot. He then invited them inside. Once there, the questioning continued, and Woodson honored the Officers' request to show them the pistol. The questioning ended when Woodson, in his words, decided to "shut down" and "stop[] talking." ECF No. 84 at 84-5.


         A. Woodson's Motion to Suppress Testimonial Statements

         The heart of Woodson's argument is that he gave statements during the course of a custodial interrogation, that the Officers gave him no Miranda warnings, and/or that the statements were otherwise involuntary. Miranda warnings are required when an individual is subject to a custodial interrogation. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 477-79, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). In other words, a defendant's Miranda rights attach to statements made while "in custody" and under "interrogation." Illinois v. Perkins, 496 U.S. 292, 297, 110 S.Ct. 2394, 2397, 110 L.Ed.2d 243 (1990). "A person is in custody when he either is arrested formally or his freedom of movement is restricted to 'the degree associated with a formal arrest.'" United States v. Willaman, 437 F.3d 354, 359 (3d Cir. 2006). "Not all restraints on freedom of movement amount to custody for purposes of Miranda." Howes v. Fields, ___U.S.___, 132 S.Ct. 1181, 1189, 182 L.Ed.2d 17 (2012). A court must ask "the additional question whether the relevant environment presents the same inherently coercive pressures as the type of station house questioning at issue in Miranda" Id. at 1190.

         At a suppression hearing, the court, as the finder of fact, determines the credibility of witnesses and may accept or reject any or all of a witness' testimony. United States v. Howard, 787 F.Supp.2d 330, 331-32 (D.N.J. 2011). The court judges credibility by considering a number of factors, including the witness' demeanor and manner on the stand, his ability to accurately recollect the matters at hand, the manner in which he may be affected by the outcome, the extent to which his testimony is either supported or contradicted by other evidence and testimony in the case, and whether his testimony withstands the "common sense test of reason and logic." Id; see also United States v. Murphy, 402 F.Supp.2d 561, 569 (W.D. Pa. 2005). A witness should not be found more or less credible simply because he is a law enforcement officer. 787 F.Supp.2d at 332.

         In this case, after a review of the record, including all of counsels' filings, and after hearing testimony from Detective Bielevicz, Officer Novak, and Woodson, the Court concludes that none of Woodson's interactions with the Officers on May 20, 2014 constituted custodial interrogations that trigger Woodson's rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966).

         At no time was Woodson placed under arrest or physically restrained in any way, and at no time was Woodson threatened by the Officers in any way. Although Woodson testified that, based on his life experience, one could not refuse to talk with the police, he also testified that he did just that: he voluntarily "shut down" the conversation with no repercussions by telling the Officers "I don't know" and "I'll see about it." ECF No. 84 at 84-5. When asked what he meant by "shut down, " Woodson explained that he "stopped talking." ECF No. 84 at 84-5. Moreover, the Officers' questioning of Woodson occurred in two places that Woodson himself selected: a public, open-air setting on a park bench outside of a police station; and the apartment a few hundred yards away where Woodson led the Officers after agreeing to show them his pistol.

         In sum, there is nothing in the record from which the Court could properly conclude that the Officers placed Woodson in custody physically or psychologically. There is nothing in the record from which the Court could conclude that Woodson's will was overcome by the Officers' questioning or any environmental factor surrounding that questioning, whether viewed through the lens of this Defendant or through the lens of any reasonable defendant. Simply put, under either a subjective or an objective test, Woodson was not in custody at all on the day in question, nor is there any basis in the record to conclude that Woodson's ...

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