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United States v. Valenta

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 17, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JEFFREY JOHN VALENTA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOY FLOWERS CONTI CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the court is a motion to suppress evidence and statements (ECF No. 40) filed by defendant Jeffrey John Valenta (“defendant” or “Valenta”) in the above-captioned case. On July 21, 2015, a federal grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania returned a two-count indictment charging defendant with receipt of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2) and possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(B). (ECF No. 1.) On December 5, 2016, defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence (ECF No. 40) and a motion in limine to compel the government to provide defendant with a statement of uncharged misconduct evidence. (ECF No. 41). The court held a hearing on defendant's pretrial motions on February 10, 2017. (ECF No. 55.)

         During the hearing, the court denied as moot defendant's motion in limine to compel the government to provide defendant with a statement of uncharged misconduct evidence given the government's statement that it will provide this evidence at least two weeks prior to trial. (Id.) The court granted defendant's motion for an evidentiary hearing on defendant's motion to suppress. (Id.) The court granted this motion in order to address, among other things, the voluntariness of defendant's statements and issues with respect to the search warrant executed at defendant's home on January 6, 2011.[1] (ECF No. 66 at 4.) The only witness the court heard testimony from with respect to defendant's motion to suppress was Detective Robert Erdely (“Detective Erdely”). (Id.) The parties filed proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on the two grounds raised in the motion to suppress: (1) alleged violations of the Miranda requirements; and (2) the voluntariness of defendant's confessions. Defendant filed his proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on March 24, 2017. (ECF No. 62.) The government filed its proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on April 7, 2017. (ECF No. 65). Upon consideration of parties' submissions and the evidence and testimony presented at the suppression hearing, the court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

         I. Findings of Fact

         1. Detective Erdely and Corporal Roche (collectively, the “officers”) executed a search warrant at defendant's residence on January 6, 2011. (ECF No. 66 at 19.)

         2. The officers were in plain clothes, had concealed weapons, and were in an unmarked car. (Id.)

         3. Upon arrival at defendant's residence, Detective Erdely's preference was to speak with defendant without showing him the search warrant. (Id. at 49.) It was Detective Erdely's intention to ask for defendant's consent to search the premises. (Id. at 50.)

         4. Defendant invited the officers into the residence. (Id.)

         5. Defendant asked to go upstairs, at which point officers executed the search warrant, because the officers were aware that defendant had a registered handgun and felt that allowing defendant to go upstairs would put them at risk. (Id. at 50, 64-65.)

         6. After the officers disclosed the existence of the search warrant, Corporal Roche began to search the premises while Detective Erdely questioned defendant. (Id. at 21.) The majority of the interview was conducted by Detective Erdely, while Corporal Roche conducted a search of the residence. (Id. at 52.)

         7. Detective Erdely began questioning defendant in defendant's dining room. (Id. at 50.) After approximately twelve minutes, Detective Erdely expressed concern about defendant's eleven-year-old daughter hearing the conversation given the sensitive nature of the interview. (Id. at 66-67; Ex. F at 12:00.) Defendant agreed to move the conversation to a room in the upstairs portion of the house in order to be further away from his daughter. (Id.; ECF No. 66 at 56.)

         8. Throughout the interview defendant's daughter remained in the house. (Id. at 21.) Defendant's daughter was in a separate room from defendant throughout the interview. (Id.) Neither Detective Erdely nor Corporal Roach actively curtailed the movement of defendant's daughter during the interview. (Id. at 67.)

         9. Near the onset of the questioning, Detective Erdely asked defendant's permission to record the conversation. (Id. at 53.) At that time, defendant asked whether he needed an attorney. (Id.) Detective Erdely told defendant that he was welcome to talk to an attorney or to listen to the detective first. (Id.; Ex. F at 2:50). Defendant agreed to talk with Detective Erdely. (ECF No. 66 at 53). While this interchange took place prior to the start of the recording, Detective Erdely reviewed this part of the conversation once the recording began. At that time he stated:

ERDELY: You said you're starting to think that maybe I need to talk to an attorney. I said, you're more than welcome to, but you can also listen to what I have to say and make a decision for yourself and you agreed.
VALENTA: Yes

(Ex. F at 2:40)

         10. Early in the conversation, Detective Erdely told defendant “you're not under arrest, you're free to leave, this is a fact-finding mission . . . sometimes people feel they're not free to leave because the police are here.” (Ex. F at 1:20.)

         11. Detective Erdely also told defendant “at any moment in time if you want to leave or if you do want to use your phone then you're certainly welcome to do that.” (Id. at 2:35.)

         12. Detective Erdely explained that defendant could not roam the house freely because the detectives were concerned about the preservation of evidence and officer safety, given that defendant had a gun in the home. (Id. at 2:20; ECF No. 66 at 55, 66.)

         13. During the interview the detective's tone was conversational. (Id. at 51-52.)

         14. Neither officer drew his weapon or placed defendant in handcuffs. (Id. at 52.)

         15. Defendant cooperated with the officers and did not appear to be afraid during the course ...


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