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United States v. Santiago-Muniz

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 20, 2018



          Ropert D. Mariani United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Defendant, Omar Santiago-Muniz, is charged with sexual exploitation and attempted sexual exploitation of a child, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2251(a) and (e), enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity for which any person could be charged with a crime, 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b), and the transfer of obscene material to minors, 18 U.S.C. § 1470. (Doc. 1). Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress Statements. (Doc. 34). Through this Motion, Defendant seeks to suppress statements he made to Pennsylvania State Troopers on July 21, 2017, on the basis that the statements were obtained in violation of Defendant's Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on June 28, 2018. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Defendant's Motion.

         II. Finding of Facts

         At approximately 10:30 a.m. on July 21, 2017, Pennsylvania State Police executed a search warrant on Defendant's second floor apartment in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. (June 28, 2018, Hr'g Tr., Doc. 46 at 4-6, 29). At that time, Defendant was in the apartment with his girlfriend, Jennifer Quach, and her brother, Stephen Quach. (Id. at 6). After the Troopers knocked on the front door and announced their presence, either Defendant or Ms. Quach answered the door. (Id. at 31). Six or seven Troopers then entered the apartment, at least some of whom had their guns drawn. (Id. at 5, 7, 32-33, 59, 64). The three individuals in the house were frisked. (Id. at 33). After the Troopers were satisfied that the apartment was secure, they holstered their weapons. (Id. at 7, 65).

         Trooper Anthony Reppert then approached Defendant, Ms. Quach, and Mr. Quach, who were seated on the living room sofa. (Id. at 7). After obtaining some basic biographical data from the three and informing them that the Troopers were conducting a computer-related investigation into crime committed over the internet, Trooper Reppert asked if Defendant would be willing to speak with the Trooper at the dining room table. (Id. at 8, 11). Defendant agreed and walked over to the dining room table with Trooper Reppert and Corporal Michael Fegley. (Id. at 8). The dining room was adjacent to the living room and Defendant sat down in a seat that had a view of the living room. (Id. at 9-10, 34-35). Trooper Reppert told Defendant that he was not under arrest, that he was free to leave, and that he was not required to speak to the Troopers. (Id. at 9, 39, 56, 66). Defendant agreed to answer questions and assist in the investigation. (Id. at 9-10). Defendant was not advised of his Miranda rights. (Id. at 39).

         Trooper Reppert began asking Defendant some questions while four other Troopers searched the apartment. (Id. at 9). Trooper Reppert described the tone of the questioning as calm, respectful, and serious. (Id. at 10, 17). Similarly, Sergeant John O'Neill described the tone as non-hostile and Corporal Fegley stated that the questioning was serious, calm, and direct. (Id. at 55, 68). During the course of the questioning, no one shouted or screamed at Defendant, no one told Defendant he could not leave, and no one handcuffed or physically restrained Defendant in any way. (Id. at 10, 13, 20, 55, 68-69). Up until the end of the interview, Defendant never asked to stop answering questions. (Id. at 15, 20, 57). Defendant took two different breaks, once to use the bathroom and once for water. (Id. at 13). During the first break, a Trooper escorted Defendant to the bathroom and remained outside the partially open door. (Id. at 14, 43-44).

         When the questioning started, Ms. Quach and Mr. Quach remained seated in the living room. (Id. at 14). Sometime within the first hour after the Troopers arrived, Ms. Quach asked if she and her brother could leave the apartment and were told they were free to do so. (Id. at 15, 42, 66-67). They then went outside.[1] (Id. at 15, 66-67). At some point Defendant's father, Luis Santiago, arrived at the house, brought groceries into the kitchen, put them away, and was then told he could leave or step out onto the balcony. (Id. at 16-17, 45, 78, 80). He asked if he could speak with his son, but was told that he could not until the interview was over. (Id. at 78, 80, 82). Luis Santiago remained out on the balcony with a Trooper until the end of the questioning. (Id. at 17, 76).

         For the first hour and ten minutes of questioning, Defendant talked with Trooper Reppert and Corporal Fegley. (Id. at 10). Defendant denied using any Facebook accounts and offered some explanations of who might have used his internet account. (Id. at 11-12, 20). Sergeant O'Neill then joined the interview after he received some information from the Kentucky State Police about an investigation they were conducting that implicated Defendant. (Id. at 15-16, 67-68). Sergeant O'Neil produced a picture of Defendant that the Kentucky State Police had provided and which had been sent to a minor in Kentucky. (Id. at 17, 49). Defendant then gradually began to admit using Facebook accounts, including the accounts that the Troopers believed were used to contact minors. (Id. at 18, 52). Defendant also admitted that he had online conversations with minors that were sexual in nature, (/of. at 52).

         Trooper Reppert eventually asked Defendant to write out a written statement concerning what they had talked about. (Id. at 19). Defendant then asked to see the search warrant and asked if the crime the Troopers were investigating was a felony. (Id.). After he was shown the front page of the warrant and told that the investigation involved a felony, Defendant stated that he did not want to fill out a written statement and that he wanted to talk with an attorney. (Id. at 19-20, 58). After that point, no more questions were asked and Defendant was placed under arrest. (Id. at 20, 40, 57). The entire period of questioning lasted approximately two hours and forty minutes. (Id. at 13).

         III. Discussion

         Defendant argues that the statements he made to the Pennsylvania State Troopers at his house on July 21, 2017, should be suppressed pursuant to the Fifth Amendment because the Troopers subjected Defendant to a custodial interrogation without first advising him of his Miranda rights and obtaining a waiver. The Government's position is that Defendant was not in police custody at the time of questioning and thus the Troopers were not required to advise Defendant of his Miranda rights.

         The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "[n]o person ... shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." U.S. Const. amend. V. "[T]he privilege against self-incrimination protects individuals not only from legal compulsion to testify in a criminal courtroom but also from 'informal compulsion exerted by law-enforcement officers during in-custody questioning.'" Pennsylvania v. Muniz, 496 U.S. 582, 589, 110 S.Ct. 2638, 110 L.Ed.2d 528 (1990) (quoting Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 461, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966)). In an effort to ensure these rights are protected, the United States Supreme Court has held that the Government "may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination." Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444. Commonly known as "Miranda rights" or "Miranda warnings," a defendant in police custody

must be warned prior to any questioning that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.

Id. at 479.

         Implicit in the above is that "police officers are not required to administer Miranda warnings to everyone whom they question." Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 495, 97 S.Ct. 711, 50 L.Ed.2d 714 (1977). Instead, "Miranda... requires warnings only when the person the police are questioning is in custody." United States v. Wiliaman, 437 F.3d 354, 359 (3d Cir. 2006). Stated otherwise, "[n]o Miranda warning is required absent a 'custodial interrogation.'" United States v. Savage, 677 F.Supp.2d 756, 763 (E.D. Pa. 2009); see also Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444. "Because the presence of both a custodial setting and official interrogation is required to trigger the Miranda right-to-counsel prophylactic, absent one or the other, Miranda is not implicated." Alston v. Redman, 34 F.3d 1237, 1244 (3d Cir. 1994) (emphasis in original).

         "[T]he term 'interrogation' under Miranda refers not only to express questioning, but also to any words or actions on the part of the police (other than those normally attendant to arrest and custody) that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect." Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 301, 100 S.Ct. 1682, 64 L.Ed.2d 297 (1980) (footnote omitted). Here, the parties do not dispute that the interview that took place between the State Troopers and Defendant satisfied the interrogation prong of the custodial interrogation analysis. Thus, the only question before the Court is whether Defendant was in custody when he was interrogated by the State Police.

         "As used in ... Miranda case law, 'custody' is a term of art that specifies circumstances that are thought generally to present a serious danger of coercion." Howes v. Fields, 565 U.S. 499, 508-09, 132 S.Ct. 1181, 182 L.Ed.2d 17 (2012). A person is in custody for purposes of Miranda when "there is a 'formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement' of the degree associated with a formal arrest." California v. Beheler, 463 U.S. 1121, 1125, 103 S.Ct. 3517, 77 L.Ed.2d 1275 (1983) (quoting Mathiason, 429 U.S. at 495); see also Willaman, 437 F.3d at 359. "Two discrete inquiries are essential to the determination: first, what were the circumstances surrounding the interrogation; and second, given those circumstances, would a reasonable person have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave." Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112, 116 S.Ct. 457, 133 L.Ed.2d 383 (1995) (footnote omitted). Further, "the initial determination of custody depends on the objective circumstances of the interrogation, not on the subjective views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the person being questioned." Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 323, 114 S.Ct. 1526, 128 L.Ed.2d 293 (1994).

         "[I]n 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 to allow the suspect to do so." Steigler v. Anderson,496 F.2d 793, 799 (3d Cir. 1974); see also Willaman, 437 F.3d at 359; United States v. Leese, 176 F.3d 740, 743 (3d Cir. 1999). Nevertheless, while the term "'custody' must not be read too broadly," it is ...

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