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United States v. Rought

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 2, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JAMES EUGENE ROUGHT Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          MALACHY E. MANNION UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Presently before the Court is the defendant James Eugene Rought's (“Rought”) motion to suppress (Doc. 36). Rought seeks to suppress statements that he made to law enforcement, arguing that they were obtained illegally after he invoked his right to counsel. Based on the following, Rought's motion to suppress (Doc. 36) will be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 16, 2018, Rought was indicted with one count of distribution and possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance that resulted in the serious bodily injury of Cara Giberson and the death of Dana Carichner. (Doc. 1). Rought pleaded not guilty to the indictment. (Doc. 11).

         On October 19, 2018, FBI Special Agent Whitehead and Task Force Officer Yelland interviewed Rought while he was in custody. At the beginning of the interrogation, Agent Whitehead read Rought his Miranda rights from a consent form, [1] and stated, “If you decide to answer questions now without a lawyer present, you have a right to stop answering questions at any time. Do you understand what I read to you?” (Doc. 44, Ex. A, at 2:39). Rought replied affirmatively and, after allowing Rought to review the consent form, Agent Whitehead asked, “Are you willing to talk to us now?” (Id., at 2:58). Rought responded, “I mean, to a point, yeah, ” and signed the consent form. (Id., at 3:00).

         After approximately 24 minutes of questioning, Rought discussed his relapse after a period of sobriety, stating that everyone around him was “getting high” including Mr. Carichner. (Id., at 23:57). Agent Whitehead asked Rought to talk about what happened to Mr. Carichner. Rought responded, “I mean, I don't really want to talk about that aspect of it without my lawyer because, like, that's a serious situation. I mean, they're trying to roof me . . . .” (Id., at 24:13). Agent Whitehead replied, “We get that . . . those are the ground rules. . . . That's your right, and we respect that, ” (Id., at 24:26), and immediately moved onto questioning Rought about a drug dealer named “L.B.” and “who's above you.” (Id., at 24:38). Agent Whitehead stated, “You mentioned before [that] Stan overdosed, right?”[2] and Rought discussed various acquaintances of his that had recently died from drug overdoses. (Id., 25:04). Agent Whitehead then stated,

I'm not judging you. It's not my job to judge you. We're just trying to make sense of it and we're just trying to put the pieces together, and we're trying to follow . . . the logical chain as going up . . . the ladder, if you will. Right? That's why I want to talk about this L.B. I want to talk about who[m]ever else there is, too. That's why I asked you earlier on, too, “Is L.B. somebody that you might want to protect?” because, if you do, then . . . that tells me that we probably shouldn't talk about him.

(Id., at 27:13).

         Rought indicated he did not mind discussing L.B. and stated, “[Drug dealers] are killing my friends just as much as, right now, you're trying to say that I killed my friend.” (Id., at 27:44). Agent Whitehead replied, “Well, we're not saying you killed him, um, James, but what we're saying is that, um, that you had, you had a role.” (Id., at 27:50). Rought subsequently went on to discuss the circumstances around Dana Carichner's death.

         On May 13, 2019, Rought filed the present motion to suppress (Doc. 36) and a brief in support (Doc. 41). On June 25, 2019, a superseding indictment was filed against Rought, charging him with an additional count of possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute a controlled substance that resulted in the serious bodily injury of Ms. Giberson and the death of Mr. Carichner. (Doc. 48). On June 28, 2019, Rought pleaded not guilty to the superseding indictment. (Doc. 56). That same day the government filed a brief in opposition to Rought's motion to suppress. (Doc. 55). On July 26, 2019, Rought filed a reply brief. (Doc. 62). The motion is now ripe for disposition.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “At the outset, if a person in custody is to be subjected to interrogation, he must first be informed in clear and unequivocal terms that he has the right to remain silent.” Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 467-68 (1966).

         Prior to interrogation, police must first inform a suspect of his right to remain silent, his right to have counsel present during interrogation, and the possibility that his statements may be used to secure a conviction. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 468-70 (1966). Police “must cease the interrogation if at any point the suspect indicates that he wishes to remain silent or that he wants an attorney.” United States v. Velasquez, 885 F.2d 1076, 1084 (3d Cir. 1989).

         Once a suspect has expressed his desire to remain silent until he has conferred with counsel, further interrogation may only continue after counsel has been made available or “the accused himself initiates further communication, exchanges, or conversations with the police.” Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477, 485 (1981). Two factors must be present for interrogation to continue: “First, the suspect must initiate the conversation with the authorities, not vice versa. Second, after the suspect initiates the ...


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