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United States v. Atofau

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

May 11, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
CLEMENT TUITELE ATOFAU, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JOHN C. COUGHENOUR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's pretrial motions (Dkt. No. 33) and motion to compel (Dkt. No. 29). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, as well as testimony and argument an evidentiary hearing held on May 10, 2018, the Court hereby DENIES Defendant's pretrial motions for the reasons explained herein. The Court addresses the motion to compel (Dkt. No. 29) below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant is charged by indictment with possession of cocaine and heroin with intent to distribute, possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and felon in possession of a firearm. (Dkt. No. 13.) Defendant moves to suppress statements made to detectives after his arrest. (Dkt. No. 33 at 6.) Incident reports from his arrest describe three rounds of questioning: (1) by Detective Todd Smith at the scene of arrest after SWAT took him into custody; (2) by Detective Reed Jones at the scene of arrest, subsequent to questioning by Smith; and (3) a recorded interview with Detective Jones after Defendant was transported back to his residence. (Id. at 4.) Defendant argues that he was not properly advised of his rights prior to the first round of interrogation and that his statements were not voluntarily given. (Id. at 6, 8.)

         Defendant also moves for a separate trial on his charges for felon in possession of a firearm, or for bifurcation on this count. (Dkt. No. 33 at 10.) This motion is addressed below.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion to Suppress

         1. Miranda

         Defendant argues his statements should be suppressed because he was not properly Mirandized. (Dkt. No. 33 at 6.) The Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination requires that law enforcement give Miranda warnings to an accused person prior to custodial interrogation.[1] Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). Statements made in a custodial interrogation absent proper Miranda warnings and a valid waiver must be suppressed. Id. The Government bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that it complied with Miranda requirements. Id. at 475. A warning is sufficient if, in its totality, it adequately informs the person of his rights and the Government's obligations. United States v. Pereda-Rebollo, 357 Fed.Appx. 31, 33 (9th Cir. 2009).

         The Court finds that Miranda warnings were properly administered and Defendant validly waived his rights. Detective Smith stated in his incident report and interview with the Government that he read Defendant his rights from a King County Sheriff's Office (“KCSO”) Miranda card before beginning questioning at the scene of arrest. (Dkt. Nos. 33-3, 33-4.) Detective Smith testified to this fact at the hearing, and the Court finds his testimony credible. Evidentiary Hearing, May 10, 2018. The KCSO card included an explanation and waiver of rights that complied with Miranda requirements, including a request for verbal affirmation of understanding and assent. (Dkt. No. 33-7); Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444. Detective Smith testified that he received such verbal assent from Defendant after reading him his rights. Evidentiary Hearing, May 10, 2018.

         Defendant argues that if given, any warning was deficient because it did not advise Defendant of the “right to stop answering questions at any time.” (See Dkt. No. 33 at 7) (citing Duckworth v. Eagen, 492 U.S. 195, 203 (1989)). Miranda does not require a “talismanic incantation, ” rather, law enforcement “must reasonably convey a suspect his rights.” Duckworth, 492 U.S. at 195, 203. The KCSO card contained a similar warning to the advisement Defendant claims was lacking-instructing an arrestee of the right to remain silent and that he may exercise that right at any time. (Dkt. No. 33-7.) This warning was sufficient under Miranda. Nor is the adequacy of the warning compromised by the absence of a written waiver. It is well-established that a waiver may be verbal or implied. United States v. Cazares, 121 F.3d 1241, 1244 (9th Cir. 1997).

         Having found that Detective Smith properly Mirandized Defendant before the initial interview, the Court also concludes that no new Miranda warning was required before Detective Jones first questioned Defendant. This questioning took place at the same location and well under an hour after Defendant received Miranda warnings from Detective Smith. Evidentiary Hearing, May 10, 2018 (Defendant was transported back to his house less than an hour after arrest); see U.S. v Baron, 94 F.3d 1312, 1320 (9th Cir. 1996) (overruled on other grounds by U.S. v. Heredia, 483 F.3d 913 (9th Cir. 2007)) (no new warning required with change in investigating officer); Wyrick v. Fields, 459 U.S. 42, 45-46 (1982) (two hours between sessions did not necessitate new warning).

         Finally, Detective Jones properly re-Mirandized Defendant after he was transported to his home. Before taking a recorded statement, Jones obtained Defendant's consent, repeated the prior warnings, and asked Defendant if he understood his rights. (Dkt. No. 33-5 at 6); Evidentiary Hearing, May 10, 2018. Defendant answered in the affirmative. Id.

         2. V ...


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