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United States v. Wilke

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

January 2, 2020

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JUSTIN ANDREW WILKE, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          BENJAMIN H. SETTLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Justin Wilke's (“Wilke”) motion to suppress. Dkt. 50. The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in opposition to the motion and the remainder of the file and hereby denies the motion for the reasons stated herein.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On August 28, 2019, Wilke was charged by indictment with eight counts relating to his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to unlawfully remove and sell timber obtained in the Olympic National Forest. Dkt. 1. Trial is set to commence on January 14, 2020.

         On December 19, 2019, Wilke filed a motion to suppress. Dkt. 50. On December 27, 2019, the Government responded. Dkt. 67. Wilke did not reply.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The indictment alleges that Wilke and co-defendant Shawn Williams (“Williams”) conspired to unlawfully fell and sell valuable maple trees growing in the Olympic National Forest between April and August 2018. Dkt. 23. The indictment further alleges that on August 3, 2018, Wilke, co-defendant Shawn Williams, and uncharged co-conspirator/witness Lucas Chapman (“Chapman”)[1] located one such valuable maple tree but a bee's nest at the tree's base prevented Wilke and/or Williams from harvesting the tree. Id. ¶ 13(f)-(i). Wilke and Williams are alleged to have poured gasoline on the bee's nest, setting it afire. Id. ¶ 13(i). Although Wilke, Williams, and Chapman later attempted to extinguish the fire using water bottles, the indictment alleges that it spread, ultimately growing into a large forest fire known as the “Maple Fire” which burned nearly 3, 300 acres of public land and cost more than four million dollars to suppress. Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Wilke moves to suppress statements made by Chapman. Dkt. 50. Specifically, Wilke asks the Court to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Chapman's statements were voluntarily made before admitting them at trial. Id. at 1. Because Wilke fails to allege sufficient facts to establish coercion in Chapman's statements, and further, fails to persuade the Court that the statements are unreliable such that admitting them would violate Wilke's own right to a fair trial, the motion is denied.

         A. Legal Standard

         A criminal defendant lacks standing to assert a violation of a third party's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. However, because “illegally obtained confessions may be less reliable than voluntary ones, ” the introduction of another's coerced confession can violate the defendant's own Fifth Amendment right to due process at trial. Douglas v. Woodford, 316 F.3d 1079, 1092 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Clanton v. Cooper, 129 F.3d 1147, 1157-58 (10th Cir. 1997); United States v. Mattison, 437 F.2d 84, 85 (9th Cir. 1970)). Thus, “[a] defendant may assert her own Fifth Amendment right to a fair trial as a valid objection to the introduction of statements extracted from a non-defendant by coercion or other inquisitional tactics.” United States v. Merkt, 764 F.2d 266, 274 (5th Cir. 1985) (footnote omitted).

         A defendant's due process rights are implicated when the government introduces evidence “obtained by extreme coercion or torture.” United States v. Chiavola, 744 F.2d 1271, 1273 (7th Cir. 1984). The issue is not whether the witness's own Fifth Amendment rights were violated by the questioned interrogation, but rather, “whether the government's investigation methods resulted in a fundamentally unfair trial” for the defendant. Id. at 1273.

         B. Application

         As a threshold issue, the Government denies Wilke's assertion that it will offer at trial statements from “at least three law enforcement interviews of [Chapman], only one of which has been disclosed.” Dkt. 67 at 6 (citing Dkt. 50 at 1). Instead, the Government counters that it interviewed Chapman only twice, fully disclosed the substantive content of Chapman's statements during those two interviews to defense, and further, asserts that it will not rely on his statements at trial because Chapman will provide live testimony. Id. at ...


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