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United States v. Seed

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division

December 13, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
RONALD PUMPKIN SEED, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JEFFREY L. VIKEN CHIEF JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Defendant filed a motion to suppress a statement he gave to law enforcement. (Docket 48). The motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Daneta Wollmann for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and the standing order dated March 9, 2015. The magistrate judge conducted a hearing on the motion and issued a report and recommendation (“R&R”) concluding defendant's motion should be denied. (Docket 59). Defendant timely filed objections to the R&R. (Docket 62). For the reasons stated below, defendant's objections are overruled and the report and recommendation is adopted in full.

         DEFENDANT'S OBJECTIONS

         Mr. Pumpkin Seed's objections to the R&R are summarized as follows:

1. Defendant's cognitive impairment should have put FBI Special Agent (“SA”) Garland on notice before the interview proceeded.
2. SA Garland should have employed standard practices for interviewing an intellectually disabled person.
3. The magistrate judge improperly discounted the testimony of Dr. Stephen Manlove.
4. SA Garland's interview tactics were coercive and deceptive.
5. Mr. Pumpkin Seed gave an involuntary statement which should be suppressed.

(Docket 62).

         Under the Federal Magistrate Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), if a party files written objections to the magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations, the district court is required to “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” Id. The court may “accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” Id. See also Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b)(3). The court completed a de novo review of those portions of the R&R to which objections were filed.

         ANALYSIS

         A grand jury indicted Mr. Pumpkin Seed on five counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a minor, L.E. II (“L.E.”), in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1153, 2241(c), and 2246(2)(A), (B) & (D). (Docket 1). Mr. Pumpkin Seed filed a motion to suppress the statement he made to SA Brett Garland on December 19, 2016. (Docket 48). Mr. Pumpkin Seed asserts the statement was involuntary and should be suppressed. Id.

         The magistrate judge held a suppression hearing at which SA Garland, Dr. Manlove and Mr. Pumpkin Seed testified and several exhibits were admitted. (Dockets 57 & 58). Relying on the audio recording of the hearing, For The Record (“FTR”), the magistrate judge issued the R&R. (Docket 59 at p. 3 n.1). The district court ordered the preparation of a transcript of the suppression hearing, which was filed under seal after the R&R and defendant's objections were filed. See Docket 64. The court will cite to the transcript and not to the FTR referenced by the magistrate judge. The court carefully reviewed the CD of the interview of Mr. Pumpkin Seed.

         1. DEFENDANT'S COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT SHOULD HAVE PUT SA GARLAND ON NOTICE BEFORE THE INTERVIEW PROCEEDED

         By a court-ordered competency evaluation, the magistrate judge found Mr. Pumpkin Seed had a “full-scale IQ . . . within the first percentile, and that he suffered from a mild intellectual disability.”[1] (Docket 59 at p. 4) (referencing Docket 16 at pp. 27 & 30; also filed at the hearing as Exhibit 3). The magistrate judge concluded that “[l]ow intelligence or impaired mental functioning are not determinative of voluntariness without some evidence of coercive police activity.” Id. at p. 6 (referencing Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 165 (1986); United States v. Turner, 157 F.3d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1998)). “Neither does the use of suggestive or deceptive questioning tactics render a confession involuntary unless ‘the overall impact of the interrogation caused the defendant's will to be overborne.' ” Id. at p. 7 (citing United States v. Brave Heart, 397 F.3d 1035, 1041 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Jenner v. Smith, 982 F.2d 329, 334 (8th Cir. 1993)) and referencing United States v. Makes Room For Them, 49 F.3d 410, 415 (8th Cir. 1995)).

         The magistrate judge found “[t]here is no dispute in this case that Mr. Pumpkin Seed is cognitively impaired. . . . However, there is no evidence of police misconduct sufficient to overbear Mr. Pumpkin Seed's will.” Id.

         Mr. Pumpkin Seed objects to this conclusion because upon becoming aware of defendant's impairment, SA Garland should have been put on notice of defendant's mental status. (Docket 62 at p. 2). Defendant contends that with this notice SA Garland should have known he was dealing with “a meek and mentally challenged individual.” Id. at p. 3.

         SA Garland's recorded interview with Mr. Pumpkin Seed lasted approximately 58 minutes. The court listened to the recording several times to verify defendant's statements made during the interview. It is apparent from the first several minutes of the interview that Mr. Pumpkin Seed was mildly intellectually disabled.

         During the initial portion of the interview, Mr. Pumpkin Seed gave prompt, accurate details including his name, address, date of birth, telephone No. (both a land line and cell phone), who lived in the house with him and the date and circumstances surrounding his brother's death in 2015. During this portion of the discussion, SA Garland asked for clarification of numbers, dates and other information. In each instance, Mr. Pumpkin Seed gave prompt and clear answers.

         Mr. Pumpkin Seed suggests SA Garland was less than candid about his knowledge of defendant's intellectual disability. (Docket 62 at p. 2). SA Garland testified that “especially at the beginning of the interview [when] we were talking in general, [his memory] was very good. He could cite specific dates of when the moved into the residence, when his brother passed away, when [L.E.] . . . was born, specific instances of interactions with advocates or lawyers regarding child custody, things of that nature.” (Docket 64 at p. 17:6-130). SA Garland did not see anything which would indicate Mr. Pumpkin Seed had a physical impairment. Id. at p. 18:6-9. SA Garland acknowledged on cross-examination he was aware Mr. Pumpkin Seed had suffered a head injury “based on what he [Mr. Pumpkin Seed] said.” Id. at p. 27:17-18. SA Garland testified he was not concerned about Mr. Pumpkin Seed's head injury affecting his ability to admit to his actions. Id. at p. 27:19-21.

         The court finds SA Garland was put on notice early in the interview process of Mr. Pumpkin Seed's mild intellectual disability. The magistrate judge acknowledged that disability and factored that disability into the analysis of whether the statement ...


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