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United States v. Ashley

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

December 9, 2019




         Defendant Angelo Ashley made statements to law enforcement officers during an informal interview initiated by the officers and conducted in a law enforcement vehicle outside of Ashley's residence. Ashley moved to suppress statements he made during that interview, claiming that he was "in custody" during the interrogation and thus should have been given warnings regarding his Fifth Amendment rights as required by Miranda v. Arizona. 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The Government opposed this motion, acknowledging that Ashley was not read Miranda warnings but arguing that such warnings were not required because Ashley was not in custody when he made the statements.

         Magistrate Judge Mark A. Moreno held a suppression hearing on October 4, 2019, and filed a report and recommendation on October 16, 2019, recommending that Ashley's motion to suppress be denied in its entirety. Doc. 51. Ashley filed objections to the report and recommendation, challenging some of Magistrate Judge Moreno's factual findings and omissions and renewing the argument that Ashley was in custody and was not given the requisite Miranda warnings during the interrogation. Doc. 56.

         This Court reviews objections to a report and recommendation de novo. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). "In the absence of an objection, the district court is not required 'to give any more consideration to the magistrate's report than the court considers appropriate.'" Anderson v. Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Soc'y. 308 F.Supp.3d 1011, 1015 (N.D. Iowa 2018) (quoting Thomas v. Am. 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985)). This Court has conducted a de novo review of those portions of the report and recommendations to which Ashley objects and adopts the report and recommendation.

         I. Factual Background

         On July 27, 2018, FBI special agents Justin Lowrance and Bryce Fankhauser went to a home in Cherry Creek, South Dakota, where they believed Angelo Ashley lived. Mot. Hr'g Tr. at 9:2, 17. Agent Lowrance made contact with Ashley at the home and asked if Ashley would talk with him in the agent's government-issued vehicle. Mot. Hr'g Tr. at 9:19-23. Ashley agreed, and the pair walked from the home to the vehicle. Mot. Hr'g Tr. at 29:14-24. When they reached the vehicle, Agent Lowrance sat in the driver's seat, Ashley in the front passenger's seat, and Agent Fankhauser, who had been in the front passenger seat, moved to the back seat. Mot. Hr'g Tr. at 10:4-10, 35:6-9. While in the vehicle, Ashley was not restrained in any way, and the agents told him that he was not under arrest, the interview was voluntary, he was free to leave at any time, the door was unlocked, and the agents would leave if he requested. Mot. Hr'g Tr. at 10:18-11:1; Ex. B at 3:17-22. Agent Lowrance also advised Ashley that he could stop talking to the agents at any time and that he would not be arrested at the end of the interview. Ex. B at 3:24-4:2. Neither agent advised Ashley of his Miranda rights. Mot. Hr'g Tr. at 11:2-3; 35:18-20.

         During the course of the interview, the agents questioned Ashley about an alleged incident of sexual contact with a minor, which had occurred two years prior. Ex. B at 15:2-10. Ashley initially said he could not remember that far back, then recounted that he had been accused by the alleged victim's father shortly after the alleged incident. Ex. B at 15:11-13; 17:1-24. Ashley then suggested that the victim made the incident up or that she was possibly touched by somebody else. Ex- B at 18:21-19:19; 21:9-11. An agent told Ashley that the victim gave a full, detailed interview, and encouraged Ashley to tell his side of the story. Ex. B at 26:9-13. In reality, the agent actually understood the victim's statement to be quite vague. Mot. Hr'g Tr. 45:18-47:8. The agent indicated to Ashley that if he had just gotten "caught up in the moment and did something [he] regret[ted]," it would be taken into consideration as opposed to if he was a "hardcore rapist" who did this all the time. Ex. B at 26:15-27:2. After Ashley vaguely acknowledged that something sexual had happened between him and the minor victim on the date of the alleged incident, one of the agents told Ashley, "you got to tell us what happened." Ex. B at 28:16-17. Upon deeper questioning, Ashley stated that he regretted the incident and admitted to having sexual contact with the minor victim, who was only ten years old at the time of the incident, by penetrating her anus with his penis. Doc. 28 at 11; Ex. B at 27:3-32:3. Throughout the interview the agents encouraged Ashley to tell them about the incident by stating he would feel better if he told them what happened on the day of the alleged incident. Ex. B. at 22:18-23; 28:1- 2; 29:4-6. At the end of the interview, Ashley thanked the agents for "helping [him] let that out." Ex. B at 39:24. Ashley was not placed under arrest at the conclusion of the interview. Mot. Hr'g Tr. at 13:9-10.

         At one point during the interview, the agents and Ashley became aware of a group of people nearby. Mot. Hr'g Tr. at 22:18-23:4. Ashley told the agents that those individuals were there to pick him up. Ex. B at 17:25-18:1. An agent responded by stating that "[t]his will only take a few more minutes," and offered, "[y]ou want to tell these guys it will be just a few minutes? You can hop out if you want." Ex. B at 18:4-5; 18:15-16.

         After the interview, Ashley asked the agents to give him a ride to meet up with some people where they were going to ride horses. Mot. Hr'g Tr. at 38:16-21; Ex. B at 40:6-7. The agents agreed to give him a ride and drove him to the location that he indicated. Mot. Hr'g Tr. at 11; 18-21.

         II. Discussion

         In order to protect individuals' Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, law enforcement personnel must provide certain warnings to individuals subjected to custodial interrogation. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 478-79. However, they are not required to give warnings to everyone they question, only those who are "in custody." Oregon v. Mathiason. 429 U.S. 492, 495 (1977) (per curiam). People are considered "in custody" for purposes of triggering Miranda warnings if they are formally arrested or if their freedom of movement is restrained to a degree associated with formal arrest. Thompson v. Keohane. 516 U.S. 99, 112 (1995) ("quoting California v. Beheler, 463 U.S. 1121, 1125 (1983) (per curiam)). Whether a person is "in custody" is an objective inquiry and requires the court to consider the circumstances surrounding an interrogation and whether under those circumstances a reasonable person would feel free to terminate the encounter and leave. Id.

         The Eighth Circuit has identified six nonexclusive factors for courts to consider when assessing whether a person is "in custody." United States v. Laurita, 821 F.3d 1020, 1024 (8th Cir. 2016). They include

(1) whether the suspect was informed at the time of questioning that the questioning was voluntary, that the suspect was free to leave or request the officers to do so, or that the suspect was not considered under arrest; (2) whether the suspect possessed unrestrained freedom of movement during questioning; (3) whether the suspect initiated contact with authorities or voluntarily acquiesced to official requests to respond to questions; (4) whether strong arm tactics or deceptive stratagems were employed during questioning; (5) whether the atmosphere of the questioning was police dominated; [and], (6) whether the suspect was placed under arrest at the termination of the questioning.

Id. (alteration in original) (quoting United States v. Griffin. 922 F.2d 1343, 1349 (1990)). "No single consideration is dispositive[.]" United States v. Ollie.442 F.3d 1135, 1137 (8th Cir. 2006). However, informing the suspect that his participation is voluntary, that he is not under arrest, and that he may end the interview at any time are effective ways of signifying that the suspect is not in custody. United ...

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