Wednesday, November 11, 2009

7th Circuit Holds Defendant Waived Miranda

Recall my earlier post about a suspect's right to an attorney and the famous Miranda warning. The United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit just decided an interesting case with Miranda implications.

In United States v. Robinson, the defendant was allegedly involved in weapons trafficking in violation of federal law. The allegations stated that Robinson traveled out of state and hired people to make 'straw purchases' of firearms, which he shipped back to his home in Maywood, IL. [A 'straw purchase' is when someone who can legally purchase a firearm does so for someone who cannot, such as a convicted felon].

When the guns arrived in Maywood, Robinson removed the serial numbers so they could not be traced. This is also a crime. However, at least two of the weapon's serial numbers were later restored by lab technicians. A subsequent investigation by officials linked Robinson to both guns.

In 2003 law enforcement officials (one from the ATF) set up a meeting with Robinson at his mother's house in Maywood. Beforehand they learned he had an outstanding warrant out of Lombard for retail theft.

When officers arrived to meet Robinson they were met by Robinson's attorney. The attorney was informed they wanted to talk to Robinson about weapons trafficking. The attorney, however, informed the officers that Robinson would not speak with them about their investigation.

Robinson was taken into custody based on the Lombard warrant. Instead of transporting Robinson to Lombard's police department, he was taken to Westchester, where he confessed via a written statement to weapons trafficking. After confessing, he was eventually taken to Lombard later that evening.

Robinson was not given a Miranda warning at his mother's house or during the car ride to Westchester. At Westchester, however, Robinson signed a Miranda waiver.

Robinson's lawyer filed a motion to suppress the confession and the district court held a hearing on the motion. According to the officers, Robinson just started talking and ultimately confessed. However, according to Robinson, he was continuously questioned during the car ride to Westchester and was told he didn't need a lawyer. Robinson claimed he signed the confession to "get out of there." He also claimed officers told his lawyer he was being taken to Lombard.

The district court denied Robinson's motion finding he initiated the conversation with law enforcement officials. Robinson was tried, convicted, and sentenced to consecutive 5 year prison sentences.

On review the 7th Circuit looked to the holding of Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981) for guidance and agreed with the district court. 

The court found the conversation with officers was not an interrogation, thus not in violation of Edwards. The court further held the actions of the officers was not designed to elicit an incriminating response from Robinson, thus no 5th Amendment violation.

Robinson argued his detour to Westchester (instead of direct transport to Lombard) was designed to elicit a confession. Both the district and appellate court disagreed. The district court found that less than 30 minutes after leaving his lawyer, Robinson disregarded his attorney's advice and confessed. On review the 7th Circuit did not find the district court's findings as being clearly erroneous. Robinson's conviction was upheld.

I take note of a couple of facts. Robinson was savvy enough to have his lawyer present when law enforcement agents arrived. The lawyer was not retained to represent Robinson on the Lombard retail theft charge. Thus, Robinson's attorney was there to deal with the federal weapons case.

Officers (including one Federal agent) told the attorney they wanted to question Robinson about the weapons trafficking, so he knew the seriousness of the case. The 7th Circuit wrote: 
"In fact, the diversion and delay did not actually deprive Robinson of his attorney’s presence or advice. Allen [Robinson's attorney] did not attempt to accompany or follow Robinson to the police station. He was equivocal regarding whether he planned to go to the station at all that evening, as he was not representing Robinson on the retail-theft charge, and did not, in fact, make any further efforts on Robinson’s behalf that evening."

Question: is this bad lawyering or slick police work? Hindsight is always 20/20 but I would like to think I would have followed my client to wherever he was being taken, especially while in Federal custody. But the sad truth is our clients often get themselves into trouble by talking.

In conclusion I note the following: Robinson knew he was under investigation for federal weapons trafficking, thus he had his lawyer present when officers arrived to question him. I find it extremely odd that less than 30 minutes after his attorney invoked his Miranda right to remain silent, Robinson all of a sudden just started talking and confessed.

I don't disagree with the 7th Circuit's legal analysis of the case, but this one doesn't pass the sniff test.


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