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U.S. v. OLIVER

April 19, 2001

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA VS. DIANE OLIVER


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Diane Oliver is charged with two counts of distributing a mixture containing cocaine base in May and June 1977, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). On June 29, 1998, she made incriminating statements to law enforcement authorities. She has moved to suppress those statements on the grounds that they were obtained involuntarily, or alternatively that she did not knowingly and voluntarily waive her rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Oliver has requested an evidentiary hearing on her motion; the government argues that no hearing should be held. For the reasons that follow, the Court has decided to hold an evidentiary hearing.

Facts

Oliver was arrested as part of an investigation of narcotics dealing in the LeClaire Courts public housing project conducted jointly by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Inspector General; and the Chicago Housing Authority Police Department. At the time she was questioned by the agents, Oliver was 37 years old. A clinical psychologist who examined Oliver at the request of defense counsel has submitted a report stating that Oliver has an IQ of 67, which puts her in the lowest 1% of women in her age range and indicating that she is mildly mentally retarded. The psychologist stated that Oliver's score on the verbal comprehension scale of the IQ test indicates "extreme impairment in the area of verbal comprehension" and that she is more susceptible to suggestion than most people. IQ testing performed by a clinical psychologist who examined Oliver at the request of government counsel produced similar results.
According to the report of an ATF agent, Oliver was tricked by the authorities into coming to OIG's office in downtown Chicago. In her motion, Oliver says she received by mail a notice from HUD stating that she had been recognized as a recipient of public assistance who consistently paid her bills and was therefore eligible for government assistance toward the purchase of a home. She was asked to come to HUD's downtown office on June 29, 1998 to meet with HUD officials and complete the relevant application materials. Oliver's motion states that she went to the HUD office with a male friend and eventually was directed to an upstairs room where she was supposed to fill out the application forms; her male friend was told he could not accompany her.
In her motion, Oliver states that after she arrived at the room, officials presented her with forms to sign; she assumed they were the housing application forms and signed them without reading them. After she signed the forms, the officials (she claims there were several of them in the room) said they were law enforcement agents and accused her of participating in drug dealing. The ATF agent's report confirms the latter point; the report goes on to state that the agents told Oliver that the deals were recorded on tape and proceeded to play the tapes for her. In the report, the agent states that Oliver was next presented with, and signed, forms in which she acknowledged awareness of her rights and agreed to waive those rights and speak with the agents. It has submitted copies of the forms, bearing what appears to be Oliver's signature. In her interview with the psychologist, Oliver claimed that she signed no such documents and that she was never told what her rights were. She appears to be claiming that what she believed were the housing application forms actually may have been the rights waiver forms.
Oliver, who had never before been arrested, states in her motion that she was told by the agents that they wanted her to "cooperate" against a known drug dealer and that if she did not do so, she would go to prison for 15 years. The defense psychologist's report relates that in his interview with Oliver, she reported that she was questioned in a confrontational manner and was threatened with immediate jailing and a 15-year prison term if she did not cooperate with the agents. In her motion, Oliver suggests that a 15-year sentence was far greater than what she actually would receive if convicted; in other words, she appears to contend that the agents made a false threat to get her to confess.
The ATF agent reports that Oliver admitted her involvement in narcotics dealing. In her interview with the government's psychologist, however, Oliver denied making any incriminating admissions. The report of the psychologist retained by defense counsel does not directly address this issue but does suggest that Oliver denied making a confession — the report says that Oliver told the psychologist that the agents "would never accept her answers" to their questions.

Discussion

The government argues that no hearing should be held, for two reasons. First, it argues that Oliver is not entitled to a hearing because she denies making the statement attributed to her and because she has not supported the claims in her motion with an affidavit. Second, it contends that Oliver's allegations, even if proved, are insufficient as a matter of law to warrant suppression of her statements. The Court disagrees with the government on both counts.

A. Adequacy of support for Oliver's motion

1. Oliver's denial that she made a confession

The government argues that Oliver is not entitled to a hearing on the voluntariness of her statements or the validity of her Miranda waiver because she denies that she made any incriminating statements. The Court disagrees. It has been the law since at least Lee v. Mississippi, 332 U.S. 742, 745-46 (1948), that a defendant may attack a statement as involuntary even while denying having made ...

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