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United State v. Abdulla

June 18, 2002

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
WALID H. ABDULLA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 95 CR 734-1--Joan B. Gottschall, Judge.

Before Easterbrook, Kanne, and Diane P. Wood, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge

ARGUED JANUARY 11, 2002

A jury convicted defendant Walid H. Abdulla of aggravated bank robbery, and the district court sentenced him to 97 months of imprisonment. Abdulla now appeals the denial of his motion to suppress and his enhanced sentence. We affirm.

I. Background

In March 1998, Abdulla was indicted for aggravated bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) and (d) for a bank robbery that occurred in 1995 in Wheaton, Illinois. *fn1 At the time of the indictment, Abdulla was living in Israel. In January 2000, the FBI received information that Abdulla was to arrive at the Los Angeles International Airport on a KLM Airlines flight from Jerusalem. On January 11, 2000, FBI Agents Catherine Moore and Patrick Conley went to the airport and apprehended Abdulla in the customs area shortly after his plane arrived. The agents then placed handcuffs on Abdulla and told him that he was under arrest. Immediately upon arresting Abdulla, but before advising him of his Miranda rights, Abdulla was asked: *fn2 "Do you know why you are being arrested?" He replied, "I robbed a bank, everyone knows I robbed a bank." During the next twenty minutes, the agents stood with Abdulla while customs agents searched his bags. During this time, Abdulla made the following statements: "Four years in the Holy Land can change a person. I came back to fix things." Further, he repeated, "I robbed a bank, everyone knows I robbed a bank." Neither of these statements was made in response to a question by Agents Moore or Conley, or by anyone else.

The agents took Abdulla to their car and drove him to the FBI office, which was approximately thirty minutes from the airport. At this point, Abdulla still had not been advised of his Miranda rights. During the car ride, Abdulla stated for the third time, "I robbed a bank, everyone knows I robbed a bank." This statement was not made in response to a question. Agent Conley then asked Abdulla what he meant by "everyone." Abdulla responded that he had been named on the television show America's Most Wanted and that "everyone" meant everyone in Israel and the United States. In addition, Abdulla asked, "How much time do you think I'll get for the bank robbery--the gun I used wasn't real?" Again, no question prompted this statement, and, in fact, the statement was preceded by a couple of minutes of silence. After arriving at the FBI office, Abdulla was read his Miranda rights and made no further statements. Before trial, Abdulla moved to suppress all of the above statements.

At the suppression hearing, Agent Moore testified that in her four years with the FBI, she had arrested ten people. She testified that immediately upon arresting all ten of these people, she asked whether they knew why they were being arrested. Agent Moore explained that none of the suspects had ever made a confession in response to this question. Agent Conley testified that in his eight years with the FBI, he had arrested between 50 and 100 people. He further stated that immediately upon arresting most of these people, he asked the suspects if they knew why they were being arrested. Agent Conley also explained that in his experience, this question had never elicited an incriminating response. Finally, he testified that he asked Abdulla whether he knew why he was being arrested in order to ascertain Abdulla's understanding of the arrest process and of what was happening to him. Ultimately, the district court ruled that all of Abdulla's statements were admissible except the statement in which Abdulla explained the meaning of "everyone."

At Abdulla's trial, the government entered the following into evidence in addition to Abdulla's statements: A robber entered the First National Bank of Wheaton, pointed a gun at bank teller Catherine Simon, and ordered Simon and bank employee Laura Perna to fill a paper bag with money, which they did. The robber had been wearing a bandana around his face when he first entered the bank, but had pulled it down in order to speak with the tellers, and thus had revealed his face. The robber then fled from the bank, at which point Perna went to a bank office across the street from the bank and informed Senior Vice President Ronald Jozwiak of the robbery. Jozwiak then left his office and saw a car with Illinois license plate number HDT 458 speed away from the bank's parking lot.

The FBI searched the Illinois Secretary of State databases and ascertained that the car with license plate HDT 458 was registered to Abdulla. Several days later, FBI agents went to Abdulla's residence in Orland Park, Illinois and saw Abdulla's car parked there. The agents then spoke with Abdulla's estranged wife Nadia Salem, who told them that she did not know of Abdulla's whereabouts. Salem then gave the FBI a photograph of Abdulla. Approximately one week after the robbery, a photospread was prepared from that photograph and was shown to the bank tellers present during the robbery. Three of the tellers (Perna, Diane Stewart, and Cathy Distazio) identified Abdulla in the photospread. In addition, during trial, these three tellers made in-court identifications of Abdulla as the person who had robbed the bank.

Ultimately, the jury convicted Abdulla of aggravated bank robbery, and the government moved to enhance his sentence pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1(b)(2)(B), which directs the district court to enhance by six levels if "a firearm was otherwise used" during the commission of the robbery. The district court agreed with the government and enhanced Abdulla's sentence pursuant to that Guideline. The district court then sentenced Abdulla to 97 months of imprisonment.

II. Analysis

On appeal, Abdulla argues that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress and that his sentencing enhancement violated the rule set forth in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. ...


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