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United States v. Griffiths

October 27, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge


This matter is now before the Court on Defendant Harold Griffiths' motion to suppress statements (Doc. 21).

A. Factual and Procedural History

On January 17, 2006, the Government filed a criminal complaint against Defendant Harold M. Griffiths (see Doc. 1). In that complaint, Robert Nosbisch -- who has been employed as a Special Agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ("ATF") since 1991, and currently holds the position of Senior Special Agent assigned to the Fairview Heights, Illinois field office -- alleges that, on December 19, 2005, agents of the ATF received information that Griffiths, a medical doctor, may have unlawfully possessed machineguns. Id.

Specifically, the complaint alleges, on December 19, 2005, John J. Yard told agents of the ATF that Griffiths had loaned him a Colt Brand, AR-15 rifle that had been illegally converted for use as a fully automatic machinegun. According to the complaint, on October 12, 2005, Yard fired that machinegun in fully automatic mode before subsequently returning it to Griffiths at the residence then occupied by Griffiths in Glen Carbon, Madison County, Illinois.

In response to this information, on December 22, 2005, agents of the ATF, along with other members of law enforcement, proceeded to Griffiths' current residence in Spaulding, Illinois. On that date, according to the Government's complaint, Griffiths gave Nosbisch and the other officers his consent to search his residence by signing a written consent to search form. The ATF's search of Griffiths' residence resulted in the seizure of, among other items, a Colt Brand, Model AR-15 SP1, .223 caliber rifle bearing serial number SP89113, which Griffiths allegedly stated had been illegally converted to a fully automatic firearm.

According to the complaint, Griffiths also told Nosbisch that he would agree to a videotaped interview. During the course of that videotaped interview, Griffiths related to Nosbisch several details regarding his ownership of the machinegun, his knowledge of its illegality, and his transfer of the machinegun to Yard. At the conclusion of the interview, Griffiths voluntarily abandoned the machinegun and other firearms to the ATF by executing a written notice of abandonment of property.

Based on these facts, on January 19, 2006, the Government filed an indictment (see Doc. 7) charging Griffiths with one count of possessing a machinegun, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(o)(1). On May 25, 2006, Griffiths filed a motion to suppress evidence (Doc. 21), asking this Court to suppress the videotaped statements made by Griffiths to Nosbisch, as those statements purportedly were elicited in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) (see Doc. 21, p. 1). The Government filed its response to Griffiths' motion on June 29, 2006 (Doc. 30).

On August 17, 2006, this District Judge conducted a hearing on Griffiths' motion to suppress. Agent Nosbisch appeared as a witness, testimony was adduced and arguments were presented. At the conclusion of that hearing, this Court took Griffiths' motion under advisement and afforded the parties leave to file supplemental briefs on this issue. On October 11, 2006, the Government filed a supplement response (Doc. 41). This matter being fully briefed and argued, the Court now rules as follows.

B. Analysis

In his motion to suppress, Griffiths moves this Court to suppress statements made by Griffiths to Nosbisch during the videotaped interview Nosbisch conducted at Griffiths' home on December 22, 2005. Griffiths argues that the interview was the functional equivalent of a custodial interrogation because he was surrounded by armed police officers and was not free to move about his house or leave his kitchen table (see Doc. 21). Consequently, Griffiths argues, Nosbisch's failure to give Griffiths Miranda warnings before taking his statements renders the elicited statements inadmissible.

Custodial interrogation is defined as "questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way." Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 467 (1966). If a person is in custody, law enforcement officers may not interrogate that person unless they have told the person that he has the right to remain silent, that any statement he makes may be used against him, and that he has the right to an attorney, either retained or appointed. Id. at 444.

In the present case, it is undisputed that Nosbisch did not give Griffiths Miranda warnings before conducting his interview. Moreover, neither party disputes that Griffiths was questioned extensively by Nosbisch. Accordingly, this Court need only determine whether that questioning occurred while Griffiths was "in custody"(such that Miranda warnings were necessary) or whether Griffiths' statements were elicited during a voluntary interview.

According to the Seventh Circuit, custody "implies a situation in which the suspect knows he is speaking with a government agent and does not feel free to end the conversation; the essential element of a custodial interrogation is coercion." United States v. Martin, 63 F.3d 1422, 1429 (7th Cir.1995). A "determination of custody depends on the objective circumstances of the interrogation, not on the subjective views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the person being questioned." Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 323 (1994).In other words, "the only ...

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