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United States v. Slaight

July 14, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL S. SLAIGHT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge

ORDER

Before the Court is Defendant Michael S. Slaight's ("Slaight") Motion to Suppress Statements [#11]. Slaight moves to suppress statements made to Special Agent Eric Bowers ("SA Bowers") and Agent Thomas Berola ("Agent Berola") at the Rock Island, Illinois Police Department on March 16, 2009. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Suppress Statements made during the first section of Slaight's interview until he requested leave to smoke a cigarette is DENIED and the Motion to Suppress Statements made in response to questioning during the second section of Slaight's interview from the time he was denied his request to leave to smoke a cigarette until the interview's conclusion is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

The material facts at issue are largely undisputed. On March 16, 2009, a federal search warrant was executed at Slaight's residence in Rock Island, Illinois to investigate child pornography which was previously discovered on a computer at the residence via the internet. A group of law enforcement personnel took part in the search which resulted in finding Slaight, Slaight's roommate, and a computer at the residence. All law enforcement personnel participating in the search had guns drawn when entry was made for personal safety.

After the residence was deemed secure, all guns were put away. SA Bowers then gave Slaight a copy of the search warrant, explained that he was not under arrest, and asked Slaight if he would agree to a voluntary interview at the Rock Island Police Department. Slaight agreed and accompanied SA Bowers and Agent Berola to the police department, in the front passenger seat of SA Bowers' essentially civilian car. There is no evidence that Slaight was ever handcuffed, restrained, or threatened after agreeing to the interview. The Court finds that he voluntarily consented to go with the agents to the police department to answer their questions.

A Rock Island police officer led Slaight, SA Bowers, and Agent Berola to a very small interrogation room at the police department that contained three chairs and a table; the interrogation was audio and video recorded. After all three men were seated and prepared to begin the recorded interview, SA Bowers informed Slaight again that he was not under arrest, that he was not being detained, that the interview was voluntary, and recapped that Slaight had agreed to accompany the agents for the interview. Slaight responded that he did not have a choice because they were going to put him away anyway. Following this, SA Bowers repeated that Slaight was not under arrest, that the interview was voluntary, and that he could choose to answer questions or not answer questions. Slaight said he understood but it didn't matter because "you have what you have."

For approximately one hour, SA Bowers and Agent Berola questioned Slaight. During this time, Slaight answered most of the questions posed to him but not all. After SA Bowers indicated that he and Agent Berola were going to stop the interview for a period of time, Slaight asked if he could step out to smoke a cigarette. SA Bowers said that he would have to check on that. Slaight responded that he figured that was coming. He was not allowed to leave. He was in custody from this point forward.

SA Bowers and Agent Berola left Slaight in the interview room for approximately forty minutes before returning. They re-entered the room, accompanied by the audible sound of a lock being undone, and proceeded to recap the prior events. SA Bowers specifically recapped how Slaight had agreed to a voluntary interview, was not restrained, and that he had agreed to the interview. Slaight protested by stating that either way they were going to do what they were going to do but eventually, he agreed to the time line.

During this time, SA Bowers read Slaight his Miranda rights from a written form which he then requested Slaight sign. At this point, Slaight asked whether he was being placed under arrest. The agents did not respond. Instead, he was read the Miranda waiver information. Agent Berola informed Slaight that he was in custody for the purpose of the interview but the determination to formally arrest him had not yet been made. Slaight again asked if he was under arrest. No response was given.

Agent Berola and SA Bowers also informed Slaight that by signing the Miranda Waiver, he was not agreeing to anything, just that he understood his rights, and was agreeing to speak with them. Slaight eventually signed the form but promptly decided that if he was being given his rights then he was going to jail and therefore he requested a lawyer. Because of this request, the agents ceased the interview, asked no more questions of Slaight, proceeded to gather their interview equipment, and left the room.

DISCUSSION

Slaight asks that the Court suppress statements made to SA Bowers and Agent Berola on the grounds that their interrogation was a custodial interrogation administered without giving Slaight his Miranda rights prior to the commencement. This contention rests on the allegations that Slaight did not voluntarily choose to participate in the interview at the Rock Island Police Department but instead was taken there against his will by the agents, kept in a small interrogation room, not given Miranda rights prior to questioning, and was not allowed to leave.

The Court has previously ruled that the evidence shows that Slaight did choose to accompany the agents to the Rock Island Police Department voluntarily, without threat or intimidation. The Court has also determined that Slaight was undoubtedly in custody once he asked to step out to smoke a cigarette and was denied that request by SA Bowers. Therefore, the remaining questions before the Court are whether the circumstances of Slaight's interrogation, from the time he agreed to be transported to the Police Department until he was denied the freedom to leave and smoke a cigarette, constituted a custodial interrogation, and whether Slaight knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights.

I. The Court finds that the circumstances of Slaight's interrogation did not constitute a custodial interrogation and therefore Slaight's statements prior to his ...


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