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United States v. Shabaz

August 27, 2009


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 07 CR 855-Suzanne B. Conlon, Judge.

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


Before FLAUM, WOOD and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

On December 21, 2007, Samuel Shabaz was arrested at his home in Chicago, Illinois, by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI agents were acting under the authority of an arrest warrant that named Shabaz as a suspect in a robbery at a TCF Bank, which is located in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Following the arrest, the FBI agents, along with officers from the Oak Lawn Police Department, took Shabaz to the Calumet City Police Department. (Oak Lawn and Calumet City are both south suburbs of Chicago.) Once there, Shabaz confessed to his role in two bank robberies. In due course, a federal grand jury indicted him on one count of attempted bank robbery and two counts of bank robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a). Shabaz moved to suppress his confession, asserting that it was taken in violation of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). After the district court denied his motion, Shabaz entered a conditional plea of guilty, reserving the right to appeal the court's refusal to sup-press the confession. We conclude that Shabaz cannot prevail unless we were to overturn key credibility rulings of the district court. Finding no reason to do so, we affirm.


Shabaz's appeal turns on what happened to him after he found himself at the Calumet City Police Department. The parties' accounts differ significantly. The Government presented evidence that once Shabaz arrived at the police station he asked to use, and was permitted to use, the bathroom. Agent Watson testified that before Shabaz was taken into the interview room, he heard Shabaz use the word "attorney" or "lawyer," although he did not remember the context in which the word was used. Agent Watson said that he was sure that Shabaz did not request an attorney. Once Shabaz was led into the interview room, Agent Watson made introductory remarks, identified who was there, explained to Shabaz why he had been arrested, and outlined the topics that the FBI wanted to discuss with him. Agent Watson then read Shabaz his Miranda rights and asked him to sign an "advice of rights" waiver form. Shabaz stated that he understood his rights, but he refused to sign the form. Instead, he said that he would continue to speak to the FBI but would stop any time he felt he did not want to answer a question. The officers denied making any promises of lenience to him.

Shabaz told quite a different story. According to him, as soon as he had arrived at the police station and used the restroom, he asked Agent Watson, "[A]m I going to be able to get an attorney?" (In its brief, the Government appears to agree that Shabaz asked this question.) Agent Watson replied, "[L]et's just get you down here," pointing to an interview room. Shabaz testified that as he entered the interview room, Agent Watson said, "[W]e know what you've been doing," and asked him to "start at the beginning." Shabaz testified that he asked for a lawyer several times and was ignored. At some point, Shabaz asked to speak with two people: his girlfriend, Maritza Velazques, and his friend Kabir. The officers refused to let him do so until he agreed to cooperate. Shabaz asserted that they repeatedly told him that he would be treated with lenience if he cooperated. Shabaz stated that he stopped requesting an attorney because he believed that he would not be provided with one.

Both sides agree that the FBI agents presented Shabaz with a "consent to search" form, which he signed. The Government says that the form described Shabaz's house, two Dodge vans, and his cellular telephone. Shabaz, however, testified that the consent to search form did not list the places to be searched at the time that he signed it. There is additional disagreement about when Shabaz was asked to sign the consent to search form and at what point the agents began seriously to question him. But once the questioning began, Shabaz confessed in detail to robbing the TCF Bank in Oak Lawn on two different occasions and once attempting to rob the Standard Bank and Trust, also in Oak Lawn. His confession included information about his planning and execution of the robberies, his motive, and his disposition of the money. He also identified himself in the bank surveillance photographs from each of the robberies, and he signed them to acknowledge that he was the man in them.


In the district court, Shabaz moved to suppress all of the incriminating statements he made during the interview, arguing that his question in the hallway about an attorney was an unambiguous request for counsel. When the agents persisted in interrogating him, he reasons, they violated his Miranda rights, and that violation renders all of his post-request statements inadmissible. Shabaz also argued that any waiver of his Miranda rights he might have made in the interview room was not knowing and voluntary.

The suppression motion was heard by a magistrate judge, who held an evidentiary hearing and recommended that the district court find that the Government had met its burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that Shabaz had knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights before his confession. First, the magistrate judge found that the officers did not violate Shabaz's rights at the time of the arrest, because he was not questioned nor did he give statements at that time. Second, the judge credited Shabaz's testimony that he asked Agent Watson, "[A]m I going to be able to get an attorney?" prior to entering the interview room. The judge, however, did not interpret Agent Watson's response as an outright denial. Instead, the judge found, when Agent Watson responded by directing Shabaz to the interview room, the agent was merely deferring an answer to the question for a couple of minutes (during which no interrogation took place). At that point, the judge chose to credit the accounts of the Government's witnesses and to reject Shabaz's version. This led to the judge's finding that Shabaz knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights once he was in the interview room and he began to talk. On review, the district court accepted the magistrate judge's report and recommendation and denied the motion to suppress.

On appeal, Shabaz argues only that the district court erred when it denied his motion to suppress for two reasons: first, because the agents wrongfully denied his request for an attorney, and second, because any waiver of his Miranda rights that may have occurred was not knowing and voluntary.


Shabaz first argues that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress because he unambiguously requested an attorney when he asked, "[A]m I going to be able to get an attorney?" Shabaz regards this statement as sufficient, as a matter of law, to invoke his Miranda rights. Central to Miranda's holding is that law enforcement officers are obliged to inform an accused who is subject to custodial interrogation that she has the right to consult an attorney and to have an attorney present during questioning. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 471-72; Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 457 (1994). If a suspect invokes her Miranda rights, she "is not subject to further interrogation by the authorities until counsel ...

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