Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 8---Confessions



VERNELL D.WILLIAMS

Direct Appeal

Published

http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/10a0194p-06.pdf

Defendant challenged his jury conviction for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Court found claims "meritless" and affirmed.

Defendant argued that his 2005 confession to state police was involuntary and should not have been admitted at his federal trial. The voluntariness of a confession turns on a number of circumstances, including the length of the interrogation, its location, its continuity, the defendant’s maturity, education, physical condition, and mental health, and whether the police advised the defendant of his Miranda rights, and whether the record contains evidence of police coercion.

The circumstances of the defendant's confession did not show involuntariness.

Defendant also invoked a federal statute concerning confessions and delayed presentments: 18 U.S.C. § 3501(c). Defendant claimed the district court had no right to admit his confession. Theory involved two steps: (1) The statutory provision says that "a confession" "shall not be inadmissible solely because" federal agents delay presentment to "a magistrate judge or other officer empowered to commit persons charged with" federal crimes if the confession "was made . . . within six hours immediately following . . . arrest"; and (2) confessions like this, which are made more than six hours after arrest and prior to presentment before a magistrate, must be involuntary.

Court rejected this two-step contention, finding at least three flaws. First, the statute creates a safe harbor for admitting, not excluding, confessions. Second, the statute regulates federal prosecutions and confessions, not confessions made in state custody. Defendant confessed while he was held by the state police for potential state charges. Third, the statute was designed to limit the requirement that federal agents promptly present a suspect to a federal magistrate, which has nothing to do (whether as a matter of state or federal custody) with this interrogation/confession.

Defendant went on to argue that, even if his confession was voluntary, the district court violated Rule 404(b) of the Rules of Evidence in admitting it. Rule 404(b) prohibits courts from admitting evidence of "other crimes," except for certain exceptions. The defendant's confession (detailing his ongoing drug sales, discussing how he obtained his drug supply, and admitting that he had been caught with five kilograms of cocaine in his car) was not evidence of other crimes. It was evidence of this, the charged, crime. While conspiracies may entail many acts, many of which may themselves be criminal, that does not make them "other crimes" presumptively barred from admission under 404(b).

The defendant argued that the evidence did not support the verdict. But the Court found that he had waived this argument by not renewing his pre-verdict motion for judgment of acquittal at the conclusion of the evidence. The Court had only to determine whether the trial resulted in a "manifest miscarriage of justice." The Court found that it did not.

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