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United States v. Burkhardt

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

March 10, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RYAN SCOTT BURKHARDT, Defendant.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM H. STEELE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the defendant's motion to suppress. (Doc. 55). The parties have filed briefs in support of their respective positions, (Docs. 55, 64, 65), and the Court held an evidentiary hearing at which testimony and exhibits were introduced into evidence. The defendant seeks to suppress statements made to law enforcement on April 6 and April 8, 2016, as well as statements made to the media on April 6, 2016. (Doc. 55 at 1; Doc. 65 at 1-2). After careful consideration, the Court concludes that the motion to suppress is due to be denied.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Request for Counsel.

         The defendant argues that, prior to making any statement on April 6, 2016, he requested counsel but that law enforcement officers nevertheless proceeded to question him. (Doc. 55 at 2).

         “We held in Edwards [v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), ] that if a suspect invokes the right to counsel at any time, the police must immediately cease questioning him until an attorney is present.” Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 462 (1994). However, “[u]nless the suspect actually requests an attorney, questioning may continue.” Id. Whether a suspect invoked his right to counsel “is an objective inquiry, ” and “if a suspect makes a reference to an attorney that is ambiguous or equivocal in that a reasonable officer in light of the circumstances would have understood only that the suspect might be invoking the right to counsel, our precedents do not require the cessation of questioning.” Id. at 459 (emphasis in original). “Rather, the suspect must unambiguously request counsel.” Id.

         Two law enforcement officers (and later a third) met with the defendant on April 6, 2016 and began by asking background questions to test his awareness of his location and recent medical history. The defendant confirmed that he was at the police station, that he had come from the hospital, and that he had had surgery on his left hand a day and a half earlier. He then spelled his name for the officers. The defendant then used the word “attorney” several times:

• “I know I got some police officers talking to me and I don't have an attorney with me.”
• “I was told not to speak to any police officer without an attorney present.”
• “I was told not to speak to any police officer without an attorney … present.”
• “An attorney [told the defendant] not to speak to any officers without my attorney present.”

         The defendant then identified by name the attorney that had told him this, at which time the defendant received a Miranda warning and consented to be questioned.

         The Court agrees with the government that the defendant did not, by these statements, “unambiguously request counsel.” Perhaps his statements could be construed by a reasonable officer under the circumstances as a request for counsel, but they could just as easily (if not more so) be construed by such an officer as reflecting merely the defendant's repetition of advice he had received without any decision to follow that advice. The defendant's statements were no less equivocal and ambiguous than those in the following cases, in each of which the statement was held insufficient to require cessation of questioning: Davis, 512 U.S. at 462 (“Maybe I should talk to a lawyer.”); Mincey v. Head, 206 F.3d 1106, 1127, 1132 (11th Cir. 2000) (“[G]o ahead and run the lawyers, ” uttered immediately after administration of Miranda warning); United States v. Tran, 171 Fed.Appx. 758, 761 (11th Cir. 2006) (defendant made a “request to retrieve his bankruptcy lawyer's business card”).

         Because the defendant did not unambiguously request counsel, the law enforcement officers were not required to cease their questioning of him, and his later inculpatory statements cannot be suppressed ...


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