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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

July 22, 2019




         Defendant Barry Lee Williams is charged in the indictment in this case with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A). (Doc. 1). Pursuant to the Fourth Amendment, Mr. Williams has asked the Court to suppress evidence that law enforcement officers found when they searched an area that was beyond the property line of his house. As stated during the suppression hearing, the Court denies that aspect of Mr. Williams's motion to suppress because Mr. Williams did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area that officers searched. (Doc. 68, p. 35).

         In addition, pursuant to the Fifth Amendment, Mr. Williams asks the Court to suppress inculpatory statements that he made during a custodial interrogation. (Docs. 47, 67). Mr. Williams contends that he invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, and after doing so, law enforcement officers used a cooperating witness to persuade him to tell officers where he had hidden a substantial amount of meth. (Doc. 47, pp. 3, 6; Doc. 67, pp. 2-3; Doc. 68, p. 29). Mr. Williams asserts that the coercive tactics officers used to elicit his inculpatory statements violate his rights under the Fifth Amendment. (Doc. 67, p. 2). This opinion addresses Mr. Williams's suppression arguments concerning his rights under the Fifth Amendment.[1]


         On February 3, 2018, the Morgan County Sheriff's Office and other law enforcement agencies served a search warrant on Mr. Williams at his residence at 850 Pleasantview Road in Morgan County, Alabama. (Doc. 68, p. 3).[2] At least 10 officers participated in the investigation at Mr. Williams's house. (Doc. 68, p. 12). The officers used a battering ram to enter the house. (Doc. 68, p. 12). When law enforcement officers found Mr. Williams, they placed him in handcuffs and advised him of his Miranda rights. (Doc. 68, pp. 4-6, 14-15).[3] Mr. Williams agreed to talk to the officers. He told the officers where they could find methamphetamine in his house. Officers searched Mr. Williams's house and found methamphetamine and other items associated with the distribution of illegal drugs. (Doc. 68, pp. 5-6). The officers then moved Mr. Williams to the front porch so that they could search his yard. (Doc. 68, pp. 6, 14). They were looking for a large quantity of methamphetamine, based on a tip from one of Mr. Williams's associates.

         Earlier in the day, law enforcement officers had arrested Mr. Williams's associate - Froggy - on outstanding warrants. Froggy's full name is Melvin Rolin. From the time of his arrest, Froggy cooperated with the officers. He took officers to Mr. Williams's house, and he called the courier who delivered the shipment of methamphetamine to Mr. Williams's house to confirm the delivery. (Doc. 68, pp. 7, 23, 26). Based on the information they received from Froggy, the officers at Mr. Williams's house were convinced that a large quantity of meth was hidden on Mr. Williams's property, but they could not locate it, even with the help of a K-9 officer. (Doc. 68, pp. 10, 20).

         Sergeant Dockery, the case agent, decided to approach Mr. Williams and let him know that Froggy was in police custody. (Doc. 68, pp. 15, 20). Sergeant Dockery had not spoken to Mr. Williams since officers moved him to the front porch, and there is no evidence that Mr. Williams spoke to other officers while he waited on the porch. The record does not indicate how long officers had been searching Mr. Williams's yard before Sergeant Dockery decided to approach Mr. Williams. When Sergeant Dockery told Mr. Williams that the police had Froggy in custody, Sergeant Dockery got the impression that Mr. Williams did not believe him. (Doc. 68, pp. 7, 21).

         Officers were holding Froggy in a patrol car at a staging area near Mr. Williams's house. (Doc. 68, p. 21). Sergeant Dockery left Mr. Williams's house and drove to the staging area to speak to Froggy. He told Froggy that he had not been able to find the meth that Mr. Williams supposedly had hidden. Froggy agreed to speak to Mr. Williams. (Doc. 68, pp. 21-22, 27). Officers brought Froggy to Mr. Williams's house and gave Mr. Williams and Froggy (both of whom were handcuffed) a few minutes to talk. (Doc. 68, pp. 22-23, 27). Sergeant Dockery stood nearby as Froggy and Mr. Williams spoke and overheard some of their conversation. (Doc. 68, pp. 7, 24).[4] Mr. Williams asked Sergeant Dockery about the charges that he likely was facing. Sergeant Dockery explained that he (Mr. Williams) likely would be charged with conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine. Mr. Williams then led officers to a brush pile beyond the end of his property where he had hidden methamphetamine pills. (Doc. 68, pp. 7-9, 25).


         When an individual in police custody asserts his right to remain silent or to have the assistance of counsel, police must “scrupulously honor[]” the individual's choice and stop their interrogation. Michigan v. Mosley, 423 U.S. 96, 103 (1975) (quoting Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 479 (1966)). Mr. Williams contends that by remaining silent while officers searched his yard, he invoked his right to remain silent. The Supreme Court rejected this argument in Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370 (2010).

         In Berghuis, the Supreme Court held that an individual who wants to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent must do so unambiguously; remaining silent for a period of time is not sufficient. Berghuis, 560 U.S. at 380-82. The Supreme Court explained:

[Tomkins] first contends that he “invoke[d] his privilege” to remain silent by not saying anything for a sufficient period of time, so the interrogation should have “cease[d]” before he made his inculpatory statements . . . Thompkins did not say that he wanted to remain silent or that he did not want to talk with the police. Had he made either of these simple, unambiguous statements, he would have invoked his “‘right to cut off questioning.'” Mosley, supra, at 103, 96 S.Ct. 321 (quoting Miranda, supra, at 474, 86 S.Ct. 1602). Here he did neither, so he did not invoke his right to remain silent.

560 U.S. at 380-81.

         There is no discernable difference between Berghuis and this case. Shortly after officers entered Mr. Williams's house and placed him in handcuffs, Sergeant Dockery advised Mr. Williams of his right to remain silent. Mr. Williams chose to tell officers about the methamphetamine located in his house; he does not contend otherwise. There is no evidence that Mr. Williams spoke to officers after the officers moved him to the front porch so that they could search his yard, but there also is no evidence that Mr. Williams indicated to the officers that he did not want ...

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