166 F.3d 667 (4th Cir. 1999), 97-4750, United States v. Dickerson

Docket Nº:97-4750.
Citation:166 F.3d 667
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Charles Thomas DICKERSON, Defendant-Appellee. Washington Legal Foundation; Safe Streets Coalition, Amici Curiae.
Case Date:February 08, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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Page 667

166 F.3d 667 (4th Cir. 1999)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Charles Thomas DICKERSON, Defendant-Appellee.

Washington Legal Foundation; Safe Streets Coalition, Amici Curiae.

No. 97-4750.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

February 8, 1999

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Argued Jan. 30, 1998.

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ARGUED: Vincent L. Gambale, Assistant United States Attorney, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant. Paul George Cassell, College of Law, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, for Amici Curiae. James Warren Hundley, Briglia & Hundley, Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Helen F. Fahey, United States Attorney, William G. Otis, Senior Litigation Counsel, Justin W. Williams, Assistant United States Attorney-

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/Chief, Criminal Division, Robert A. Spencer, Assistant United States Attorney, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant. Daniel J. Popeo, Paul D. Kamenar, Washington Legal Foundation, Washington, DC, for Amici Curiae.

Before WILLIAMS and MICHAEL, Circuit Judges, and KISER, Senior United States District Judge for the Western District of Virginia, sitting by designation.

Reversed and remanded by published opinion. Judge WILLIAMS wrote the opinion, in which Senior Judge KISER joined. Judge MICHAEL wrote an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

OPINION

WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge:

In response to the Supreme Court's decision in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), the Congress of the United States enacted 18 U.S.C.A. § 3501 (West 1985), with the clear intent of restoring voluntariness as the test for admitting confessions in federal court. Although duly enacted by the United States Congress and signed into law by the President of the United States, the United States Department of Justice has steadfastly refused to enforce the provision. In fact, after initially "taking the Fifth" on the statute's constitutionality, the Department of Justice has now asserted, without explanation, that the provision is unconstitutional. With the issue squarely presented, we hold that Congress, pursuant to its power to establish the rules of evidence and procedure in the federal courts, acted well within its authority in enacting § 3501. As a consequence, § 3501, rather than Miranda, governs the admissibility of confessions in federal court. Accordingly, the district court erred in suppressing Dickerson's voluntary confession on the grounds that it was obtained in technical violation of Miranda.

I.

On January 27, 1997, Charles T. Dickerson confessed to robbing a series of banks in Maryland and Virginia. Dickerson was subsequently indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of conspiracy to commit bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. § 371 (West Supp.1998), three counts of bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. § 2113(a) & (d) (West Supp.1998), and three counts of using a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. § 924(c)(1) (West Supp.1998). Shortly thereafter, Dickerson moved to suppress his confession. Although the district court specifically found that Dickerson's confession was voluntary for purposes of the Fifth Amendment, it nevertheless suppressed the confession because it was obtained in technical violation of Miranda. 1

In ruling on the admissibility of Dickerson's confession, the district court failed to consider § 3501, which provides, in pertinent part, that "a confession ... shall be admissible in evidence if it is voluntarily given." 18 U.S.C.A. § 3501(a). Based upon the statutory language, it is evident that Congress enacted § 3501 with the express purpose of legislatively overruling Miranda and restoring voluntariness as the test for admitting confessions in federal court. Thus, if Congress possessed the authority to enact § 3501, Dickerson's voluntary confession is admissible as substantive evidence in the Government's case-in-chief.

Congress enacted § 3501 as a part of the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1968, just two years after the Supreme Court decided Miranda. Although the Supreme Court has referred to § 3501 as "the statute governing the admissibility of confessions in federal prosecutions," United States v. Alvarez-Sanchez, 511 U.S. 350, 351, 114 S.Ct. 1599, 128 L.Ed.2d 319 (1994), the Court has never considered whether the statute overruled Miranda, see Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 457 n. *, 114 S.Ct. 2350, 129 L.Ed.2d 362

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(1994). Indeed, although several lower courts have found that § 3501, rather than Miranda, governs the admissibility of confessions in federal court, see United States v. Crocker, 510 F.2d 1129, 1137 (10th Cir.1975); United States v. Rivas-Lopez, 988 F.Supp. 1424, 1430-36 (D.Utah 1997), no Administration since the provision's enactment has pressed the point, see Davis, 512 U.S. at 463-64, 114 S.Ct. 2350 (Scalia, J., concurring) (noting that "the provision has been studiously avoided by every Administration ... since its enactment more than 25 years ago"); see also U.S. Dep't of Justice, Report to Attorney General on Law of Pre-Trial Interrogation 72-73 (1986) (discussing "[t]he abortive implementation of § 3501" after its passage in 1968). In fact, after initially declining to take a position on the applicability of § 3501, see Davis, 512 U.S. at 457, 114 S.Ct. 2350, the current Administration has now asserted, without explanation, that the provision is unconstitutional, see Letter from Janet Reno, Attorney General, to Congress (Sept. 10, 1997).

Recently, Justice Scalia expressed his concern with the Department of Justice's failure to enforce § 3501. See Davis, 512 U.S. at 465, 114 S.Ct. 2350 (Scalia, J., concurring). In addition to "caus[ing] the federal judiciary to confront a host of 'Miranda ' issues that might be entirely irrelevant under federal law," id., Justice Scalia noted that the Department of Justice's failure to invoke the provision "may have produced--during an era of intense national concern about the problem of run-away crime--the acquittal and the nonprosecution of many dangerous felons," id. This is just such a case. Dickerson voluntarily confessed to participating in a series of armed bank robberies. Without his confession it is possible, if not probable, that he will be acquitted. Despite that fact, the Department of Justice, elevating politics over law, prohibited the U.S. Attorney's Office from arguing that Dickerson's confession is admissible under the mandate of § 3501.

Fortunately, we are a court of law and not politics. Thus, the Department of Justice cannot prevent us from deciding this case under the governing law simply by refusing to argue it. See United States Nat'l Bank of Or. v. Independent Ins. Agents of America, Inc., 508 U.S. 439, 445-48, 113 S.Ct. 2173, 124 L.Ed.2d 402 (1993). Here, the district court has suppressed a confession that, on its face, is admissible under the mandate of § 3501, i.e., the confession was voluntary under the Due Process Clause, but obtained in technical violation of Miranda. Thus, the question of whether § 3501 governs the admissibility of confessions in federal court is squarely before us today.

Determining whether Congress possesses the authority to enact § 3501 is relatively straightforward. Congress has the power to overrule judicially created rules of evidence and procedure that are not required by the Constitution. See Carlisle v. United States, 517 U.S. 416, 426, 116 S.Ct. 1460, 134 L.Ed.2d 613 (1996); Palermo v. United States, 360 U.S. 343, 345-48, 79 S.Ct. 1217, 3 L.Ed.2d 1287 (1959). Thus, whether Congress has the authority to enact § 3501 turns on whether the rule set forth by the Supreme Court in Miranda is required by the Constitution. Clearly it is not. At no point did the Supreme Court in Miranda refer to the warnings as constitutional rights. Indeed, the Court acknowledged that the Constitution did not require the warnings, 384 U.S. at 467, 86 S.Ct. 1602, disclaimed any intent to create a "constitutional straightjacket," id., referred to the warnings as "procedural safeguards," id. at 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602, and invited Congress and the States "to develop their own safeguards for [protecting] the privilege," id. at 490, 86 S.Ct. 1602. Since deciding Miranda, the Supreme Court has consistently referred to the Miranda warnings as "prophylactic," New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 654, 104 S.Ct. 2626, 81 L.Ed.2d 550 (1984), and "not themselves rights protected by the Constitution," Michigan v. Tucker, 417 U.S. 433, 444, 94 S.Ct. 2357, 41 L.Ed.2d 182 (1974). We have little difficulty concluding, therefore, that § 3501, enacted at the invitation of the Supreme Court and pursuant to Congress's unquestioned power to establish the rules of procedure and evidence in the federal courts, is constitutional. As a consequence, we hold that the admissibility of confessions in federal court is governed by § 3501, rather than the judicially created rule of Miranda.

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II.

Because of the unique posture of this case, i.e., an interlocutory appeal from the denial of a motion to reopen a suppression hearing, and the significant legal questions raised therein, we have set forth the factual background and the procedural history in painstaking detail. Although rather lengthy, we believe that it is helpful in understanding the important legal issues that must be addressed.

On January 24, 1997, an individual using a silver semi-automatic handgun and carrying a black leather bag robbed the First Virginia Bank in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia, of approximately $876. An eyewitness saw the robber exit the bank, run down the street, and get into a white Oldsmobile Ciera with District of Columbia license plate number D5286. Within seconds, the...

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