354 F.Supp. 1195 (D.D.C. 1973), Crim. 1077-72, United States v. Blocker

Docket Nº:Crim. 1077-72
Citation:354 F.Supp. 1195
Party Name:United States v. Blocker
Case Date:February 07, 1973
Court:United States District Courts, District of Columbia
 
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Page 1195

354 F.Supp. 1195 (D.D.C. 1973)

UNITED STATES of America

v.

Darnell H. BLOCKER.

Crim. No. 1077-72.

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Feb. 7, 1973

Page 1196

Harold H. Titus, Jr., U. S. Atty. for D. C., Ruth Banks, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., for plaintiff.

Stephen E. Moss, Washington, D. C., for defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

FLANNERY, District Judge.

The defendant, who is charged with passing an altered one-dollar bill, 1 moved to suppress the confession he signed while in custody following his arrest. Subsequent to the hearing on the motion, the court requested that counsel submit further information concerning the defendant's education and I.Q. Counsel for the defendant submitted school records, mental ability test results and a description of the special school which the defendant had attended. 2 Upon consideration of the evidence received at the hearing, the memoranda of both counsel and the information concerning the defendant's education and I.Q., the court concludes that the defendant's confession must be

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suppressed because (1) the defendant was denied his right to counsel and (2) the defendant did not voluntarily waive the rights guaranteed him by Miranda v. Arizona. 3

The defendant is a 21-year-old individual of low intelligence. 4 Although he completed the seventh grade, 5 the defendant has always had difficulty reading 6 and attended a school for slow learners during his last year of school. 7 His only prior contact with the law was a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. That charge was filed, and subsequently dropped, by his uncle.

At the suppression hearing, the defendant's responses on the witness stand were lethargic and without feeling. He experienced difficulty in comprehending the questions asked by counsel and the court, and some questions had to be repeated several times. Frequently his responses were interrupted by long pauses when he apparently forgot the question asked. 8

The defendant was arrested at 9:30 p. m. on March 1, 1972, at a Gino's Restaurant where he allegedly passed an altered one-dollar bill. Apparently the "10" from a ten-dollar bill had been taped over the "1" on a one-dollar bill. The arresting officers read the standard Miranda warnings 9 to him at the scene of the arrest and again before arriving at the station house.

The defendant testified that upon arriving at the station house he requested a lawyer but was told that the police do not provide lawyers. According to defendant, the police advised him that he could discuss the matter with someone who was coming over from the "federal building." There was no testimony by the police concerning defendant's alleged request for counsel.

At 11:30 p. m., two hours after the arrest, two Secret Service agents arrived at the station house to question the defendant. They accompanied him into an interrogation room and administered the Miranda warnings. The defendant was provided a copy of these warnings to read as the agents recited

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the warnings to him, 10 and he signed a form indicating he understood his rights. 11 The agents testified that the defendant appeared to read the statement and that he at no time indicated an inability to read or comprehend the rights statement. At the hearing, however, a question arose as to whether the defendant could read at all. 12

The defendant's interrogation continued for one and one-half hours. Both agents questioned him, alternating the subject of the questions between routine administrative matters and the transaction leading to his arrest. Shortly after the interrogation began, the defendant was told to remove all his clothing and bend over. A strip search ensued for a period of about three minutes. 13

During the interrogation the agents advised him that he could be imprisoned for 20 years but that, if he cooperated, the agents could secure his prompt release on low bail. 14 The defendant testified

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that he believed the agents "were making a deal" and that he signed the statement because he was scared. 15

At first the defendant repeatedly denied passing the altered bill, but the agents repeatedly said they did not believe him. 16 Eventually he admitted passing the bill but maintained he had no knowledge that it was counterfeit. After the agents threatened to check for fingerprints under the tape on the bill, the defendant indicated his willingness to sign a statement. There is conflicting testimony concerning exactly how the statement was prepared, but defendant signed it at 1:00 a. m. At 10:00 a. m. on March 2nd, he was presented before a magistrate. 17

I

Evidence of the defendant's confession must be suppressed if it was obtained in violation of his fifth amendment right to counsel. 18 The court finds from the evidence adduced at the hearing that the defendant requested and

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was denied counsel even before he entered the interrogation room with the two Secret Service agents. The defendant testified that he requested a lawyer before the Secret Service agents arrived at the station house. According to the defendant, the police not only told him that no attorney was available, but also responded that he could consult with someone from the "federal building." This testimony was not contradicted at the hearing. The fact that the defendant related more than a simple request for and denial of counsel suggests that defendant's allegations are credible. Furthermore, the statement the defendant attributes to the police-that no counsel was available but that he could speak with someone from the "federal building"-is not an improbable response by police who have in custody a confused, ill-educated and uncounselled suspect.

The court, therefore, finds that the confession occurred after defendant had requested and been denied counsel. Consequently, evidence of the confession must be suppressed.

II

There is a further reason for suppressing the confession in this case. The interrogation tactics of the Secret Service agents, considered with this youthful defendant's apparent mental deficiency, require the conclusion that the defendant did not voluntarily waive the rights secured by Miranda v. Arizona. 19

Under the Constitution a suspect is guaranteed the rights to remain silent and to the assistance of counsel during in-custody interrogation, and evidence obtained in violation of these rights is inadmissible in a subsequent criminal prosecution. 20 Of course, the suspect may waive his rights, provided the waiver is voluntary, knowing and intelligent. 21 A "heavy burden" 22 rests on the Government to demonstrate the voluntariness of the waiver. 23 Where, as in the present case, agents confront the suspect for the sole purpose of securing a confession, the court must carefully examine the purported waiver. 24 The "totality of the circumstances" must be considered, 25 including any coercive tactics

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used in the interrogation process 26 and the age, intelligence and experience of the defendant. 27

The interrogation in the present case lasted for one and one-half hours while two agents alternately fired questions at the defendant, a person of restricted mental ability. Early in the interrogation the defendant was forced to strip and stand naked before his interrogators as the questioning proceeded. At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the agents were unable to explain satisfactorily the purpose behind the strip search of this young defendant. The first agent testified that a strip search is conducted on a hostile or possibly dangerous suspect to protect the interrogating agent against hidden weapons. When asked how defendant evidenced hostility, he...

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