U.S. v. Hinckley, s. 81-2350

Citation672 F.2d 115,217 U.S. App. D.C. 262
Decision Date23 February 1982
Docket NumberNos. 81-2350,81-2383,s. 81-2350
Parties, 10 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 577 UNITED STATES of America, Appellant, v. John W. HINCKLEY, Jr. UNITED STATES of America, Appellant, v. John W. HINCKLEY, Jr.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)

Michael W. Farrell, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., with whom Charles F. C. Ruff, U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., at the time briefs were filed, John A. Terry, Roger M. Adelman and Marc B. Tucker, Asst. U. S. Attys., Washington, D. C., were on brief for appellant.

Gregory B. Craig, Washington, D. C., with whom Vincent J. Fuller, Judith A. Miller and Lon S. Babby, Washington, D. C., were on brief for appellee.

Before ROBINSON, Chief Judge, and WRIGHT and WALD, Circuit Judges.



On March 30, 1981, the President of the United States, his Press Secretary, a Secret Service agent, and a Metropolitan Police Department officer were shot in an assassination attempt in front of the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. A suspect, John W. Hinckley, Jr., was apprehended on the scene and taken into custody. Hinckley has been charged with three federal 1 and five District of Columbia offenses. 2 In a pretrial ruling, 3 the district court suppressed certain evidence that it found had been obtained in violation of the constitutional protections against compelled self-incrimination 4 and unreasonable searches and seizures. 5 The government brought this expedited appeal, and argues that the district court erred in its factual findings and legal conclusions, and in the alternative, that even if the evidence was obtained in an unconstitutional manner, it should be usable at trial under certain novel theories 6 advanced by the government attorneys.

The appeal concerns two separate incidents, 7 one of which occurred the day of Hinckley's arrest and the other some months later while he was a pretrial detainee undergoing mental evaluation at the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, North Carolina (Butner). On the day of his arrest, Hinckley was held in custody first by the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPD) and later by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. No misconduct by the local police has been alleged. 8 When the FBI assumed jurisdiction over the case and took custody of Hinckley, however, two federal agents-after advising Hinckley of his right to counsel and his right to remain silent, and despite the fact that Hinckley had asked to confer with an attorney before answering questions-nevertheless questioned him for approximately one-half hour before he had an opportunity to consult with his attorney. 9 Hinckley's request, under clearly established law, precluded any interrogation until he had the opportunity to confer with counsel. 10 The violation of this right-recognized by the Supreme Court fifteen years ago in Miranda v. Arizona 11 and recently reaffirmed by the entire Court in Edwards v. Arizona 12-caused the district court to suppress all evidence obtained during this interview. 13 The district court's suppression order extended not only to the information obtained during the questioning, but also to testimony by the agents regarding Hinckley's demeanor during the session. 14

The second incident involved in this appeal concerns the reading of Hinckley's personal papers by prison guards during a routine search of his cell for contraband. Several sheets of almost illegible handwritten notes bearing on alleged criminal activity were seized by prison authorities during a search for contraband, and subsequently turned over to federal officials investigating the case. 15 The government attempted to justify the reading of Hinckley's papers as necessary in light of legitimate concerns for his safety and the needs of prison security. 16 The district court determined, however, that the guards had never been instructed by any official at Butner to read Hinckley's papers, 17 and that this fact, in combination with the overall circumstances of Hinckley's confinement, made the action of the guards constitutionally impermissible. 18

The district court also rejected the government's argument that the reading of Hinckley's notes was justified by the "plain view" doctrine. 19 The government asserted that, in the course of an entirely proper search for contraband, a guard's eyes were caught by the words "prison," "life sentence," and "cooperation with the Justice Department" 20 on the folded sheaf of papers; that those words, happened upon in plain view, properly triggered the guard's concern that Hinckley might be contemplating suicide; that this concern justified reading further; and that the further reading revealed evidence of possible additional criminal conduct. Given this chain of events, the government argues that the entire contents of the document should be admissible under the plain view doctrine. 21 The district court did not accept this "almost-plain-view" doctrine; indeed, it found the chain of events broken at the first link because-in the district court's view-far from arousing fears of suicide, the words noticed should, if anything, have alerted the guard that the papers related to Hinckley's case and thus should not be read. 22

On appeal, the district court's conclusions of law are not binding on this court; we are free to draw our own legal conclusions, and it is indeed "the duty of the appellate court to decide whether the correct rule of law has been applied to the facts found." 23 As to factual matters, however, we must abide by the district court's findings unless they are clearly erroneous. 24

With this background, we turn to the government's arguments on appeal, which are in large part the same as those made before the district court. For the reasons set forth in our analysis below, we do not find them sufficiently persuasive to overturn the district court's suppression order. 25

I. THE Miranda ISSUE

We examine first the admissibility of statements made by Hinckley 26 during the 25-minute "background" interview conducted by federal agents after he had asserted his right to speak with an attorney. The government argues primarily that this questioning did not constitute impermissible "interrogation."

A. Factual Background
1. Metropolitan Police Custody

Immediately following the attempted assassination of the President, Hinckley was arrested and taken to MPD Headquarters in the custody of Secret Service agents and D.C. police. The group arrived at headquarters at 2:40 p. m. 27 At MPD Headquarters Hinckley was read the Miranda warnings, first by Secret Service Agent Dennis McCarthy and later by Detective Arthur Myers of the D.C. police force. Hinckley was then taken to the Homicide Squad Office where Detective Myers again advised him of his Miranda rights from an official police advice-of-rights form (PD-47). 28

The reverse side of the PD-47 form contained four waiver questions to which Hinckley could give written responses. Hinckley wrote "yes" in response to (1) whether he had read his rights and (2) whether he understood his rights. However, in response to the third question, whether he wished to answer any questions, Hinckley answered orally: "I don't know. I'm not sure; I think I ought to talk to Joe Bates," explaining that Bates was his father's attorney in Dallas, Texas. In response to the fourth question, whether he was willing to answer questions without an attorney present, Hinckley again responded verbally: "I want to talk to you, but first I want to talk to Joe Bates." 29

Hinckley signed the PD-47 form at 3:10 p. m. He remained in the custody of the MPD until about 4:50 p. m., during which time he provided information necessary for police department booking and processing activities. 30 During this time, the police made efforts to contact the attorney he had requested, and Detective Myers assured Hinckley that such efforts were underway.

2. FBI Custody

The D.C. police were notified around 4:00 p. m. that the FBI would assume jurisdiction over the case because of the involvement of the President. At 4:50 p. m., two FBI agents-Henry Ragle and George Chimel-placed Hinckley under arrest for violation of the Presidential Assassination Statute. At roughly the same time, Detective Myers told the two agents that Hinckley had already asked for an attorney; that he did not want to make a statement without a lawyer present; and that the MPD was attempting to locate the attorney requested. 31 Secret Service Agent McCarthy also told the FBI that Hinckley had stated that he did not wish to make any statement until he had consulted with an attorney. 32

Hinckley was taken to the FBI Washington Field Office at approximately 5:15 p. m. Upon arrival, he was advised of his Miranda rights through an FBI "Advice of Rights Form." 33 Although Hinckley signed his name below the waiver provision on the form, it was clearly understood, and the government does not here dispute, that Hinckley did not agree to waive his right not to answer questions or give a statement before consulting counsel. 34 Hinckley said at this time that he would answer questions 35 but that he would like first to speak with his parents, and supplied their phone number. Around the same time, Agent Chimel told Hinckley that the attorney he requested had been contacted and had recommended that Hinckley retain Vincent Fuller, a Washington attorney. These events all took place before 6:00 p. m. 36

The FBI then attempted to contact Hinckley's parents. However, the record does not show that any effort was made to contact Fuller during this period. 37 At 6:30 p. m., another attorney, Stuart Johnson, who had been alerted by a federal magistrate that he might be appointed to serve as counsel in an anticipated appearance of the accused, called the FBI office. He identified himself and sought access to Hinckley, but, according to his report, the agent he...

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