U.S. v. Knowles

Decision Date15 April 1998
Docket NumberNo. 98-CR-10.,98-CR-10.
Citation2 F.Supp.2d 1135
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. John V. KNOWLES, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Wisconsin

Daniel Sanders, Ass't. U.S. Attorney, Milwaukee, WI, for Plaintiff.

Mark S. Stern, Stupar & Schuster, S.C., Milwaukee, WI, for Defendant.

DECISION AND ORDER

ADELMAN, District Judge.

Before me is a Recommendation and Order issued on March 4, 1998, by the Honorable Aaron E. Goodstein, Magistrate Judge, recommending the following rulings on motions made by defendant John Vincent Knowles: (1) suppression of statements made by defendant on January 12, 1998; and (2) dismissal of the one-count indictment issued against defendant on January 21, 1998. The government filed timely objections to these recommendations, which are also before me. Having reviewed the Recommendation and objections de novo, I see no reason to depart from the factual and legal determinations made by Magistrate Judge Goodstein. Therefore, I will briefly respond to the objections, before adopting the Recommendation in full.

I. Motion to Suppress

The Magistrate Judge has recommended that Knowles' confession be suppressed because it was not made voluntarily, given Agent Becker's numerous material misrepresentations regarding the defendant's status as a suspect and likelihood of arrest. Even if Knowles' Miranda rights were not violated (a conclusion which the court need not reach), his statements are inadmissible if made "involuntarily." See, e.g., United States v. Erekson, 70 F.3d 1153, 1157 (10th Cir.1995).

Voluntariness in this context depends on an assessment of "the totality of all the surrounding circumstances," including "both the characteristics of the accused and the details of the interrogation." Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 226, 93 S.Ct. 2041, 36 L.Ed.2d 854 (1973). The government has the burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the confession was voluntary, or "the product of a rational intellect and free will." United States v. Carter, 910 F.2d 1524, 1529 (7th Cir.1990) (quoting Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 208, 80 S.Ct. 274, 4 L.Ed.2d 242 (1960)).

The essence of the government's objection to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation to suppress is that a review of the "totality of the circumstances" does not suggest that the defendant's confession was involuntary. The government emphasizes several conclusions of fact made by the Magistrate Judge, relating to the non-custodial circumstances of the interview with Agent Becker and to the defendant's lack of susceptibility. The government also considers each "deception" in turn, arguing that none are particularly shocking or coercive.

This court, however, is persuaded that under a totality of the circumstances test the "pattern of deceptions" identified by Magistrate Judge Goodstein did, in fact, amount to impermissible coercion, in that the defendant was deprived of his ability to make a rational choice about whether to provide statements to Agent Becker. Throughout the interview, Knowles was affirmatively led to believe that he was not going to be arrested and that he was not a suspect. In fact, Agent Becker had an arrest warrant for Knowles in his possession and had every intention of arresting him upon completion of the interview.

The irony of this fact situation is that the same facts which tend to undercut Knowles' argument that he was subject to "custodial interrogation" without the benefit of Miranda warnings—namely, that he believed he was not under suspicion and was free to go at all times—also bolster his claim that he was coerced by calculated police deception into making statements he would not have otherwise made, i.e., that the statements were not "voluntary." As the parties have noted, the only relevant inquiry for Miranda purposes is "how a reasonable man in the suspect's shoes would have understood his situation." United States v. James, 113 F.3d 721, 726 (7th Cir.1997) (quoting Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 442, 104 S.Ct. 3138, 82 L.Ed.2d 317 (1984)). But a reasonable person in Knowles' situation would have believed he was not in custody only because of the completely artificial context created by Agent Becker.

While state and federal authorities may have some latitude in being less than scrupulously honest in the interests of effective criminal investigation, here the pattern of deception appears to have been calculated to circumvent the need for Miranda protections and thereby to deprive the defendant of the ability to make a reasoned choice about whether to incriminate himself. As Magistrate Judge Goodstein observed, "The conduct of law enforcement in this case crossed over the line of tactical, yet proper, investigative work to governmental overreaching." Recommendation and Order (March 4, 1998) at 22.

In sum, I find that the record shows that Agent Becker affirmatively and repeatedly misled Knowles as to the true nature of the investigation, and that this misinformation was material to defendant's decision to make a confession on January 12, 1998. See United States v. Serlin, 707 F.2d 953, 956 (7th Cir.1983) (setting forth standard for determining when deceit concerning nature of inquiry renders confession involuntary). Consequently, Knowles' confession was not voluntary and is inadmissible under the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Erekson, 70 F.3d at 1157. Accordingly, defendant's motion to suppress is granted, and Knowles' statement is suppressed in its entirety.

II. Motion to Dismiss

The Magistrate Judge has further recommended that Knowles' indictment be dismissed as too imprecise to enable the defendant to adequately prepare a defense or to protect him against future double jeopardy. The indictment reads:

The Grand Jury Charges: From on or about January 1, 1996, and continuing to on or about October 3, 1997, within the State and Eastern District of Wisconsin, and elsewhere, John Vincent Knowles, Jr., the defendant herein, did knowingly conspire with other persons both known and unknown, to commit money laundering with the intent to promote the carrying on of drug trafficking. All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, §§ 1956(a)(1)(A) and (h) and 2.

At issue is the sufficiency of this language with respect to § 1956(a)(1)(A), which attaches criminal liability to a person who knowingly conducts or attempts to conduct a "financial transaction" with the proceeds of a "specified unlawful activity," with the intent to promote the continuation of that unlawful activity. Section 1956(h), also relevant, attaches criminal liability to a person who "conspires to commit" any offense in this section, including § 1956(a)(1)(a), paraphrased above.

United States v. Allender, 62 F.3d 909 (7th Cir.1995), states that an indictment is sufficient if it (1) states all the elements of the offense charged; (2) informs the defendant of the nature of the charge, enabling him to prepare a defense; and (3) enables the defendant to plead the judgment as a bar to later prosecution for the same offense. Id. at 914. See also Fed.R.Crim.P. 7(c)(1).

As the Magistrate Judge has noted, the present indictment merely replaces the term "financial transaction" with the ambiguous "money laundering," and identifies "drug trafficking" as the "specified unlawful activity." A more specific definition of "financial transaction" is found at § 1956(4). But worse than not using this definition to specify the form of financial transaction in question, the government just alleges "money laundering," which, as it is colloquially understood, may be as broad as the statute itself, encompassing the entire range of § 1956 violations. Similarly, although § 1956(c)(7) lists broad categories of offenses which constitute "unlawful activities," the term "drug trafficking" is not squarely within any one category. As the Magistrate Judge has reasoned, the ambiguity of this indictment imperils both the defendant's ability to prepare a defense and his double jeopardy protection. Recommendation at 1140-1141.

The government's only objection to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation on this motion appears to be that the government does not have to allege all the elements of the underlying substantive offense or allege a specific "overt act" in order to satisfy the requirements of a conspiracy indictment, such as one under § 1956(h). See, e.g., United States v. Shabani, 513 U.S. 10, 115 S.Ct. 382, 130 L.Ed.2d 225 (1994). However, as the government's own authorities indicate, the indictment must still clearly identify the offense that a defendant conspired to violate. See United States v. Buschman, 386 F.Supp. 822 (E.D.Wis.), aff'd, 527 F.2d 1082 (7th Cir. 1976). As the Magistrate Judge's analysis bears out, the present indictment fails to do this.

Further, the fact that an "overt act" does not have to be alleged is significant for the purpose of defining "conspiracy," but has nothing to do with whether the substantive offense has been clearly identified. In other words, the government cannot decline to identify the type of "financial transaction" and specific "unlawful activity" underlying the alleged conspiracy by simply claiming that the defendant was a conspirator, not an overt actor. Regardless, the defendant still needs to know what it is he is being charged with doing. See United States v. Hinkle, 637 F.2d 1154, 1158 (7th Cir.1981) (holding that indictment alleging "facilitation" of use of "controlled substances" was insufficient for not specifying what was facilitated and with which controlled substance).

For the above reasons, the defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment is granted, and this action is hereby dismissed.

NOW, THEREFORE, pursuant to the Recommendation of the United States Magistrate Judge,

IT IS ORDERED that the defendant's motion to dismiss is GRANTED, and the defendant's motion to suppress is GRANTED.

RECOMMENDATION TO THE HONORABLE LYNN S....

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