United States v. Alvarez-Sanchez

Decision Date02 May 1994
Docket NumberNo. 92-1812.,92-1812.
Citation511 U.S. 350
CourtU.S. Supreme Court


Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Blackmun, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Blackmun, J., joined, post, p. 361. Stevens, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 361.

Miguel A. Estrada argued the cause for the United States. With him on the briefs were Solicitor General Days, Assistant Attorney General Harris, and Deputy Solicitor General Bryson.

Carlton F. Gunn argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.

Justice Thomas, delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case concerns the scope of 18 U. S. C. § 3501, the statute governing the admissibility of confessions in federal prosecutions. Respondent contends that § 3501(c), which provides that a custodial confession made by a person within six hours following his arrest "shall not be inadmissible solely because of delay in bringing such person" before a federal magistrate, rendered inadmissible the custodial statement he made more than six hours after his arrest on state criminal charges. We conclude, however, that § 3501(c) does not apply to statements made by a person who is being held solely on state charges. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.


On Friday, August 5, 1988, officers of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department obtained a warrant to search respondent's residence for heroin and other evidence of narcotics distribution. While executing the warrant later that day, the officers discovered not only narcotics, but $2,260 in counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes. Respondent was arrested and booked on state felony narcotics charges at approximately 5:40 p.m. He spent the weekend in custody.

On Monday morning, August 8, the Sheriff's Department informed the United States Secret Service of the counterfeit currency found in respondent's residence. Two Secret Service agents arrived at the Sheriff's Department shortly before midday to take possession of the currency and to interview respondent. Using a deputy sheriff as an interpreter, the agents informed respondent of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436 (1966). After waiving these rights, respondent admitted that he had known that the currency was counterfeit. The agents arrested respondent shortly thereafter, took him to the Secret Service field office for booking, and prepared a criminal complaint. Due to congestion in the Federal Magistrate's docket, respondent was not presented on the federal complaint until the following day.1

Respondent was indicted for unlawful possession of counterfeit currency in violation of 18 U. S. C. § 472. Prior to trial, he moved to suppress the statement he had made during his interview with the Secret Service agents. He argued that his confession was made without a voluntary and knowing waiver of his Miranda rights, and that the delay between his arrest on state charges and his presentment on the federal charge rendered his confession inadmissible under 18 U. S. C. § 3501(c).2 The District Court rejected both contentions and denied the motion. Respondent subsequently was convicted after a jury trial at which the statement was admitted into evidence.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the conviction. 975 F. 2d 1396 (1992). The court first outlined the exclusionary rule developed by this Court in a line of cases including McNabb v. United States, 318 U. S. 332 (1943), and Mallory v. United States, 354 U. S. 449 (1957). The so-called McNabb-Mallory rule, adopted by this Court "in the exercise of its supervisory authority over the administration of criminal justice in the federal courts," McNabb, supra, at 341, generally rendered inadmissible confessions made during periods of detention that violated the prompt presentment requirement of Rule 5(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. See Mallory, supra, at 453. Rule 5(a) provides that a person arrested for a federal offense shall be taken "without unnecessary delay" before the nearest federal magistrate, or before a state or local judicial officer authorized to set bail for federal offenses under 18 U. S. C. § 3041, for a first appearance, or presentment.

The Ninth Circuit went on to discuss the interrelated provisions of 18 U. S. C. § 3501 and the decisions of the Courts of Appeals that have sought to discern the extent to which this statute curtailed the McNabb-Mallory rule. Section 3501(a), the court observed, states that a confession "shall be admitted in evidence" if voluntarily made, and § 3501(b) lists several nonexclusive factors that the trial judge should consider when making the voluntariness determination, including "the time elapsing between arrest and arraignment of the defendant making the confession, if it was made after arrest and before arraignment." Section 3501(c) provides that a confession made by a person within six hours following his arrest or other detention "shall not be inadmissible" solely because of delay in presenting the person to a federal magistrate. The Ninth Circuit construed § 3501(c) as precluding suppression under McNabb-Mallory of any confession made during this "safe harbor" period following arrest. 975 F. 2d, at 1399. The court then reasoned that, by negative implication, § 3501(c) must in some circumstances allow suppression of a confession made more than six hours after arrest solely on the basis of pre-presentment delay, "regardless of the voluntariness of the confession." Id., at 1401. The court thus concluded that the McNabb-Mallory rule, in either a pure or slightly modified form, applies to confessions made after the expiration of the safe harbor period.

Turning to the facts of the case before it, the court determined that § 3501(c) applied to respondent's statement because respondent was in custody and had not been presented to a magistrate at the time of the interview. The court concluded that the statement fell outside the subsection's safe harbor because it was not made until Monday afternoon, nearly three days after respondent's arrest on state charges. 975 F. 2d, at 1405, and n. 8 (citing United States v. Fouche, 776 F. 2d 1398, 1406 (CA9 1985)). Because the statement was not made within the § 3501(c) safe harbor period, the court applied both its pure and modified versions of the McNabb-Mallory rule and held that, under either approach, the confession should have been suppressed. 975 F. 2d, at 1405-1406.

We granted the Government's petition for a writ of certiorari in order to consider the Ninth Circuit's interpretation of § 3501. 510 U. S. 912 (1993).


The parties argue at some length over the proper interpretation of subsections (a) and (c) of 18 U. S. C. § 3501, and, in particular, over the question whether § 3501(c) requires suppression of a confession that is made by an arrestee prior to presentment and more than six hours after arrest, regardless of whether the confession was voluntarily made. The Government contends that through § 3501, Congress repudiated the McNabb-Mallory rule in its entirety. Under this theory, § 3501(c) creates a safe harbor that prohibits suppression on grounds of pre-presentment delay if a confession is made within six hours following arrest, but says nothing about the admissibility of a confession given beyond that 6-hour period. The admissibility of such a confession, the Government argues, is controlled by § 3501(a), which provides that voluntary confessions "shall be admitted in evidence."

Largely agreeing with the Ninth Circuit, respondent contends that § 3501(c) codified a limited form of the McNabbMallory rule—one that requires the suppression of a confession made before presentment but after the expiration of the safe harbor period. A contrary interpretation of § 3501(c), respondent argues, would render that subsection meaningless in the face of § 3501(a).

As the parties recognize, however, we need not address subtle questions of statutory construction concerning the safe harbor set out in § 3501(c), or resolve any tension between the provisions of that subsection and those of § 3501(a), if we determine that the terms of § 3501(c) were never triggered in this case. We turn, then, to that threshold inquiry.

When interpreting a statute, we look first and foremost to its text. Connecticut Nat. Bank v. Germain, 503 U. S. 249, 253-254 (1992). Section 3501(c) provides that in any federal criminal prosecution,

"a confession made or given by a person who is a defendant therein, while such person was under arrest or other detention in the custody of any law-enforcement officer or law-enforcement agency, shall not be inadmissible solely because of delay in bringing such person before a magistrate or other officer empowered to commit persons charged with offenses against the laws of the United States or of the District of Columbia if such confession is found by the trial judge to have been made voluntarily and if . . . such confession was made or given by such person within six hours immediately following his arrest or other detention."

Respondent contends that he was under "arrest or other detention" for purposes of § 3501(c) during the interview at the Sheriff's Department, and that his statement to the Secret Service agents constituted a confession governed by this subsection. In respondent's view, it is irrelevant that he was in the custody of the local authorities, rather than that of the federal agents, when he made the statement. Because the statute applies to persons in the custody of "any " law enforcement officer or law enforcement agency, respondent suggests that the § 3501(c) 6-hour time period begins to run whenever a person is arrested by local, state, or federal officers.

We believe re...

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