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United States v. Hamlett

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

June 6, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Suppress (Doc. 19) brought by the Defendant, Jordan Hamlett. The Government filed an Opposition (Doc. 21). An evidentiary hearing was held on the Motion on March 9, 2017. Both parties submitted post hearing memoranda (Docs. 27-1 and 30). For the reasons stated below, the Defendant's Motion is DENIED.

         I. Factual Findings[1]

         The Defendant is charged in a one count indictment with violating 42 U.S.C. § 408(a)(7)(b), false representation of a social security number. In September 2016, the Defendant allegedly attempted to obtain the federal tax information of then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump from the U.S. Department of Education and Internal Revenue Service using the web application Federal Student Aid-Datashare. The attempt was unsuccessful.

         About a month later, on October 27, 2016, the Defendant was interviewed by two special agents-Samuel Johnson (“Johnson”) of the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and Glenn Methvyn (“Methvyn”) of the FBI at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Baton Rouge, LA. The Defendant has been working as a private investigator for almost a decade. The agents posed as potential clients to induce the Defendant to come to the hotel.

         The agents approached Hamlett as he was entering the lobby. They were wearing suits and did not show the Defendant their weapons. They identified themselves as law enforcement officers and requested to speak with Hamlett about a sensitive matter. The agents said that they could speak with him in the lobby or they could speak in a hotel room. Hamlett chose to be interviewed in the lobby. While Hamlett was initially apprehensive, he relaxed after sitting down with the agents. The agents advised Mr. Hamlett that he was free to take breaks at any time. Although the agents did not specifically tell Mr. Hamlett he was free to leave, they both testified that he was free to leave at any time. Additionally, the agents did not advise Mr. Hamlett of his Miranda rights.

         The interview was friendly and conversational, and Mr. Hamlett was cooperative the entire time. During the interview, Mr. Hamlett volunteered that he was the individual who tried to access then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump's tax returns. He volunteered this information relatively quickly. The agents had not even accused the Defendant of any wrongdoing yet. Although the agents had a search warrant for Hamlett's phone, they obtained Hamlett's consent to search the phone prior to revealing the existence of the warrant. In addition to getting Hamlett to sign a consent form, they also served the search warrant on him in case he decided to withdraw his consent.

         The interview lasted about two hours. After the first hour, Mr. Hamlett went outside to smoke accompanied by one of the agents. After the smoke break, Mr. Hamlett returned and continued speaking with the officers. He took a second break to retrieve his phone charger from his car accompanied by one of the agents. He returned and continued speaking with the agents. At the end of the interview, Mr. Hamlett asked some questions about the next steps. The agents told him that he had violated federal law, that the investigation was ongoing, and that a search warrant was being executed at his residence. Mr. Hamlett continued to tell the officers that he wanted to fully cooperate.

         A few days later, on October 31, 2016, Mr. Hamlett agreed to participate in another interview. He met with two agents. Following that second interview, Mr. Hamlett sent agents two unsolicited e-mails. The e-mails explained in more detail why he was trying access the tax returns.

         II. Discussion

         The Defendant argues that his statements should be suppressed for two reasons. First, he argues that the agents violated his Miranda rights at the October 27, 2016 interview. Second, he argues that his confession / statements were involuntary. The Court finds both of these arguments unpersuasive. The agents were not required to Mirandize the Defendant because he was not in custody, and all of his statements were voluntary.

         A. There was no Miranda violation because the Defendant was not in custody during the interview.

         Miranda warnings only have to be given prior to “custodial interrogation.”[2] “Custodial interrogation is questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody.”[3] A suspect is in custody for Miranda purposes when he is formally arrested, or when the restraint on his freedom of movement is of the degree associated with a formal arrest.[4]

         Whether a suspect is in custody is an objective determination.[5] A court must determine whether a reasonable person would have felt at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave.[6]“The reasonable person through whom [the court] view[s] the situation must be neutral to the environment and to the purposes of the investigation-that is, neither guilty of criminal conduct and thus overly apprehensive nor insensitive to the seriousness of the circumstances.”[7] The subjective views of both the questioning agents and the suspect are irrelevant.[8]

         When analyzing whether a suspect is in custody, a court must look at the totality of the circumstances.[9] Although no one factor is determinative, a court should consider the following non-exhaustive factors: (1) the location of the questioning; (2) the accusatory, or non-accusatory, nature of the questioning; (3) the length of the questioning; (4) the amount of restraint on a defendant's physical movements; and (5) ...

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