U.S. v. Laurita (2014)
The Nebraska District Court has suppressed statements made by a defendant to FBI agents after he was interrogated at his workplace and the FBI agents set up a ruse in which the defendant admitted to the lesser of two accused crimes.
In Laurita, the defendant was led to a workplace conference room by his supervisor, only being told that he need to be spoken to. FBI agents awaited him in the conference room. They first told the defendant that they had executed a search warrant on his home earlier in the day, looking for evidence of child pornography. One agent then told the defendant that they were investigating child pornography, but also had some concerns about the defendant abusing two children of a woman he had been involved with.
The defendant admitted to viewing child pornography, but denied abusing the children. At trial, a magistrate judge denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the statements he made to the FBI agents during this workplace interview.
At the evidentiary hearing, an FBI agent testified that he did not give the defendant a Miranda warning prior to questioning. He also testified that he did not inform the defendant that he could leave and that he did not have to answer their questions. In turn, the defendant testified that the FBI agent was “aggressive in his body language” and that he implied telling the truth would be beneficial to him. The magistrate judge denied the motion to suppress, and the defendant appealed to the district court.
Miranda warnings require that “when a suspect is interrogated in a custodial setting, the police must advise him of his right not to answer questions and to have an attorney present during questioning.”
Determining whether a suspect is “in custody” depends on the totality of the circumstances. A court considers six factors: whether the suspect was informed that he was free to leave; whether the suspect possessed freedom of movement; whether the suspect initiated the interview; whether there were strong-arm tactics; whether the police dominated the atmosphere; and whether the suspect was arrested at the close of the interrogation.
Here, the court placed emphasis on the fact that the defendant was not told he could leave the interview. It also found significant that the defendant’s supervisor escorted him to the conference room, and the room was in the human resources area where employees might be disciplined or terminated.
Furthermore, the court found that the agent “used a ruse” by accusing the defendant of abusing children. It essentially gave the defendant a choice of admitting to the lesser of two crimes. The agent “was aware that his questions were reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.” The court held that the totality of the circumstances showed the workplace interview was custodial, and it suppressed the defendant’s statements to the FBI agents.