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United States v. Peterson

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 2, 2015


Sarah E. Hudleston, Assistant United States Attorney, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Minneapolis, MN, for plaintiff.

Kyle D. White, ATTORNEY AT LAW, St. Paul, MN, for defendant.


JOHN R. TUNHEIM, District Judge.

Jeffrey Alan Peterson ("Peterson") was indicted on October 15, 2014, on charges of receipt and possession of child pornography. In the course of the FBI's investigation into Peterson's actions, Child Exploitation Task Force Officer Dale Hanson ("TFO Hanson") and several other law enforcement officers executed a search of Peterson's home on October 3, 2013, pursuant to a search warrant. During the search, the officers found and seized three computers, including a laptop that contained a child pornography video TFO Hanson had traced to Peterson using detection software. TFO Hanson and another officer also questioned Peterson in his kitchen during the search. Peterson now moves to suppress his statements and the evidence seized during the October 3, 2013 search.

On January 15, 2015, United States Magistrate Judge Franklin L. Noel issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R"), recommending that the Court deny Peterson's motions to suppress. Peterson timely objected to the R&R, and this matter is now before the Court on Peterson's objections. After reviewing de novo the issues to which Peterson objects, the Court concludes that even when all six Griffin factors are analyzed, Peterson was not in custody and not entitled to Miranda warnings on October 3, 2013. Thus, the Court will overrule Peterson's objections, adopt the Magistrate Judge's R&R, and deny Peterson's motions to suppress.



On August 18, 2013, TFO Hanson detected a computer using the FrostWire peer-to-peer file sharing program to share files that had been flagged by the FBI as child pornography. After verifying that his computer could fully download child pornography videos from the computer using FrostWire, TFO Hanson contacted the Hennepin County Attorney's Office. The Hennepin County Attorney's Office issued an administrative subpoena to Windom Net, an internet service provider in Windom, Minnesota, to identify the IP address subscriber. Windom Net responded that the IP address of the computer using FrostWire was assigned to Jeffrey Alan Peterson at 2212 River Road in Windom, Minnesota. TFO Hanson ran Peterson's name and address through the Minnesota Predatory Offender Database and discovered that Peterson was a registered sex offender. Based on this information, on October 1, 2013, TFO Hanson obtained a search warrant for Peterson's residence.

TFO Hanson and four other officers executed the search warrant on October 3, 2013. No one was present when the officers arrived at Peterson's home. The officers knocked on the front door and announced their presence but received no response. Because the front door was unlocked, the officers then entered the home and performed their search. They seized three computers from Peterson's residence, one of which was a laptop containing a video TFO Hanson had been able to fully download from Peterson's FrostWire file sharing program.

Upon finishing their search, the officers called Peterson's employer and requested that Peterson return to his home. Peterson returned to his residence and met with TFO Hanson and Special Agent Glenn Moule in his kitchen. Both TFO Hanson and Special Agent Moule were dressed in plain clothes and sitting across the kitchen table from Peterson during the interview. Peterson was never handcuffed or physically restrained on October 3, 2013. Throughout the interview, the other three officers at the residence remained in Peterson's garage, not visible from the kitchen.

Before he began to ask Peterson questions, TFO Hanson showed Peterson the search warrant and turned on a recorder. TFO Hanson also explained that Peterson was "not under arrest. I'm doing an investigation here, but you're not under arrest and I'm not planning on arresting you today. And if you don't want to stay here and talk to me, you don't have to. It's your choice." (Audio Recording of October 3, 2013 Interview ("Interview Recording") at 1:21-1:30.) Peterson responded, "No, that's fine. I - I've done lots of things, but I haven't done anything for quite a while." (Id. at 1:30-1:35.) TFO Hanson then stated, "OK, I just want to make it clear that you don't have to stay here and can go back to work." (Id. at 1:35-1:38.) Peterson told TFO Hanson, "I understand." (Id. at 1:38-1:40.)

Approximately half an hour into the interview, when the officers were discussing folders on Peterson's computer appearing to contain child pornography, TFO Hanson reiterated, "I'm just kind of putting it out there, giving you the chance, if you want to own up to it or if you want to admit to it, it's your choice. I'm not, obviously not forcing you." (Id. at 31:24-31:31.) Peterson replied, "No, you're not forcing me to do anything." (Id. at 31:32-33.) TFO Hanson followed up by stating, "Again, you don't have to - you don't have to even continue talking if you don't want to." (Id. at 31:33-37.) He explained, "I'm just asking a question. If you choose - if you choose to answer them, it's your choice." (Id. at 32:04-32:08.) In response, Peterson stated, "No, I understand that." (Id. at 32:09-10.)


Peterson moved to suppress any evidence obtained through the search of his home and any statements he made to officers during the interview on October 3, 2013. (Mot. to Suppress Evidence Obtained through Illegal Search & Seizure, Nov. 19, 2014, Docket No. 21; Mot. for Suppression of Statements by Def., Nov. 19, 2014, Docket No. 22.) Peterson contends that he was in custody during the October 3 questioning and was not provided with Miranda warnings. The Magistrate Judge held a hearing on Peterson's motions on December 11, 2014. At the hearing, TFO Hanson testified that part of his work for the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force involves running detection software to identify peer-to-peer file sharing of child pornography. He described using that detection software to identify Jeffrey Alan Peterson's computer in Windom, Minnesota as the source of a video depicting a 4-6 year old girl performing oral sex on a male adult. TFO Hanson explained that this video, combined with Peterson's status as a registered sex offender, led him to obtain a warrant to search Peterson's residence. TFO Hanson went on to describe the October 3, 2013 search and interview with Peterson. The United States also introduced three pieces of evidence at the hearing before the Magistrate Judge: the warrant for the search of Peterson's residence, a photograph of Peterson's kitchen, and an audio recording of the interview between TFO Hanson, FBI Special Agent Glenn Moule, and Peterson. (Ex. & Witness List, Dec. 11, 2014, Docket No. 35.)

Following the hearing, the Magistrate Judge issued an R&R recommending that the Court deny Peterson's motions to suppress. (R&R at 1, 7-8, Jan. 15, 2015, Docket No. 41.) Noting that Peterson did not make any particularized challenge to the warrant for the October 3, 2013 search, the Magistrate Judge explained that the warrant was either supported by probable cause or, if the supporting affidavit lacked probable cause, the search was nonetheless valid because it was conducted pursuant to the officers' good-faith belief that the search warrant was valid. (Id. at 4-5.)

Additionally, the Magistrate Judge concluded that Peterson's statements should not be suppressed because he was not in custody during the questioning and therefore was not entitled to a Miranda warning. (Id. at 5-7.) The R&R uses a broad totality of the circumstances analysis, finding that TFO Hanson's reminders that Peterson could leave at any time, the setting of the interview (Peterson's kitchen), and the lack of any significant restrictions to Peterson's movement, all support denying Peterson's motion to suppress his statements. (Id. at 6-7.)



Upon the filing of a report and recommendation by a magistrate judge, a party may "serve and file specific written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2); accord D. Minn. LR 72.2(b). "The district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). "The objections should specify the portions of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which objections are ...

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