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United States v. Steele

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 21, 2017


          Katharine T. Buzicky, UNITED STATES' ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, for plaintiff.

          Reynaldo A. Aligada, Jr., OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL DEFENDER, for defendant.



         On February 6, 2017, Special Agents Booth and Giguere of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (“BCA”) interrogated Defendant Matthew Douglas Steele in a police van while executing a search warrant at Steele's home. During that interview, Steele made incriminating statements. He was subsequently charged with child-pornography offenses based in part on evidence discovered as a result of his incriminating statements. Steele filed a pretrial motion to suppress those statements. Steele argued that the interview constituted a custodial interrogation, thus his statements could not be used against him at trial because he was not informed of his constitutional rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). (Mot. to Suppress at 1-2, July 12, 2017, Docket No. 26.)

         United States Magistrate Judge Becky Thorson issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) that the Court deny Steele's motion. (R&R at 15, Sept. 20, 2017, Docket No. 43.) The Magistrate Judge considered the totality of the circumstances surrounding Steele's interrogation and found that the interrogation was “custodial.” (Id. at 14.) Steele timely objected to the R&R on the grounds that the Magistrate Judge improperly applied the factors articulated in United States v. Griffin, 922 F.2d 1343 (8thCir. 1990). (Def.'s Objs. to R&R (“Objs.”) at 1-2, Sept. 29, 2017, Docket No. 44.) Because Steele was not in custody during the interrogation, the Court will overrule Steele's objections, adopt the R&R, and deny Steele's motion.


         Shortly after 7:00 a.m. on February 6, 2017, approximately eleven law-enforcement officers executed a search warrant at Steele's home. (R&R at 2.) The BCA officers were wearing raid vests that said “Police” and entered with weapons drawn. (Id. at 2-3.) They holstered their weapons and removed their vests shortly after entering the home. (Id.) The Ramsey County officers wore their official uniforms. (Id. at 3.) Two of the officers located Steele in his bedroom. (Id. at 3.) They pushed the door open. (Id.) When Steele tried to shut the door, an officer put his foot out to stop the door, and the officer's foot went through the hollow door. (Id.) Special Agent Booth told Steele that they had a search warrant and asked Steele if she could talk to him outside. (Id.) Steele agreed. (Id.) Officers let Steele get dressed and use the bathroom while an officer observed him. (Id.) They also ensured that Steele had a coat on and allowed him to get something to drink. (Id.) Special Agents Booth and Giguere then went outside with Steele and interviewed him in Booth's minivan. (Id. at 3-4.)

         Steele and Special Agent Booth sat in the back seat of the minivan; Special Agent Giguere sat up front. (Id. at 4.) The minivan's doors remained unlocked throughout the interview. (Id.) Special Agent Booth began the interview by stating that Steele was not under arrest, that he was free to leave, and that he did not have to talk to her. (Id. at 4-5.) Special Agent Booth asked Steele if he was “willing to have a conversation with [her], ” and Steele responded, “Sure.” (Id. at 5.) During the interview, the agents stated that they were confident their search would yield incriminating evidence against Steele. (Id. at 11.) Special Agent Booth said that Steele had “time hanging over his head” because Steele was on probation. (Id.) She also told Steele that someone who continues to lie “tells [her] there's something darker in [his] soul.” (Id. (second alteration added).) At the end of the interview, Steele acknowledged that Special Agent Booth had told him that he was not under arrest; that the agents had not threatened, coerced, or promised him anything; and that he understood that he was free to leave. (Id. at 5-6.) Shortly after the interview and after a discussion with Steele's probation officer and Special Agent Booth's supervisor, Steele was arrested. (Id. at 6.)



         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), the Court may refer a motion to suppress statements in a criminal case to a magistrate judge for proposed findings of fact and recommendations. A motion to suppress statements is a dispositive motion. United States v. Jaunich, No. 13-183, 2014 WL 1026331, at *7 (D. Minn. Mar. 14, 2014). 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)(1). “The objections should specify the portions of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which objections are made and provide a basis for those objections.” Mayer v. Walvatne, No. 07-1958, 2008 WL 4527774, at *2 (D. Minn. Sept. 28, 2008). For a dispositive matter, “[t]he 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); accord D. Minn. LR 72.2(b)(3). “The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); accord D. Minn. LR 72.2(b)(3).


         Statements made to law enforcement officials in a custodial interrogation are inadmissible in court unless the defendant is informed of his constitutional right to remain silent and to be represented by counsel during questioning. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 467-70. Government agents need only administer Miranda warnings when a person has been taken into custody and is subjected to questioning rising to the level of an interrogation. Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 322 (1994). The parties agree that Steele was interrogated but dispute whether he was in custody.

         A defendant is in custody for Miranda purposes if a reasonable person in the defendant's position “would consider his freedom of movement restricted to the degree associated with formal arrest.” United States v. Huether, 673 F.3d 789, 794 (8th Cir. 2012); see also United States v. Aldridge, 664 F.3d 705, ...

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