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United States v. Hallford

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 20, 2017


          MEMORANDUM OPINION (NOVEMBER 20, 2017) [DKT. # 50]


         On November 6, 2013, defendant Joseph Daniel Hallford ("Hallford" or "defendant") was questioned by United States Secret Service agents while involuntarily committed to a local psychiatric hospital. The agents questioned Hallford, an Alabama resident, in response to statements he made regarding the Secret Service while visiting Washington, D.C. to attend a protest march. During the course of the questioning, the Secret Service agents elicited incriminating statements from Hallford regarding his unlawful possession of firearms and other weapons in the District.

         Hallford asks this Court to suppress those statements, arguing that they were obtained in violation of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). See Def.'s Mot. Suppress Statements [Dkt. #50]. It is undisputed that the Secret Service agents failed to inform Hallford of his Miranda rights. Therefore, the only issue this Court must resolve is whether Hallford was in custody while questioned. If so, then Hallford was entitled to Miranda warnings and the agents' failure to provide those warnings mandates suppression of the statements; if not, then Hallford was not entitled to protection under Miranda and the statements were obtained lawfully. Upon consideration of the entire evidentiary record, including testimony from Hallford, the parties' briefing and supplemental briefing, the oral arguments held on this issue, and the relevant law, the Court concludes that the defendant was in Miranda custody when questioned by the Secret Service agents on November 6, 2013. The Court therefore GRANTS Hallford's motion to suppress.


         The facts at issue here - which center around the Secret Service's questioning of an individual both mentally and physically ill during his involuntary commitment at a local psychiatric hospital - are as troubling as they are unique. Before laying out those facts, however, it is helpful to review the procedural history and present posture of this case.[1]

         As discussed in more detail below, on November 6, 2013, two agents of the United States Secret Service traveled to a local psychiatric hospital, United Medical Center ("UMC"), in order to question Hallford. United States v. Hallford, 816 F.3d 850, 853 (D.C. Cir. 2016) ("Hallford F). At the time, Hallford, an Alabama resident who was visiting Washington, D.C. for a protest march, was involuntarily committed to UMC. Id. at 852-53. The Secret Service agents sought to question Hallford about statements that he had made that were "causing concern with the Secret Service." 6/5/14 Hr'g Tr. 51:12-13. At some point during the questioning, the focus shifted from Hallford's statements (which, by that time, the agents had determined were harmless) to his weapon ownership. Id. at 65:13-17, 101:5-18. Ultimately, the agents elicited incriminating admissions from Hallford regarding his unlawful possession of firearms and other weapons in the trunk of the car he had parked in the District of Columbia. See Id. at 69:22-70:2; Hallfordl, 816 F.3d at 854. Those admissions were subsequently used to gather evidence and commence a criminal prosecution against Hallford. Hallfordl, 816 F.3d at 854-55.

         Defendant moved to suppress his statements from the November 6, 2013 interview. See generally Def.'s Mot. Suppress Statements Taken in Violation of the U.S. Constitution 2-4 [Dkt. #10]. He argued, as relevant here, that the statements were non-voluntary and obtained in violation of his rights under Miranda. Id. This Court held evidentiary hearings over the course of three days to consider those issues. Ultimately, after considering the evidence and evaluating the credibility of the witnesses, I agreed with Hallford that his November 6, 2013 statements were involuntarily made and elicited in violation of Miranda. I therefore granted Hallford's suppression motion. See 12/16/14 Hr'g Tr. 2-14 [Dkt. # 26]; United States v. Hallford, 103 F.Supp.3d 1 (D.D.C. 2015).

         The Government, not surprisingly, appealed my decision and, following briefing and oral argument, our Circuit issued its opinion. See Hallford I, 816 F.3d 850. In that opinion, our Circuit first concluded that Hallford's statements were not the product of "a substantial element of coercive police conduct" and were therefore "voluntary within the meaning of the Due Process Clause." Id. at 858, 859 (internal quotation marks omitted). In the course of its analysis, the majority cast aside a few of my factual findings-findings that were made following my observation of witness testimony at the evidentiary hearings. See Id. at 857-59. Of particular relevance here, the majority rejected my conclusion that Hallford "was summoned by agents for an interview, not asked if he would submit to an interview." Id. at 857 (internal quotation marks omitted). Judge Wilkins dissented from that portion of the opinion, writing that the majority's "focus solely on the evidence that undermines the District Court's factual findings represents, in my respectful view, its failure to adhere to the deferential standard of review we employ when evaluating a District Court's factual findings." Id. at 860-62 (Wilkins, J., dissenting in part and concurring in part).

         As for the Miranda issue, our Circuit held that the record was not "sufficient" to decide whether Hallford was entitled to receive Miranda warnings. Id. at 859. Recognizing that the Miranda-custody inquiry is "fact intensive, " the Circuit vacated my decision and remanded the case to me "to determine whether Hallford was in Miranda custody." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). It directed me to "take care to answer" the question whether Hallford's environment "presented the same inherently coercive pressures as the type of station house questioning at issue in Miranda." Id. at 860 (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted) (quoting Howes v. Fields, 565 U.S. 499, 509 (2012)).

         In light of the remand and our Circuit's concern that the record as it stood was insufficient to decide the Miranda-custody issue, I held an additional evidentiary hearing and oral arguments on the subject. At the evidentiary hearing, Hallford testified- credibly, in my judgment-about the events surrounding his November 6, 2013 questioning by the Secret Service agents. See generally 5/22/17 Hr'g Tr. [Dkt. # 59]. Some of defendant's testimony was consistent with the evidentiary record as reviewed by our Circuit in Hallford I; some of it was not. Other testimony, including, most critically, testimony regarding what Hallford was told by UMC staff prior to being escorted to the Secret Service interview, provided new facts not examined by our Circuit.[2]

         For present purposes, I need not recount the entirety of the factual background, which was set out by our Circuit in Hallford I. See 816 F.3d at 852-54. Instead, I will begin discussion of my factual findings on remand with Hallford's arrival at George Washington University Hospital ("GW Hospital") on November 5, 2013. When Hallford arrived at GW Hospital, he complained of pain, bleeding, and related symptoms as a result of his hemophilia. Id. at 853. In the course of waiting for treatment, Hallford made a number of troubling statements to hospital personnel, including statements that he wanted "to be shot by the Secret Service ... so his parents could own the agency" and desired to "hurt the government." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In light of Hallford's actions at GW Hospital and his apparently unstable mental condition, hospital personnel decided to transfer Hallford to UMC for an "involuntary psych evaluation." Id. (citing D.C. Code §§ 21-521 to -522). According to Hallford, he was informed by an individual at GW Hospital that "they were having [him] evaluated and that [he] would be transferred to another hospital." 5/22/17 Hr'g Tr. at 5:25-6:1. When Hallford responded that he did not "want to do that" and "just want[ed] to go home, " the individual informed Hallford that GW Hospital had a "court order" to hold him involuntarily. Id. at 6:4-6. The individual also informed Hallford that the basis of the involuntarily commitment was "some comment" or "comments" made by Hallford; the individual did not "elaborate" on that explanation. Id. at 16:18-19.

         Hallford was transferred by ambulance from GW Hospital to UMC at approximately 3 P.M. on November 6, 2013. Hallford I, 816 F.3d at 853. During the transfer, Hallford was put on a gurney and "strapped down" by his arms and legs. 5/22/17 Hr'g Tr. 6:12-13. Upon arrival at UMC, Hallford was immediately forced to surrender to UMC staff "everything that [he] had on [him], " including his wallet, cell phone, keys, clothes, and shoes. Id. at 6:25-7:7. UMC personnel directed Hallford to change into an open-backed hospital gown and did not provide him with any "underwear to put on underneath." Id. at 7:12-14. Hallford was then brought to a hospital room.

         Shortly after his arrival at the hospital room, Hallford heard a knock outside his door. Id. at 8:6-7. He turned and saw three members of the UMC staff, two of whom were nurses. Id. at 8:15-17, 38:11-23. One of the nurses told Hallford that he "needed to come with them." Id. at 8:8-9. When Hallford asked why, the nurse responded "that the Secret Service and the FBI were there to talk to" Hallford, and that he "had to go talk to them." Id. at 8:9-11. When Hallford asked whether he had to go "talk to them right now, " the nurse responded, "yes." Id. at 8:19-23. Upon hearing that, Hallford asked whether he could "have [his] lawyer" if he was "going to be questioned." Id. at 9:1-3. The nurse responded that he could not have a lawyer, but that he would "get one" whenever he went "to court about the involuntary commitment order." Id. at 9:7-11.

         Next, Hallford, wearing only his hospital gown, was escorted by the three UMC staff members down a hallway. Id. at 10:4-8. Up ahead, Hallford saw the two Secret Service agents. Id. at 10:7-8. The groups converged and went into a doctor's lounge. That area locked from both the inside and the outside and was accessible only with a keycard. 6/5/14 Hr'g Tr. 140:8-20. Once the group had entered the secure doctor's lounge, the agents informed Hallford that they were from the Secret Service. 5/22/17 Hr'g Tr. 10:15-15. They asked Hallford to confirm his identity. Id. at 10:14-17. Defendant did so, and then immediately asked whether he was in "in trouble." Id. According to Hallford, one of the agents responded, "'Not unless you've done something wrong' or 'have you done something wrong?'" Id. at 35:6-8. When defendant said that he had not, the agent simply "shrugged his shoulder[s]" and gestured with his hands. Id. at 35:8-10.[3]

         Depending on the account, prior to questioning Hallford, the agents either 1) "asked" Hallford if they could speak to him about, or 2) "told" Hallford that "they had some questions with regard" to statements that he had made "that may have caused some concern to the Secret Service." Hallford I, 816 F.3d at 853; 5/22/17 Hr'g Tr. 35:11-16. In any event, Hallford began to speak with the agents. HallfordI, 816 F.3d at 853. When asked why he spoke with them, Hallford testified at the evidentiary hearing that he did not think that he had "any choice about whether to talk to the Secret Service." 5/22/17 Hr'g Tr. 11:12-14. He further noted that he "figured that if [he] didn't talk to them that [he] probably would be in trouble if [he] wasn't already." Id. at 11:16-17. In Hallford's words, he "figured that" the Secret Service agents "weren't going to let [him] go if [he] didn't cooperate" and that if he did cooperate, the Secret Service would see "that I wasn't no threat to nobody and I wasn't-do[ing] nothing wrong that I knew of, I figured they'd tell them, well, we ain't got no use for him, send him home." Id. at 11:16-19, 12:5-8.[4]

         At no point prior to or during the interview did the agents inform Hallford of his Miranda rights. Hallford I, 816 F.3d at 852. Nor did they ever inform defendant that he was free to decline to participate in the interview or go back to his room at any point. 6/5/14 Hr'g Tr. 159:22-160:8. During the interview, defendant was seated on "the far side" of a table in the doctor's lounge in a "plastic chair." 5/22/17 Hr'g Tr. 11:6-10. According to the Secret Service's notes about the interview, Hallford was "shivering and appeared extremely tired." 6/5/14 Hr'g Tr. 146:5-7. Although the agents spoke in conversational tones during the interview, Hallford I, 816 F.3d at 854, Hallford observed that one of the agents was armed (in fact, both were), 5/22/17 Hr'g Tr. 32:7; see 6/5/14 Hr'g Tr. 136:10-13. One of the agents took a photograph of Hallford-who was then wearing nothing but his open-backed hospital gown-without his permission. 6/5/14 Hr'g Tr. 150:23-151:6.

         During their questioning, which lasted around one hour, the agents asked Hallford about "concern[ing]" statements he had made regarding the Secret Service. Id. at 51:12. Notwithstanding their conclusion that the statements were harmless, they also asked Hallford questions about his weapon ownership in Alabama. Hallford I, 816 F.3d at 854-55. In response to those questions, Hallford made the incriminating statements now at issue. Id. Those admissions were subsequently used to gather evidence and commence a criminal prosecution against defendant. Id.

         In the motion presently before me, defendant contends that he was in custody at the time of the November 6, 2013 Secret Service interview at UMC and was thus entitled to be informed of his Miranda rights prior to the agents' questioning. See generally Def.'s Mot. Suppress Statements. Because he was not so informed, Hallford argues that his statements to the Secret Service agents must be suppressed. Id. For the following reasons, I agree.


         The Fifth Amendment provides that "[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." U.S. Const, amend. V. That privilege against self-incrimination is "fundamental to our system of constitutional rule" and "one of the principles of a free government." Miranda, 384 U.S. at 468; Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 9 (1964) (internal quotation marks omitted). It protects not only those statements made during court proceedings, but also, as the Supreme Court held in Miranda, statements made during a "custodial interrogation" by law enforcement. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444.

         The Miranda Court recognized that the "inherently compelling pressures" of custodial interrogation could work to "compel" a suspect "to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely." Id. at 467. To "safeguard the uncounseled individual's Fifth Amendment privilege" in the face of those pressures, the Miranda Court adopted a set of "prophylactic measures" that apply whenever an individual is interrogated while in "police custody." J.D.B. v. North Carolina,564 U.S. 261, 269 (2011) (alteration omitted); Thompson v. Keohane,516 U.S. 99, 107 (1995). Those measures include the requirement that investigators make a suspect aware of his various rights under the Constitution, including the right ...

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