United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION (NOVEMBER 20, 2017) [DKT. #
RICHARD J. LEON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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
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
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
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
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).
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).
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)).
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...