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Toler v. United States

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

December 20, 2018

James N. Toler, Appellant,
United States, Appellee.

          Submitted October 3, 2018

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF2-13312-16) (Hon. Maribeth Raffinan, Trial Judge)

          Ian A. Williams was on the brief for appellant.

          Jessie K. Liu, United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Ethan L. Carroll, and Anwar L. Graves, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief for appellee.

          Before Beckwith and McLeese, Associate Judges, and Steadman, Senior Judge.


         Appealing his convictions for several firearm offenses, appellant James Toler argues that (1) all his convictions must be reversed because he was required to reveal his social security number without a prior Miranda[1] warning, and (2) his convictions for possession of unregistered firearms must be reversed because the government failed to prove as an element of the offense that the firearms were not "antique" firearms. We disagree and therefore affirm the judgment.

         I. Factual Background

         On August 18, 2016, around 5:30 p.m., members of the Gun Recovery Unit (GRU) of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)[2] arrived at appellant's home to execute a search warrant to recover firearms. In the course of the search, the GRU officers handcuffed appellant and, prior to any Miranda warnings, asked him for his name, date of birth, phone number, and social security number, all of which he readily provided. During the course of the search, officers recovered two revolvers, a shotgun, two gun holsters, a speed loader, two gun cleaning kits, assorted ammunition, an ammunition case, and appellant's apartment lease. Appellant was then charged with one count of unlawful possession of a firearm in violation of D.C. Code § 22-4503(a)(1) (2018 Supp.), three counts of possession of an unregistered firearm in violation of D.C. Code § 7-2502.01(a) (2018 Repl.), and three counts of unlawful possession of ammunition in violation of D.C. Code § 7-2506.01(a)(3) (2018 Repl.). He pled not guilty and proceeded to trial.

         The three-day jury trial was bifurcated. In the first phase, appellant was convicted on all counts of possession of unregistered firearms and unlawful possession of ammunition. In the second phase, appellant was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm, based on his prior conviction of a "crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year." As proof of his prior conviction, the government introduced a certified copy of a U.S. Marine Corps court martial conviction record from the Department of the Navy, which stated that James Toler was convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year in prison. The government then replayed an excerpt of the video from one of the GRU officer's body-worn cameras, which had been shown in the first phase of the trial, and in which appellant stated his name and social security number, and also volunteered that he was a former Marine. The prosecutor argued to the jury that appellant was the same person as the one on the conviction record because the name and social security number that appellant recited in the video matched the name and social security number appearing on the record as well on appellant's apartment lease.

         II. Analysis

         A. Admission of Biographical Information (Social Security Number)

         First, appellant contends that, during the search of his home, he was subjected to custodial interrogation without a Miranda warning. In particular, he flatly asserts that, had he not stated his social security number in response to an officer's question, the government would not have been able to link him to the prior conviction that served as a predicate conviction for his unlawful possession of a firearm conviction or to show that his firearms and ammunition were not registered in the District of Columbia. He argues that, because the officer's questions - particularly as to his social security number - did not fall within the so-called "routine-booking exception" to Miranda, his biographical statements during the search were improperly obtained and improperly admitted at trial.

         Under the doctrine first announced by the Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona, "[t]he government is constitutionally precluded by the Fifth Amendment from using in its case-in-chief a defendant's statement, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation unless the defendant has been advised of his right to remain silent." Johnson v. United States, 40 A.3d 1, 13 (D.C. 2012) (citing Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)). We have stated that "[c]ustodial interrogation refers not only to express questioning, but also to any words or actions on the part of the police (other than those normally attendant to arrest and custody) that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         However, "routine questions related to the booking process . . . are not usually considered interrogation under Miranda, for such questions are not normally likely to elicit incriminating answers." Id. (citing Thomas v. United States, 731 A.2d 415, 424-26 (D.C. 1999) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Questions that fall under this routine booking exception to Miranda include "'biographical data necessary to complete booking or pretrial services[, ]' such as questions regarding the name, address, height, weight, eye color, date of birth, and age of the suspect." Id. (quoting Pennsylvania v. Muniz, 496 U.S. 582, 600 (1990)).

         In this case, the government conceded and the trial court found that appellant was in custody when the GRU officers asked for his social security number and other information. However, the trial court, citing Thomas v. United States, 731 A.2d 415 (D.C. 1999), and Jones v. United States, 779 A.2d 277 (D.C. 2001) (en banc), found that the officers' conduct did not constitute interrogation, as the questions regarding appellant's name, phone number, and social security number were not ...

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