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United States v. Shabazz

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

February 3, 2015



TIMOTHY C. BATTEN, Sr., District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Qadir Shabazz's objections [82] to three Reports and Recommendations (each an "R&R") [60, 72, 74] issued by the magistrate judge recommending that Shabazz's motions to suppress evidence [33, 43, 47] be granted as to evidence derived from the search of the properties located at 2715 Church Street, 2779 Church Street, 640 Valley Hill Road and 2945 Orr Drive and the search of a 2000 Mercedes Benz and a 2008 Chevrolet Avalanche and denied as to all other evidence, including certain statements made by Shabazz while he was in custody.

I. Legal Standard of Review

A district judge has a duty to conduct a "careful and complete" review of a magistrate judge's R&R. Williams v. Wainwright, 681 F.2d 732, 732 (11th Cir. 1982) (quoting Nettles v. Wainwright, 677 F.2d 404, 408 (5th Cir. 1982).[1] This review may take different forms, however, depending on whether there are objections to the R&R. The district judge must "make a de novo determination of those portions of the [R&R] to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). In contrast, those portions of the R&R to which no objection is made need only be reviewed for clear error. Macort v. Prem, Inc., 208 F.App'x 781, 784 (11th Cir. 2006).[2]

"Parties filing objections must specifically identify those findings objected to. Frivolous, conclusive or general objections need not be considered by the district court." Nettles, 677 F.2d at 410 n.8. "This rule facilitates the opportunity for district judges to spend more time on matters actually contested and produces a result compatible with the purposes of the Magistrates Act." Id. at 410. The district judge also has discretion to decline to consider arguments that were not raised before the magistrate judge. Williams v. McNeil, 557 F.3d 1287, 1292 (11th Cir. 2009). Indeed, a contrary rule "would effectively nullify the magistrate judge's consideration of the matter and would not help to relieve the workload of the district court." Id. (quoting United States v. Howell, 231 F.3d 615, 622 (9th Cir. 2000)).

After conducting a complete and careful review of an R&R, the district judge may accept, reject or modify the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Williams, 681 F.2d at 732. The district judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

II. Analysis

The Court has conducted a careful, de novo review of the relevant portions of the R&Rs and Shabazz's objections thereto. Having done so, the Court finds that the magistrate judge's factual and legal conclusions were correct.

A. Shabazz's Statements in April 2012

Shabazz's objections to the R&Rs focus primarily on his motion to suppress statements made by Shabazz to two Pennsylvania law enforcement agents on April 25 and April 26, 2012. As Shabazz notes, "the government cannot introduce a suspect's statement taken without the presence of an attorney without first showing that the suspect made a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent waiver of his right to counsel." Hart v. Attorney Gen. of Fla., 323 F.3d 884, 891 (11th Cir. 2003) (citing Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 475 (1966)). This means that "the relinquishment of the right must have been voluntary in the sense that it was the product of a free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation, coercion, or deception, " and "the waiver must have been made with a full awareness of both the nature of the right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon it." Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 421 (1986). The government bears the burden of proving such a waiver by a preponderance of the evidence. Hall v. Thomas, 611 F.3d 1259, 1285 (11th Cir. 2010). Shabazz contends that the government has not met its burden of proving that he made a knowing, voluntary and intelligent waiver of his rights under Miranda.

In this case, the issue of whether Shabazz's statements must be suppressed turns on the factual question of whether agents Darren Fisher and Regis Kelly read Shabazz his Miranda rights before questioning him. At the suppression hearing before the magistrate judge, Shabazz testified that the agents never read him his Miranda rights or presented to him a piece of paper that explained his rights. Shabazz also testified that he told the agents he did not want to answer any questions without his attorney, but Shabazz indicated that he was not allowed to contact an attorney. In contrast, the two agents who interviewed Shabazz unequivocally testified that at the beginning of each interview, they gave Shabazz an advice of rights form that explained his Miranda rights, which they asked Shabazz to read and sign, and that at the beginning of the first interview, agent Kelly read those rights to Shabazz word for word. According to the agents, on each occasion Shabazz indicated that he understood his rights and wanted to speak with them, but that he did not want to sign the advice of rights form. The agents also testified that Shabazz stated that he did not have an attorney at that time but that he had someone in mind that he would probably hire if he decided to hire one.

Neither agent Fisher nor agent Kelly could locate notes of the interviews, and the interview memoranda prepared by agent Fisher does not contain any mention of Miranda rights. At the suppression hearing, agent Fisher indicated that it was a mistake not to document the reading of Miranda rights in his memoranda.

After carefully considering the evidence, including the testimony of the agents and Shabazz, the magistrate judge found the testimony of agents Fisher and Kelly to be credible. In his objections to the R&Rs, Shabazz challenges that credibility determination, arguing that it is incredible that two agents with decades of law enforcement experience would forget to memorialize their giving of Miranda rights in the interview memoranda and would fail to note on the rights form the interviewee's refusal to sign the form.[3] The Court disagrees with Shabazz's contentions. Although the Court's determination would certainly be easier if the agents had documented in their interview memoranda that they informed Shabazz of his Miranda rights and that Shabazz refused to sign the advice of rights form, there is no requirement that they do so. Agent Fisher testified that he inadvertently left this information out of the memoranda. [65] at 60. The Court does not find this explanation to be improbable or suspicious if agent Fisher's testimony is otherwise credible, and as explained below, the Court finds that it is.

Agents Fisher and Kelly offered consistent, detailed testimony of the events on April 25 and April 26, giving similar accounts of the interviews on these dates. See [65] at 11-96. For example, both agents indicated that on April 25, they began the interview by introducing themselves to Shabazz; agent Kelly informed Shabazz of his rights and gave Shabazz an advice of rights form; Shabazz indicated that he understood his rights but did not want to sign the advice of rights form; Shabazz was provided with a copy of the complaint; they interviewed Shabazz; and the interview ended when Shabazz indicated that he was tired and needed to think about some of their questions. Similarly, both agents indicated that on April 26, agent Fisher presented the advice of rights form to Shabazz; Shabazz again indicated that he would talk but did not want to sign the form; ...

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