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United States v. Shelton

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

October 15, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on Kevin Garett Shelton's Motion to Suppress Statements. [Doc. 86.] Shelton moves to suppress all statements that he made to ATF Special Agents Quenton Marable and Shawn Lee on April 16, 2018, as he was being transported from the Cobb County Jail to his initial appearance in federal court on federal charges. Shelton raises three main issues in his motion: (1) statements he made to the agents before he was given Miranda warnings should be suppressed because he made those statements in the context of the functional equivalent of a custodial interrogation; (2) his post-Miranda statements should be suppressed because his Miranda waiver was not voluntary; and (3) even if his Miranda waiver were valid, his post-Miranda statements should still be suppressed because his statements became involuntary due to coercive and deceptive conduct by the agents. [Id.; see also Doc. 124.]

         On July 27, 2018, I held an evidentiary hearing on Shelton's motion to suppress statements. [Docs. 108-10 (government's hearing exhibits, hereinafter “Gov't Exs.”); Doc. 116 (transcript of hearing, hereinafter “Tr.”).] SA Marable was the sole witness to testify at the hearing. [Doc. 116 at 4-59.] Following the hearing, Shelton filed a post-hearing brief in support of his motion [Doc. 124], the government has filed a response [Doc. 128], and Shelton's deadline for filing a reply has now expired [see Doc. 105].

         For the reasons that follow, I find that none of Shelton's arguments has merit, and, therefore, RECOMMEND that the motion to suppress be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 27, 2018, a federal grand jury seated in the Northern District of Georgia returned a twelve-count superseding indictment against Shelton and four other defendants, Forrest Eugene Mays, Ryan Michael Jackson (“Ryan Jackson”), Devin Van Jackson (“Devin Jackson”), and Keenan Justin Jackson (“Keenan Jackson”).[1] [Doc. 31.] Shelton is charged in Count Eleven with possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(B), 841(b)(1)(C), 841(b)(1)(D), and 841(b)(1)(E)(2), and in Count Twelve with possession of at least one firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A)(i) and 2. [Id. at 6-7.] Those charges arise out of Shelton's arrest on June 29, 2016, when officers with the Atlanta Police Department (“APD”) executed a search warrant at Shelton's residence and seized drugs and firearms. [See generally, id.] (See also Tr. 5, 9, 20.)

         On or about Saturday, April 14, 2018, Cobb County police arrested Shelton on an unrelated state drug offense. (Tr. 22-23.) He was taken to the Cobb County jail, where law enforcement discovered an outstanding arrest warrant on the charges in this case. (Tr. 22-23.) The following Monday, April 16, 2018, SA Marable and SA Lee picked Shelton up from the Cobb County jail to transport him to federal court for his initial appearance and arraignment. (Tr. 23, 54.)

         Shelton was placed in the back seat of an unmarked car. (Tr. 23, 31.) SA Lee drove the car, and SA Marable sat next to Shelton. (Tr. 31, 54.) SA Marable, who did most of the talking to Shelton, testified that he sat in the back of the car with Shelton as a “rapport-building technique.” (Tr. 31-32.) Shelton was handcuffed. (Tr. 23, 32.)

         The entire encounter between the agents and Shelton lasted approximately 31 minutes, roughly the time that it took them to drive from the Cobb County Jail to the federal courthouse in downtown Atlanta. (See Gov't Ex. 2 (audio recording of encounter).) The encounter began with SA Marable speaking to Shelton for around three minutes about the nature of the charges, the evidence that the government had obtained, and the potential penalties that Shelton faced if convicted. SA Marable started the interview as follows:

AGENT MARABLE: Okay. So here is the deal. In a minute I'm going to Mirandize you, I'm going to read you your rights and give you the opportunity to talk to me. But before I do that, I just want to kind of lay out everything that's been going on; okay?

(Tr. 11.) SA Marable then told Shelton that he wanted Shelton “to understand . . . that you are not dealing with Fulton County, you are not dealing with Cobb County, you are not dealing with a local jurisdiction. You are dealing with the federal government of the United States right now; okay?” (Tr. 11.) SA Marable explained that Shelton was charged with drug distribution and possession of a firearm while distributing drugs, so Shelton would be “looking at a little bit of time federally.” (Id.) SA Marable also told Shelton that the charges stemmed from “your involvement with Ryan Jackson, Forrest Mays, Keenan Jackson, Devin Jackson. Basically your brothers; right?” (Id.) SA Marable continued:

AGENT MARABLE: Okay. So I want you to understand that -- you already probably have a good idea of what's been going on with them. You know we've got Ryan, you know we've got Forrest, we just picked up Devin, and now we have you; okay?
So this is basically going to be your opportunity to tell me your side of the story. We have talked to Forrest, you know, we talked to Russian, we talked to Devin. So this is basically going to be your opportunity to tell me your side of what's been going on.
Because I'm the case agent, I basically gathered all this evidence on you all, and this is basically going to be your only opportunity to talk to me face-to-face one-on-one.
AGENT MARABLE: Because once we drop you off at the federal building, the only other times you are going to see me is probably going to be in court and all our talking is going to be done through attorneys and all that good stuff; okay?
AGENT MARABLE: All right. So all that being said, I just want you to basically understand kind of how serious this is, because you are facing federal charges, so you are going to do fed time. Which means that you are probably going to do the majority of that time, 85 percent of that time, and right now you are probably looking at [] least seven or eight years for these charges; okay?
It's not like, you know, Fulton County or something where, you know, you get good behavior and get out early and all that kind of stuff. Federal time is a little different; okay?
So that being said, I want to give you the opportunity to talk to me, and we can ask each other questions and talk about what's been going on, if you want to.
So right now -

(Tr. 11-13.)

         Shelton then interrupted SA Marable with a question, and then immediately started speaking:

MR. SHELTON: So let me ask you a question. What's going to benefit me then? You know, because my involvement, I ain't --
AGENT MARABLE: You mean benefit --
MR. SHELTON: My involvement ain't seven, eight years, you know. This is my family, you know.
It's -- let me start off, they are not my brothers. They are my cousins.
AGENT MARABLE: Your cousins.
MR. SHELTON: My first cousins.
MR. SHELTON: They are my first cousins, my mama's sister's sons.
MR. SHELTON: You know what I'm saying? So we used to take showers and -- take showers and sleep in the same bed together.
AGENT MARABLE : I got you.
MR. SHELTON: You know what I'm saying? ...

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