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United States v. Adams

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

March 20, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
DONALD ADAMS, Defendant.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BENJAMIN W. CHEESBRO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Defendant Donald Adams has been indicted on two felony counts related to his alleged possession and distribution of certain controlled substances. Doc. 21. Among the charges, the Government has accused Defendant of distributing hydromorphone and fentanyl, resulting in death. Id. at 4. Defendant disputes whether certain statements he made to law enforcement officers during an interview prior to his arrest were voluntary.[1] On March 7, 2019, the Court conducted a hearing in accordance with Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964), to evaluate whether Defendant's statements were, in fact, voluntary. Doc. 78. For the reasons that follow, I RECOMMEND the Court find that Defendant's statements were voluntary.

         I. Defendant's Statements

         In evaluating the voluntariness of Defendant's statements, the Court considered video footage of Defendant's interview by law enforcement officers. The Government provided the Court a copy of Defendant's interview and produced that interview to Defendant during discovery. Doc. 75. The interview was admitted into evidence during the March 7, 2019 hearing, and no party contests the video's accuracy or completeness. Doc. 21. The footage shows Defendant was questioned on the morning of September 27, 2018, for just under one hour, from approximately 6:15 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. Defendant was questioned by Investigator Stephan Lowrey and Officer Jeremy Stagner of the Glynn County Police Department at a Police Department facility.

         The video shows that Defendant was interviewed in what appears to be a small room with a table, three chairs, and no windows. At the outset of the video, Investigator Lowrey advises Defendant that he is not under arrest and that he is free to leave at any time, though Investigator Lowrey states, “I would really advise against that.” Doc. 75 at 0:04:00-0:05:00. Investigator Lowrey then proceeds to inform Defendant of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and Defendant executes a waiver acknowledging that he is aware of those rights. Id. at 0:04:00-0:05:00.

         Near the beginning of the video, Investigator Lowrey states, “The moment you start lying, any cooperation you receive from [the state] is gone, ” and “this is your chance to give me your side of the story.” Id. at 0:05:30; 0:08:00. Investigator Lowrey then begins questioning Defendant about his relationship with codefendant Makeda Atkinson, who had been previously arrested, and Atkinson's role in the death of Leann Monaghan following an overdose.

         Defendant then answers various questions for the remainder of his interview. Defendant states to Investigator Lowrey, “I was hooked on drugs a long time ago, and I don't do them anymore.” Id. at 0:13:00. Throughout the interview, Investigator Lowrey never promises Defendant anything in exchange for his cooperation but encourages him to continue speaking and thanks him for his cooperation, stating:

I'm glad you wanted to come and speak with us because getting your side of the story, it helps, it helps you. And instead of leaving, you know, leaving a lot left to be determined from what I'm hearing from other people, it's nice to be able to hear your side of things.

Id. at 0:13:30-0:14:00. The video does not show that Defendant was physically threatened or restrained at any time. During the video of the interview, Defendant does not ask for a break in questioning, for food, for water, to speak to an attorney, or to speak to anyone else. Rather, the video shows that Defendant was questioned for approximately one hour and was free to leave the police station at any time.

         During the March 7, 2019 hearing, Investigator Lowrey testified that, on the morning of the interview, he approached Defendant at the Salvation Army homeless shelter on Reynolds Street in Brunswick, Georgia, where Defendant was residing. Investigator Lowrey requested that Defendant return with him to the police station to be questioned, and Defendant agreed. Investigator Lowrey stated he did not engage in any substantive discussion with Defendant until he reached the police station and that Defendant was not handcuffed during the drive to the police station. During cross-examination by defense counsel, Investigator Lowrey stated he saw Defendant exit the Salvation Army, walk back inside, and then exit again a few minutes later. Investigator Lowrey also testified that the recorded interview was the only interview law enforcement conducted with Defendant, and that Defendant appeared to be alert, articulate, and unimpaired during the interview.

         At the hearing, Defendant testified that, on the morning of the interrogation, Defendant noticed the presence of a police officer when he first exited the Salvation Army. Defendant claims he was in possession of drugs (a combination of heroin and cocaine) that morning, and once he learned of police presence at shelter, he re-entered the building and snorted the drugs.[2]Defendant stated the drugs made him relaxed and gave him a feeling of not caring about the impact of his statements. Defendant also stated he was under the influence of drugs during the entirety of his interview, and though he recalls his statements, he testified that he would not have made some of his statements if he had not been under the influence of drugs. During cross-examination, Defendant stated he had not done drugs for “a couple months” before the interview. Defendant testified that police did not coerce him during their questioning but insists he was under the influence of drugs at the time he was interviewed. Notably, Defendant's assertion that he consumed drugs the morning of the interview-September 27, 2018-is contrary to his sworn testimony during his bond hearing in this matter on October 24, 2018, where he testified that he last used heroin eight months prior to the date of that hearing. Doc. 19.

         II. Legal Standard

         The United States Supreme Court's holding in Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964), governs the voluntariness of confessions and, in pertinent part, provides:

It is now axiomatic that a defendant in a criminal case is deprived of due process of law if his conviction is founded, in whole or in part, upon an involuntary confession, without regard for the truth or falsity of the confession, and even though there is ...

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