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United States v. Hicks

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

September 9, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
ISAIAH HICKS, Defendant.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BENJAMIN W. CHEESBRO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Defendant Isaiah Hicks (“Mr. Hicks”) has been indicted on Possession of a Firearm by a Prohibited Person, 18.U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Before the Court are ten discovery motions by Mr. Hicks, docs. 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 56, 57, and 58. Mr. Hicks has also filed a Motion to Determine Voluntariness of Statements under Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964), doc. 55.

         The Court held a motions hearing on August 26, 2019. Doc. 124. During the hearing, the parties informed the Court that, as of the date of the hearing, all discovery issues had been resolved. Accordingly, the Court DENIES as moot Mr. Hicks's discovery motions, docs. 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 56, 57, and 58. Additionally, at the hearing, the undersigned considered evidence and argument related tom Mr. Hicks's Motion to Determine Voluntariness of Statements. Doc. 55. At the hearing, I found that Mr. Hicks's statements were voluntarily made and were not the product of any coercion or undue pressure, and I set forth my reasons for reaching that conclusion on the record. This Report and Recommendation memorializes the conclusions and reasons set forth at the August 26, 2019 hearing. For the reasons stated at the August 26, 2019 hearing, and restated below, I RECOMMEND that the Court GRANT Motion to Determine Voluntariness of Statements and find that Mr. Hicks's statements were voluntary.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Mr. Hicks's Statements

         The grand jury indicted Mr. Hicks for the offense of Possession of a Firearm by a Prohibited Person, 18.U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Doc. 1. On or about Mr. Hicks was arrested and interrogated on June 16, 2018. Investigator Ray Boyles of the Wayne County Police Department interrogated Mr. Hicks at the Wayne County Jail for approximately 40 minutes, between roughly 10:49 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. The interrogation included questions about Mr. Hicks's involvement in a shooting at the Briarwood Apartment Complex located in Jesup, Georgia. Mr. Hicks filed a motion in accordance with Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964), asking the Court to determine the voluntariness of the statements he made during the June 16, 208 interrogation (the “Motion”). Doc. 55.

         The Court held a hearing on Defendant's Motion on August 26, 2019. Doc. 123. At the hearing, counsel for Defendant played video footage of the June 16, 2018 interrogation. The video footage was taken from the interrogating officer's body camera. Defendant's counsel played all material parts of the interrogation video for the Court. No. party disputes the video's accuracy or completeness. Defendant's counsel also tendered two documentary exhibits at the August 26, 2019 hearing: (1) an Arrest/Booking Report that was prepared, at least in part, during the June 16, 2018 interrogation; and (2) a Miranda Waiver that was completed during the June 16, 2018 interrogation. Doc. 122.

         The June 16, 2018 interrogation occurred at the Wayne County, Georgia Sheriff's office in Jesup, Georgia. The video footage shows the interrogation took place in what appears to be a small room with a table and three chairs. At the start of the video, Mr. Hicks is seated across the table from Investigator Ray Boyles and another officer in the interrogation room. Investigator Boyles reads Mr. Hicks his rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Officer Boyles takes the time to explain Mr. Hicks's rights and reiterates a few aspects of the rights in a more plain speak, informal manner. On the video, Mr. Hicks executes a waiver acknowledging that he is aware of those rights. Investigator Boyles then proceeds to question Mr. Hicks about various topics, including his participation in the purported shooting at the Briarwood Apartment Complex, how he was affiliated with Codefendants, and who he knows at the Briarwood Apartment Complex. Aside from a few technical pauses in the video, the questioning continues for approximately 40 minutes.

         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 ample evidence aside from the confession to support the conviction.

378 U.S. at 376 (internal citation omitted). A confession is not voluntary pursuant to the Due Process Clause when law enforcement officials have used coercive conduct. Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 167 (1986). Coercion can be mental or physical. Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 206 (1960); Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227, 237 (1940). The test for determining if a confession is the result of coercion requires a review of the totality of the circumstances. Blackburn, 361 U.S. at 206 (citing Fikes v. Alabama, 352 U.S. 191, 197 (1957)). In examining the totality of the circumstances, it must be determined whether “the statement is the product of the accused's free and rational choice.” Harris v. Dugger, 874 F.2d 756, 761 (11th Cir. 1989). These potential circumstances include not only the crucial element of police coercion, but the length of the interrogation, its location, and its continuity, and the defendant's maturity, education, physical condition, and mental health. These circumstances also include the failure of police to advise the defendant of his rights to remain silent and to have counsel present during custodial interrogation. Withrow v. Williams, 507 U.S. 680, 693-94 (1993) (internal citations omitted). “Sufficiently coercive conduct normally involves subjecting the accused to an exhaustingly long interrogation, the application of physical force or the threat to do so, or the making of a promise that induces a confession.” United States v. Thompson, 422 F.3d 1285, 1295-96 (11th Cir. 2005). Government coercion is a necessary predicate to a finding of involuntariness under the Fifth Amendment. However, “[a]bsent police conduct causally related to the confession, there is no basis for concluding that any state actor has deprived a criminal defendant of due process of law.” Id. at 1296.

         III. Mr. Hicks's Statements were Voluntary

         Considering the testimony and argument presented at the August 26, 2019 hearing, as well as the video footage of Mr. Hicks's June 16, 2018 interrogation, I find that Mr. Hicks's statements ...


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