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United States v. Crawford

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

November 7, 2019

United States of America,
Fernando Crawford (2), Defendant.


          Michael L. Brown United States District Judge

         The United States charged Defendant Fernando Crawford with embezzling funds from Flood Brothers, Inc., his wife's former employer. As the FBI arrested Defendant for this embezzlement, he gave a statement to two FBI agents. Defendant now moves to suppress that statement. (Dkt. 78.) The Magistrate Judge recommends denying Defendant's motion to suppress. (Dkt. 106.)

         I. Background

         Defendant's wife, Leena Awad, worked for Flood Brothers as a payroll and Human Resources specialist. (Dkt. 1 ¶¶ 2-4.) She allegedly added Defendant to Flood Brothers' payroll, which led him to receive checks, even though Flood Brothers never employed him. (Id. ¶¶ 7-9.) Defendant also allegedly completed an affidavit in support of an immigration application Ms. Awad submitted, in which he represented that Flood Brothers employed him as a Senior Project Manager. (Id. ¶ 16.) A grand jury indicted Defendant for wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and false swearing in an immigration matter. (See id.)

         At a hearing before the Magistrate Judge, FBI Special Agent Paul Fike testified about arresting, Mirandizing, and interviewing Defendant in August 2018. (Dkt. 100 at 4-5.) He explained that after placing Defendant under arrest and handcuffing him, he and another agent placed Defendant in the back seat of their car and put on his seatbelt. (Id. at 6-7.) Special Agent Pike sat with Defendant in the back of the car while the other agent drove. (Id. at 8-9.) The agents interviewed Defendant while driving to the federal courthouse for processing. (Id. at 7-8.) Before interviewing him, Special Agent Pike read Defendant his Miranda rights from a script prepared by the FBI. (Id. at 10-12.) Defendant orally confirmed that he understood and waived his Miranda rights. (Id. at 10.) The agents asked him about supporting his wife's immigration application and showed him an immigration form that he signed. (Dkt. 109 at 2.)

         During the interview, the agents were calm and professional - their tone was conversational, they did not threaten Defendant, they did not show their weapons, and they did not promise him any benefit for answering questions. (Dkts. 100 at 12, 15; 95.) After around ten minutes, Defendant stated he no longer wanted to answer questions. (Id. at 10.) The interview resumed a few minutes later, but the government does not seek to use that part of the interview. (Id. at 13; Dkt. 106 at 6.)

         II. Legal Standard

         After conducting a careful and complete review of the findings and recommendations, a district judge may accept, reject, or modify a magistrate judge's report and recommendation. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed. R. Crim. P. 59; Williams v. Wainwright, 681 F.2d 732, 732 (11th Cir. 1982) (per curiam). A district judge “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). A district judge should consider those issues to which a party makes specific objections. Jeffrey S. v. State Bd. of Educ., 896 F.2d 507, 512 (11th Cir. 1990). For those findings and recommendations to which a party has not asserted objections, the court must conduct a plain error review of the record. See United States v. Slay, 714 F.2d 1093, 1095 (11th Cir. 1983).

         III. The Magistrate Judge's Findings

         The Magistrate Judge first outlined the admissibility standard for in-custody statements. For an in-custody statement to be admissible, the suspect must have “ ‘in fact knowingly and voluntarily waived [his Miranda] rights' when making the statement.” Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370, 382 (2010) (quoting North Carolina v. Butler, 441 U.S. 369, 373 (1979)).

         These rights include the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444-45 (1966). There are two elements of a Miranda rights waiver:

First, 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. Second, 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.

Morgan v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 421 (1986). Along with a proper waiver, the suspect must voluntarily give the in-custody statement. United States v. Jones, 32 F.3d 1512, 1516 (11th Cir. 1994) (“Determining the admissibility of a postarrest confession requires a two-part inquiry. We first decide whether the law enforcement officers complies with the requirements of Miranda v. Arizona; if so, we then determine if the confession was voluntary.” (internal citation omitted)). “Voluntariness of statements is analyzed similarly to voluntariness of the Miranda waiver.” United States v. Byrd, No. 1:16-cr-315, 2017 WL 3821696, at *5 (N.D.Ga. Aug. 7, 2017).

         The Magistrate Judge first found Defendant's waiver of Miranda rights knowing and voluntary. The Magistrate Judge reasoned the agents read from a script, Defendant said he understood his rights, and there is no indication or argument he did not understand the waiver of his Miranda rights. (Dkt. 106 at 8-9.) Then, finding the waiver voluntary, the Magistrate Judge noted the FBI agents made no threats or promises to elicit the confession. (Id.) ...

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