United States v. Abdallah 4thCIR 18DEC2018

An investigation into the sale of “spice” led to multiple search warrants which led to the collection of evidence which eventually led to a grand jury indictment and the arrest of the defendant, Nadar Abdallah.  Abdallah was then interrogated by federal special agents and a local police detective.  The officers chose not to record the interrogation. A special agent started the interrogation by providing Miranda warnings to Allahabad. About halfway through the warnings, the defendant stated the he “wasn’t going to say anything at all.”  The special agent then said “Well, just let me finish your Warning first.” Immediately after the earning, the special agent said “Do you even know why you’re under arrest?” to which the defendant responded, “No, tell me.” The special agent then repeated the Miranda warning. This time, Defendant did not interrupt, and Defendant indicated that he understood his rights. Defendant subsequently made multiple incriminating statements.

Defendant filed a motion to suppress all statements based on two arguments. First, the defendant argued that by stating that he “was not going to say anything at all,” he unambiguously requested to remain silent. Second, the defendant also sought suppression because “it is not clear what if any Miranda warnings were given.” The defendant noted the officers did not record the interrogation and only one officer took notes and there were inconsistencies with officer testimony regarding exactly what was said in the warning.   The district court denied Defendant’s suppression motion, finding his invocation to be “ambiguous, especially given the fact that he voluntarily waived his Miranda rights minutes later once informed of the charges against him and the subject of the interrogation.” The court also denied the motion to suppress based on the argument regarding what warning was actually given.

Because law enforcement officers failed to scrupulously honor Defendant’s unequivocal invocation of the right to remain silent, the district court erred by failing to grant Defendant’s motions to suppress and reconsider suppression.  The court noted that the rule of law announced by the Supreme Court in Miranda required that if a suspect “indicates in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease.”  To invoke the right to remain silent and thereby cut off questioning, the suspect’s invocation must be “unambiguous.” An invocation is unambiguous when a “reasonable police officer under the circumstances would have understood” the suspect intended to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. The Fourth Circuit held that when the defendant interrupted the agent’s Miranda warning by stating he “wasn’t going to say anything at all” he unambiguously invoked his right to remain silent and the interrogation should have immediately ceased.

Practice Tip:  When you are doing a Miranda Warning, once you start the warning if at any point during the warning the suspect either says he is not going to talk or says he wants a lawyer, you must stop the interrogation! You don’t get to ignore the invocation until after you have completed the Miranda warning.

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