In August of 2017, federal agents traveled to Melo’s home to request an interview with him regarding the November 2015 trip to the Azores during which they suspect he illegally transported cash. Melo consented to an interview and invited the agents into his residence. During the course of the interview, which Melo’s attorney John Zajac participated in by phone, Melo admitted, among other things, to having passed out envelopes to other passengers on the trip and to having carried an envelope for someone on an earlier flight. Melo also stated that he only began to suspect that the envelopes contained cash after the TSA agents had stopped Rafael and forced him to report his currency.
At his trial for bulk cash smuggling and structuring, he sought to have his statements suppressed arguing that he was in custody during the interview in his home and should have been mirandized. The court considered the circumstances in which the questioning took place and noted that the interview was conducted in Melo’s home. That is significant because such a location generally presents a less intimidating atmosphere than, say, a police station. It is important to note that the interview occurred in surroundings familiar to the defendant: his own home. In addition, we note, only two armed officers were present for the questioning and neither one brandished his or her weapon in Melo’s presence during the questioning. Finally, we note two other features of the setting in which the interview occurred that support the District Court’s custody ruling. The first is that, although the agents were in Melo’s home for more than three hours, they repeatedly interrupted their questioning, at Melo’s request, to ensure that his attorney, Zajac, could participate by phone. The second is that the District Court determined that the agents’ tone during their questioning of Melo was cordial and professional throughout the questioning. At one point, they allowed him to go to the bathroom (although they escorted him). The First Circuit held there was no factual basis for overturning the District Court’s decision denying the motion to suppress.
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