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Media Alerts - United States v. Williams
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March 8, 2017
  United States v. Williams
Headline: Ninth Circuit panel affirms a suppression order when a criminal defendant invoked his Miranda rights and the government subsequently attempted to use unadmonished responses to a jail official's questions about the defendant's gang affiliation at trial.

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Miranda Warnings.

Issue Presented: Whether the government may introduce evidence of a defendant's gang affiliation obtained through unadmonished questioning of defendant by a jail official after defendant asserted his Miranda rights.

Brief Summary: Appellee was initially charged with murder and other offenses in state court. When police attempted to interrogate him, he immediately invoked his Miranda rights. Later, a deputy sheriff handling the booking process asked him whether he had gang affiliations. Appellant responded in the affirmative. Appellee was later charged with numerous RICO offenses, and the United States attempted to use Appellee's booking statement in its case-in-chief. The district court issued an order suppressing the evidence. The government appealed, arguing the response fell under either the "booking exception" or the "public safety exception" to the Miranda warnings. The Ninth Circuit panel affirmed the district court ruling.

Significance: Once a criminal defendant invokes his Miranda rights, the government cannot use his responses to unadmonished questions regarding gang affiliation in its case-in-chief, even if the questions are part of routine booking procedures or related to promoting safety in jails.

Extended Summary: State authorities arrested Appellee for the murder. Homicide detectives advised him of his Miranda rights and attempted to interrogate him, but he explicitly invoked his right to an attorney. Appellee was later taken to a county jail. The deputy sheriff handling the booking process asked him if he was a gang member, and Appellee responded, "Yeah, I hang out there, put me where I'm from." The deputy entered the response on forms used by jail officials in determining where to house inmates. The forms designate any gang affiliation and reflect whether a prisoner presents "High Risks." The deputy reported Appellee's gang affiliation and marked "Gang Member" on the list of "High Risks."

Appellee was initially charged in state court with murder and other crimes. Later, the state charges were dismissed and he was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); murder in aid of racketeering, 18 U.S.C. §1959(a)(1); and firearms offenses. The United States wished to use Appellee's statements of gang membership to satisfy an important element to the RICO charge: membership in a RICO enterprise. Appellee moved to suppress the statements, the district court granted the motion, and the United States appealed.

The Ninth Circuit panel began its analysis by citing the iconic rule of Miranda v. Arizona which holds that once a defendant indicates in any manner and at any stage of the process that he wishes to consult with an attorney before speaking there can be no questioning. 384 U.S. 436, 444-45 (1966). The panel also recognized, however, that there are exceptions to the rule, and discussed two exceptions the "booking questions exception" and the "public safety exception," ones that the government argued applied in this case.
The government asserted that the booking exception applied because the deputy sheriff who asked questions regarding gang affiliation could not have known the responses would be incriminating as no gang-related charges were pending at the time. The panel rejected this argument, holding that the issue is whether a booking question was reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response in light of all the circumstances. The test is an objective one and the subjective intent of the officer is relevant but not conclusive. United States v. Washington, 462 F.3d 1124 (9th Cir. 2006). In this case, the absence of gang charges did not mean admission of gang affiliation could not be incriminating. The panel cited the California Supreme Court's decision in People v. Elizalde, which found that gang membership exposes a defendant to "a comprehensive scheme of penal statutes aimed at eradicating criminal activity by street gangs." 61 Cal. 4th 523, 538 (2015). The panel determined that questions about Appellee's gang affiliation were reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response even though the federal RICO charges had not yet filed because it could have exposed him to even more charges under both California and federal laws.

The government also argued that the public safety exception to Miranda does not require adherence to the warnings when there is an "objectively reasonable need to protect the police or public from any immediate danger." United States v. Carrillo, 16 F.3d 1046, 1049 (9th Cir. 1994). The United States claimed the deputy sheriff asked questions regarding gang affiliation in the interests of inmate safety. The Ninth Circuit panel rejected this argument as there was no need to protect the deputy or others against immediate danger.

Dissent: Senior Circuit Judge Kleinfeld dissented, writing that both the booking exception and the public safety exception applied because the deputy sheriff asked questions regarding gang affiliation for the purpose of separating gang members from one another and protecting inmates from jail house violence.

To real the full opinion, please visit:

Panel: Andrew J. Kleinfeld, Johnnie B. Rawlinson, and Andrew D. Hurwitz, Circuit Judges.

Argument Date: March 16, 2016

Date of Issued Opinion: December 5, 2016

Docket Number: 15-10475

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Kyle Case

Counsel: Ann M. Voigts (argued), Assistant United States Attorney; Barbara J. Walliere, Chief, Appellate Division; Brian J. Stretch, United States Attorney; United States Attorney's Officer, San Francisco, California; for Plaintiff-Appellant
Mark Stuart Goldrosen (argued), San Francisco, California for Defendants-Appellees

Author of Opinion: Judge Hurwitz

Circuit: Ninth

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Philip L. Merkel

    Posted By: Glenn Koppel @ 03/08/2017 07:17 PM     9th Circuit  

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