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November 30, 2017
  United States v. Giddins -- Fourth Circuit
Would I Lie to You? Fourth Circuit Finds Deceit by Police Made Post-Waiver Statements Inadmissible

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Issue Presented: Whether the waiver of the appellant's Miranda rights was involuntary and the result of coercion; and if so, whether the admission of the appellant's post-waiver statements was harmless error?

Brief Summary: After a series of robberies, during September 2013, Master Giddins was convicted on one count of bank robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit bank robbery. Statements Giddins made during a custodial interrogation had been introduced at his trial. In a published opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that Giddins' waiver of his Miranda rights was involuntary, and that his post-waiver statements were therefore inadmissible. Furthermore, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the error in introducing the post-waiver statements was not harmless. The Fourth Circuit reversed Giddins' conviction.

Extended Summary: During September 2013, in Baltimore, Maryland, three different banks were robbed over the course of three days. The first robbery occurred on September 25, 2013. After the robbery, the robber fled the bank and was driven away in a waiting, silver Ford Focus. Police later determined that the robber was the appellant Master Giddins, that the getaway car used was his silver Ford Focus, and that the getaway driver was his girlfriend, Czekiah Fludd. On September 26th and 27th, Fludd committed two other robberies. She was assisted by Ashley Fitz and Alexis Chandler. During the commission of both robberies, Fludd used Giddins' silver Ford Focus. After returning to the scene of the final robbery for money they had discarded, Fludd, Fitz, and Chandler were arrested and the Ford Focus was seized.

Based on statements and evidence obtained from Fitz, after her arrest, detectives of the Baltimore County Police Department (hereinafter "BCPD") applied for and obtained a warrant for Giddins' arrest. On October 4, 2013, after learning that BCPD had his vehicle, Giddins went to the BCPD's headquarters to retrieve his property. Upon arrival, Giddins was taken to an interrogation room where his interactions with officers and detectives were recorded.

During the interview, the officers: (1) locked one of the doors to the interrogation room, (2) asked about the person to whom Giddins lent his vehicle, (3) requested and then removed Giddins phone from his vicinity, and (4) informed Giddins that this was the procedure necessary for retrieving his vehicle. Several times during the interview, Giddin's asked if "[he was] in trouble." The officers replied that he was not. Later, a detective produced a Miranda waiver and told Giddins they had to read him his rights because his car was involved in a crime. Giddins again inquired if this was the procedure necessary for retrieving his vehicle and the officers again informed him these were the necessary steps. Before signing the Miranda waiver, Giddins asked a final time if he was in trouble and the officers responded that he was not. After signing the waiver, Giddins was questioned for 15 minutes about his involvement in the September 25th robbery, informed by the detectives that they believed he was the robber, and formally notified that he was under arrest for bank robbery.

Giddins was indicted by a federal grand jury in the District of Maryland. Giddins' motion to suppress his statement to police was denied and the video of Giddins' interrogation was played at trial. The jury convicted Giddins on one count of bank robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit bank robbery. Giddins appealed.

The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment, determining that Giddins' waiver of his Miranda rights was involuntary and that his post-waiver statements were therefore inadmissible. Furthermore, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the error in introducing those statements was not harmless. In finding relief was warranted, the Fourth Circuit found that: (1) Miranda's protections applied because Giddins was in the custody of the BCPD and subject to an interrogation, (2) his waiver of his rights, and subsequent statements were the result of coercion, and, thus, involuntary, and (3) the jury would not have convicted Giddins absent the error.

In order to determine whether a Miranda waiver was necessary, the court first analyzed whether Giddins was in custody and subject to interrogation. In finding that Giddins was in custody, the court asked "whether a reasonable person would have felt [he was] not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave." Contrary to the district court's custody conclusion, the Fourth Circuit found that Giddins was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave. The court asserted that although the detectives informed Giddins he could leave, this statement was not enough to show a lack of custody.

Having found Miranda applied, the court then turned to whether Giddins' waiver and subsequent statements were the involuntary product of coercion. As to coercion, the Fourth Circuit determined that Giddins was subjected to two forms: (1) economic coercion and (2) coercion via deceit. With regard to economic coercion, Giddins successfully argued that the police engaged in economic coercion by forcing him to "choose between surrendering his Fifth Amendment rights or incurring adverse economic consequences." The court asserted that because Giddins relied on his vehicle to get to work, when the police officers bound his ability to retrieve his vehicle with the waiver of his Miranda rights, the officers unduly coerced Giddins by depriving him of an economic benefit.

Next, the court examined whether the officers engaged in unfair coercion by lying to Giddins about whether he was "in trouble." The court acknowledged that officers have no affirmative duty to "inform [a defendant] of the identity of the specific offense under investigation." However, relying on the Seventh Circuit decision in United States v. Serlin, the court found that failing to inform Giddins he was the subject of an investigation after Giddins inquired specifically whether he was "in trouble," resulted in affirmative deceit that was material to Giddins' decision to speak. The court then considered whether the coercion rose to such a level that "the defendant's will [w]as overborne or his capacity for self-determination critically impaired." The court found that Giddins was encouraged to waive his rights and that the coercive tactics used by the police met the threshold necessary to establish that Giddins' will was overborne and his capacity for self- determination critically impaired.

Finally, the court evaluated the question of harm. Relying on Arizona v. Fulminante, the court determined that a jury would not have found Giddins guilty absent the error: (1) the recorded statements made by Giddins during the interview were important to the government's case, given their reliance on the video throughout the trial; and (2) the video was used to establish the credibility of other evidence used to convict Giddins. The Fourth Circuit determined that the error not harmless, and reversed Giddins' conviction.

To read the full opinion, click here.

Panel: Judges King, Agee, and Floyd

Argument Date: 01/25/2017

Date of Issued Opinion: 06/07/2017

Docket Number: 15-4039

Decided: Reversed by published opinion.

Case Alert Author: Avatara Smith-Carrington, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: ARGUED: Meghan Suzanne Skelton, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Greenbelt, Maryland, for Appellant. Kenneth Sutherland Clark, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: James Wyda, Federal Public Defender, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant. Rod J. Rosenstein, United States Attorney, Debra L. Dwyer, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Floyd

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 11/30/2017 03:53 PM     4th Circuit  

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