Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Miranda Violation Does Not Automatically Make Consent to Search Involuntary

United States v. Gonzalez-Garcia, No. 11-41365 (Higginbotham, Smith, Elrod)

Federal agents were surveilling a suspected drug house when they saw Gonzalez-Garcia leave from the house. Agents approached him and asked if he was in the country legally. He admitted that he was not, and the agents arrested him. The agents never read Gonzalez-Garcia his Miranda rights but questioned him about the drug activity in the house. Gonzalez-Garcia responded to some questions but eventually requested a lawyer. Soon after the request for a lawyer, an agent asked him if he would consent to a search of the house. The agent spent 5 to 7 minutes seeking permission to search, which Gonzalez-Garcia eventually gave. Agents found 2043 kilograms of marijuana in the house.

The district court suppressed Gonzalez-Garcia’s statements about the drug activity in the house because they were obtained in violation of Miranda, but the court did not suppress the marijuana found in the house. Gonzalez-Garcia pleaded guilty conditionally and appealed the denial of his suppression request.

The panel first notes that a violation of the prophylactic Miranda rule does not require suppression of the nontestimonial physical fruits of the suspect’s unwarned but voluntary statements. "Because the marijuana seized is physical, nontestimonial evidence, an Edwards violation [questioning after he asked for a lawyer] itself would not justify suppression."

The panel then addressed whether the Miranda violation rendered Gonzalez-Garcia’s consent to search involuntary. The panel held that a categorical rule that consent is coerced whenever police use an unwarned statement to obtain consent is inconsistent with the multi-factor approach to assessing voluntariness endorsed by the Supreme Court. In other words, Gonzalez-Garcia’s "consent was not automatically involuntary merely because his Miranda rights were violated." Since Gonzalez-Garcia did not otherwise argue that the consent was involuntary, the panel affirmed the judgment of conviction.

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