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United States v. Duron

United States District Court, S.D. California

April 14, 2017



          JEFFREY T. MILLER United States District Judge

         Before the court is Defendant Francisca Sepulveda Duron's motion to suppress the statement she gave after her July 13, 2016, arrest for importation of methamphetamine. (Doc. No. 30.) The Government opposes the motion. Based on the parties' papers and oral arguments, and the court's careful review of the videotape and transcript of Defendant's interrogation, the court grants Defendant's motion.


         Defendant advances two arguments in support of her motion. First, she argues that her statement was involuntary under the totality of the circumstances. She claims that Homeland Security Investigations Special Agents Bryan Alexander and Andrew Jones and Task Force Officer Yadira Bobadilla (“the interrogators”) psychologically coerced her confession by mentioning her children, warning her of the maximum penalties for her alleged offense, emphasizing the importance of her cooperation, and suggesting that she may be able to keep her lawful permanent resident status. Second, she argues that her statement was unwarned because the interrogators gave her conflicting Miranda advisements.

         A. Voluntariness

         The court first addresses Defendant's contention that her statement was coerced and therefore involuntary.

         1. Legal Standards

         A defendant's statement must be voluntary to be admissible, Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 304-05 (1985), and the government must prove that the defendant's statement was voluntary by a preponderance of the evidence, United States v. Harrison, 34 F.3d 886, 890 (9th Cir. 1994). Coercive police activity is a necessary predicate to finding that a defendant's confession was involuntary. Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 167 (1986). To determine whether a confession was involuntary, the court should consider the totality of the circumstances and assess whether “the government obtained the statement by physical or psychological coercion or by improper inducement so that the suspect's will was overborne.” Harrison, 34 F.3d at 890; see also United States v. Moreno, 891 F.2d 247, 250 (9th Cir. 1989) (“The ‘crucial element' is ‘police overreaching.'” (quoting Connelly, 479 U.S. at 164)). In considering the totality of the circumstances, the court should evaluate both the characteristics of the accused and the details of the interrogation. Doody v. Ryan, 649 F.3d 986, 1015-16 (2011). Ultimately, the determination “depends upon the weighing of the circumstances of pressure against the power of resistance of the person confessing.” Id. at 1016 (internal citations omitted).

         Because the thrust of Defendant's motion is that she was coerced into making her statements by threats of being separated from her children, a review of Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit cases on that subject is appropriate.

         In Lynumn v. Illinois, 372 U.S. 528, 534 (1963), the Supreme Court condemned threats to a mother that she would be cut off from her children and lose aid if she did not cooperate. Later that term, the Supreme Court held in Haynes v. State of Washington, 373 U.S. 503, 513-14 (1963), that a written confession was the product of coercion when the suspect was threatened with losing access to his family.

         A Ninth Circuit case is most instructive. In United States v. Tingle, 658 F.2d 1332 (9th Cir. 1981), the Ninth Circuit laid down a broad prohibition on eliciting a confession by reference to a defendant's children. In that case, the interviewing agent:

recited a virtual litany of the maximum penalties for the crimes of which Tingle was suspected, totaling 40 years imprisonment. He expressly stated, in a manner that could only be interpreted in light of the lengthy sentences he had described, that Tingle would not see her two-year-old child ‘for a while.' Referring specifically to her child, [the agent] warned her that she had ‘a lot at stake.' [The agent] also told Tingle that it would be in her best interest to cooperate and that her cooperation would be communicated to the prosecutor. He also told her that if she failed to cooperate he would inform the prosecutor that she was ‘stubborn or hard-headed.'

Id. at 1336. The court stated that it was “clear that the purpose and objective of the interrogation was to cause Tingle to fear that, if she failed to cooperate, she would not see her young child for a long time.” Id. The court thought it “equally clear that such would be the conclusion which Tingle could reasonably be expected to draw from the agent's use of this technique.” Id.

         In concluding that the agent's statements “were patently coercive, ” the court stated that “[t]he relationship between parent and child embodies a primordial and fundamental value of our society. When law enforcement officers deliberately prey upon the maternal instinct and inculcate fear in a mother that she will not see her child in order to elicit ‘cooperation, ' they exert the ‘improper influence' proscribed by Malloy [v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 7 (1964)].” Id. “The warnings that a lengthy prison term could be imposed, that Tingle had a lot at stake, that her cooperation would be communicated to the prosecutor, that her failure to cooperate would be ...

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