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United States v. Rang

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 6, 2017

ROBERT RANG, Defendant.


          Indira Talwani United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         On February 26, 2015, a federal grand jury indicted Robert Rang for the attempted coercion and enticement of a minor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b). Rang now moves to suppress statements he made to law enforcement officers on December 29, 2014. For reasons set forth in this opinion, Rang's Motion to Suppress Statements [#41] is ALLOWED in part and DENIED in part.

         II. Background

         Acting on evidence that Rang had engaged in sexually-explicit communications with a nine-year-old boy via the telephone, internet, and a video game console, between eight and ten law enforcement officers executed a federal search warrant of Rang's Pennsylvania home on the morning of December 29, 2014. After being let in by Rang's father, the officers encountered Rang on the second floor. United States Postal Inspector Michael J. Connelly and Massachusetts State Trooper Robert Smith subsequently led Rang to the third-floor attic to question him. The interview was audiotaped. The officers administered Rang his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), which Rang waived in writing. He initially denied having sent sexually-explicit communications to the minor and provided multiple explanations before ultimately admitting that he had sent the communications knowingly. The interrogation lasted two hours and twenty-two minutes, and Rang was arrested shortly thereafter.

         III. Discussion

         Rang now moves to suppress the statements he made to Inspector Connelly and Trooper Smith. He has presented evidence that he has a borderline intelligence quotient (“IQ”) as well as Bipolar Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and that his mother alerted officers to these conditions on the morning of the search. He contends that his conditions prevented him from fully comprehending his rights and the significance of waiving them and that Inspector Connelly and Trooper Smith purposefully exploited his cognitive impairments. Consequently, he argues four grounds for suppression: (1) he made certain statements before being apprised of his Miranda rights; (2) the officers incorrectly articulated the Miranda warnings and made statements to contradict and minimize their impact which effectively rendered them void; (3) he did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive his rights; and (4) he made the statements involuntarily.

         A. Custody

         At the outset, the court must determine whether Rang was in custody at the time of the interrogation.[1] It is well established that “a person questioned by law enforcement officers after being ‘taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way' must first” be administered Miranda warnings. Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 322 (1994) (per curiam) (quoting Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444). “‘[C]ustody' is a term of art, ” Howes v. Fields, 132 S.Ct. 1181, 1187 (2012), arising only when “there is ‘a formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement' of the degree associated with a formal arrest, ” California v. Beheler, 463 U.S. 1121, 1125 (1983) (per curiam) (quoting Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 495 (1977)).

         In determining whether a person was in custody, the court considers “whether, in light of the objective circumstances of the interrogation, a reasonable person would have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave.” Howes, 132 S.Ct. at 1189 (internal citations, quotation marks, and brackets omitted). The court must scrutinize “all of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation.” Id. (quoting Stansbury, 511 U.S. at 322). Relevant factors to be considered when determining the existence of freedom of movement or restraint include “the location of the questioning, its duration, statements made during the interview, the presence or absence of physical restraints during the questioning, and the release of the interviewee at the end of questioning.” Id. (internal citations removed); see also United States v. Mittel-Carey, 493 F.3d 36, 39 (1st Cir. 2007) (“Though by no means an exhaustive list, [the First Circuit] has identified four factors which ought to be considered when custody is at issue, including ‘whether the suspect was questioned in familiar or at least neutral surroundings, the number of law enforcement officers present at the scene, the degree of physical restraint placed upon the suspect, and the duration and character of the interrogation.'” (quoting United States v. Masse, 816 F.2d 805, 809 (1st Cir. 1987)).

         An interrogation of a suspect in his home weighs against a finding of custody. United States v. Hughes, 640 F.3d 428, 435-36 (1st Cir. 2011); Mittel-Carey, 493 F.3d at 40; United States v. Lanni, 951 F.2d 440, 442 (1st Cir. 1991); cf. United States v. Nishnianidze, 342 F.3d 6, 14 (1st Cir. 2003). However, it is by no means determinative. Mittel-Carey, 493 F.3d at 40; cf. Orozco v. Texas, 394 U.S. 324, 327 (1969) (requiring that law enforcement officers provide Miranda warnings during custodial interrogations of defendants in their homes). This principle is exemplified in Mittel-Carey, 493 F.3d 36, where the defendant was interrogated, without Miranda warnings, in his home for ninety minutes to two hours after eight law enforcement agents arrived at 6:25 a.m. to execute a search warrant. Id. at 38, 40. The First Circuit deemed that, based on the totality of the circumstances, the defendant was in custody despite the interrogation having been conducted in his home. Id. at 39-40. Driving this determination was the degree of physical control the officers exercised over the defendant at all times-ordering him to dress and where to sit, requiring that an officer escort him the few times he was permitted to move, and separating him from his girlfriend in another room. Id. at 40. Other factors the court considered included the early morning hour, the number of officers present in the home, the length of the interrogation, an officer's brandishing of an unholstered gun when initially confronting the defendant in his bedroom, and use of coercive statements by the interrogating officer. Id.

         Here, many of the factors tilt toward a determination that Rang was in custody at the time of the interrogation. Although the officers questioned him in his home, his movements were substantially restrained. Rang first encountered the officers when their firearms were drawn. The officers handcuffed and escorted him to his bedroom and then to the third floor-two floors above where his parents and sister were seated under the watchful eye of other officers. Inspector Connelly and Trooper Smith closed the door to the third floor behind them. The attic room was finished, but unfurnished and unheated. Rang sat on the floor while at least one of the officers at all times sat above him on a plastic storage box. Although Rang's hands were unrestrained once on the third floor and the officers told him he could leave at any time, Inspector Connelly also admonished him that “we can't have you just walking around just for our safety because, you know, there's sharp things in the house . . . [W]e don't want there to be any misunderstandings.” While Rang was questioned by only two officers, several others were executing the search warrant below, and officers entered and exited the attic during the two-hour-and-twenty-two-minute interrogation.

         The isolation of Rang from his family while he was questioned in an unfurnished and unheated room, the restrictions on both his and his family's movements, the drawn firearm when officers first approached Rang that morning, the presence of numerous officers in his home, and the length of the interrogation outweigh any feeling of comfort or familiarity Rang otherwise might have experienced by being questioned in his home, the generally calm tone of the interrogation, and the officers' assurances that he was not under arrest and could end the questioning at any time.

         Based on the totality of the circumstances, the court finds that Rang was ...

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