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United States v. Baptiste

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 31, 2019




         On October 30, 2018, a grand jury returned a superseding indictment against Joseph Baptiste and Richard Roger Boncy charging them with conspiring to violate the Travel Act and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, conspiring to commit money laundering, and a violation of the Travel Act based on their efforts to bribe Haitian officials to promote a port development project in Môle Saint Nicolas, Haiti. [ECF No. 74 (“Superseding Indictment” or “SI”)].

         Defendants Baptiste and Boncy are scheduled to be tried together beginning June 10, 2019. [ECF No. 136]. Currently pending before the Court is Mr. Baptiste's motion to suppress his statements to FBI agents during a December 29, 2015 interview. [ECF No. 124]. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to suppress [ECF No. 124] is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are drawn from an affidavit submitted by Mr. Baptiste and affidavits submitted by the FBI Special Agents, Alison Pauly and Garrett Trombly (“Special Agents”), who interviewed Mr. Baptiste. [SI; ECF Nos. 130-1, 130-2, 138].

         On December 29, 2015, Mr. Baptiste traveled to Miami for dinner and a business meeting with an individual he identifies as “the SEW chairman.” [ECF No. 138 (“Baptiste Aff.”) ¶ 2]. After dinner, the SEW chairman invited Mr. Baptiste to his hotel room at the Hilton Miami Downtown to continue their dinner conversation. [Id. ¶ 3; ECF No. 130-1 (“Pauly Aff.”) ¶ 2; ECF No. 130-2 (“Trombly Aff.”) ¶ 2]. Unbeknownst to Mr. Baptiste, the SEW chairman was an undercover FBI agent. [Pauly Aff. ¶ 3; Trombly Aff. ¶ 3].

         In the SEW chairman's hotel room, Mr. Baptiste was looking out of the window when he heard a knock on the door and turned around to see the Special Agents enter the room. [Baptiste Aff. ¶ 5; Pauly Aff. ¶ 3; Trombly Aff. ¶ 3]. At this time, the undercover agent left and did not return to the room during the interview. [Pauly Aff. ¶ 3; Trombly Aff. ¶ 3]; see also [Baptiste Aff. ¶ 6].

         The Special Agents identified themselves as FBI agents investigating corruption in Haiti. [Baptiste Aff. ¶ 5; Pauly Aff. ¶ 4; Trombly Aff. ¶ 4]. Special Agent Trombly recalled that he and Special Agent Pauly told Mr. Baptiste “that he was free to leave at any time.” [Trombly Aff. ¶ 4]. Mr. Baptiste recollected that one of the Special Agents “pointed to the couch” where they wanted him to sit. [Baptiste Aff. ¶ 6]. Mr. Baptiste sat down on the couch; his back was to the window and the Special Agents sat across from him with their backs toward the door. [Id.]. Mr. Baptiste “fe[lt] trapped” in this seating configuration. [Id.].

         The Special Agents interviewed Mr. Baptiste for three to four hours. [Id. ¶ 7]. Mr. Baptiste “did not feel that [he] was free to leave.” [Id. ¶ 12]. The Special Agents remembered Mr. Baptiste as “friendly” and “cooperative” and recalled themselves maintaining a “courteous” tone throughout the “calm” interview. [Pauly Aff. ¶¶ 4, 6; Trombly Aff. ¶ 5]. Mr. Baptiste was cold and tired during the interview. [Baptiste Aff. ¶ 9]. During the interview, Mr. Baptiste asked the Special Agents if he needed a lawyer. [Id. ¶ 8]. The Special Agents told him that they could not provide legal advice. [Id.]. Neither of the Special Agents could recall whether Mr. Baptiste asked them if he needed an attorney. [Pauly Aff. ¶ 5; Trombly Aff. ¶ 6]. The Special Agents stated that their standard response to a witness asking if he or she needs an attorney is to say that they cannot answer the question. [Pauly Aff. ¶ 5; Trombly Aff. ¶ 6].

         During the interview, one of the Special Agents asked Mr. Baptiste to call a business associate. [Baptiste Aff. ¶ 10; Pauly Aff. ¶ 7; Trombly Aff. ¶ 7]. Mr. Baptiste complied. [Baptiste Aff. ¶ 10; Pauly Aff. ¶ 7; Trombly Aff. ¶ 7]. The Special Agents also asked Mr. Baptiste to surrender his phone and showed him a search warrant for the phone. [Baptiste Aff. ¶ 11]. Although Mr. Baptiste states that he “voluntarily provided” his phone to the Special Agents, he asserts that he “fe[els] that [he] would have been arrested” for not complying with their request. [Id.]. Mr. Baptiste left the hotel room when the interview concluded. [Pauly Aff. ¶ 8; Trombly Aff. ¶ 8].

         On April 18, 2019, Mr. Baptiste filed a motion to suppress the statements he made to the Special Agents on December 29, 2015 claiming that the statements were taken in violation of his rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. [ECF No. 124]. The Government opposed the motion to suppress on May 2, 2019. [ECF No. 130]. At a pretrial hearing on May 8, 2019, the Court gave Mr. Baptiste leave to prepare and file an affidavit in support of his motion to suppress. [ECF No. 137]. On May 13, 2019, Mr. Baptiste submitted an affidavit describing the circumstances under which he made the statements that he now seeks to suppress. [Baptiste Aff.].


         Under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), statements obtained in a custodial interrogation are generally inadmissible unless law enforcement has observed the applicable procedural safeguards including warning the suspect “that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed.” 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). The procedural safeguards outlined by Miranda are only required during a “custodial interrogation, ” Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 300 (1980), which the Supreme Court has defined as “questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way, ” Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444.

         To determine whether an individual is in custody for the purposes of Miranda in situations in which there has not been an arrest, “district court[s] look[] to the totality of the circumstances surrounding the questioning and determine[] whether a ‘reasonable person would have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave.'” United States v. Arroyo, 972 F.Supp.2d 112, 121 (D. Mass. 2013) (quoting United States v. Mittel-Carey, 493 F.3d 36, 39 (1st Cir. 2007)). The First Circuit has identified four factors to be considered in this analysis: “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.” United States v. Swan, 842 F.3d 28, 31 (1st Cir. ...

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