Third Circuit Case Vacating Conviction Due to Delay in Presentment for Preliminary Hearing

Federal Criminal Defense Attorney, Hope Lefeber, Discusses Recent Third Circuit Case Vacating Conviction Due To Delay In Presentment for Preliminary Hearing

In U.S.A. v. Thompson, 2014 WL 6463173, the Third Circuit reversed the trial court’s suppression ruling regarding statements made prior to the initial appearance while the defendant was cooperating

In U.S.A. v. Thompson, 2014 WL 6463173 (November 20, 2014), the Third Circuit reversed the trial court’s suppression ruling regarding statements made prior to the initial appearance while the defendant was cooperating. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress fruits of an unlawful search, but reversed the suppression ruling regarding his statements. Federal Criminal lawyer, Hope Lefeber, explains the case.

Court documents reveal that Thompson was the subject of a traffic stop in Texas. During the stop officers located a quantity of marijuana and cocaine. He was charged locally with the marijuana and posted bond. He was not charged locally with the cocaine, nor was he informed that law enforcement discovered it. Weeks later, the DEA believing Thompson to be involved with a drug trafficking group known as the “Cali Connect” executed search warrants at residences believed to be associated with that group in various states, including Pennsylvania, Indiana, and California. Agents searched the defendant’s home in California and discovered a quantity of cocaine. He was subsequently taken to the DEA headquarter’s which was an hour and a half drive. During the drive the agents “laid the case out” for him. More than 6 hours after his arrest, Thompson agreed to cooperate. Agents then interrogated Thompson and had Thompson place phone calls in an effort to do a “reverse buy bust” on a co-conspirator. The agents did not present Thompson with a written waiver of his right to prompt presentment until more than 12 hours after his arrest. Once they did, Thompson ceased the interview. Although the cooperative efforts resumed the next day, it was clear that the reverse “buy bust” would not come to fruition. Thereafter Thompson was taken for his initial appearance, which was nearly 48 hours after his arrest.

Both motions to suppress the traffic stop in Texas and the statements in California were denied by the trial court. Thompson then pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine with a plea agreement that permitted an appeal of the denial of his suppression motions. He was sentenced to 292 months imprisonment and an appeal followed.

Ms. Lefeber explains that the defense first argued that the extension of the traffic stop to include a K-9 search was not based on reasonable suspicion. It was agreed, by the parties, that the initial stop was valid because Thompson was speeding. But once the purpose for that stop ended, Thompson argued the extension of the stop was unlawful. The Third Circuit disagreed, finding that the stop was lawfully extended based on the totality of the circumstances which included the following: 1) the officer has approximately 1500 traffic stops, 10 of which involved the discovery of contraband on the very corridor that Thompson was traveling; 2) the officer was trained to recognize indicators of drug smuggling; 3) Thompson’s explanation about his travel to Indiana for three weeks and corresponding small amount of luggage was suspicious; 4) Thompson was visibly nervous with a shaky voice and a visible pulse in his neck; and 5) when questioned about his criminal history he only mentioned one firearms conviction but neglected to mention his prior convictions for drug offenses.

The defense further argued that the confession should be suppressed because it was taken in violation of the McNabb-Mallory exclusionary rule. F.R.Cr.P Rule 5(a)(1)(A) provides that one who is arrested must be taken “without unnecessary delay before a magistrate judge” for presentment. Ms. Lefeber explains that the purpose for this rule is so that a judge can inform the defendant of the right to remain silent, inform him/her of the charges, and the right to counsel – all in an effort to prevent Government overreaching. In reviewing this claim, the Court, in Thompson, determined that Thompson’s confession occurred outside of the “safe-harbor period” – i.e. beyond the first 6 hours of his detention. The Court next reviewed whether the confession made outside this time period was reasonable and necessary. It found neither. The Court remarked that delays related to transportation and related to searching Thompson’s residence were reasonable. But, the Court found the remaining hours of delay were “in pursuit of cooperation” and that was unreasonable. The Court held firmly that, “[w]e must hold that pursuit of cooperation is not a reasonable excuse for the delay in presentment. Were we to hold otherwise, the resulting imprecision would lead to confusion on where to draw the line between engagement based on a mutual desire to cooperate, versus law enforcement’s desire to interrogate, with the hope that cooperation may result.” As such, the Court held that Thompson’s statements should have been suppressed and the judgment was vacated and the matter remanded.

Ms. Lefeber find that this is an extremely important victory for the defense in that the Court has recognized that a defendant’s constitutional rights must be upheld even where the government has an interest in waiving them.

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