Monday, December 15, 2014

Third Circuit Suppresses Voluntary Confession Obtained Prior to Defendant’s Presentment to a Magistrate Judge. Holds 48-hour Delay Caused by Defendant’s Cooperation Unreasonable.

An arresting office must present a defendant before a magistrate judge or state or local judicial officer without “unnecessary delay.”  Fed.R.Crim.P. 5(a)(1)(A).  In the 1940s and’50s, the Supreme Court gave teeth to this rule by holding that confessions (even voluntary ones) must be suppressed if law enforcement officers obtain them during a period of unreasonable delay.  The McNabb-Mallory rule (named after the Supreme Court cases which established it) recognizes that a person’s being held in custody without having a judge inform him of his rights can render any questioning coercive.  The McNabb-Mallory rule is codified in 18 U.S.C. § 3501(c), which provides that any delay of up to six hours is presumptively reasonable.  Where a delay is greater than six hours, a court must determine if it was nevertheless reasonable.  While delays caused by law enforcement’s questioning of a defendant for the purpose of obtaining incriminating evidence are never reasonable, the Third Circuit recently broadened that rule to include delay caused by a defendant’s cooperation.  In United States v. Thompson, the defendant agreed to cooperate shortly after his arrest.  Rather than bring the defendant before a magistrate judge within six hours, the arresting DEA agents arranged for the defendant place a series of phone calls in an effort to engineer a “reverse buy-bust.”  Forty-eight hours after his arrest, the defendant was finally brought before a magistrate-judge.  On appeal, the Third Circuit rejected the government’s argument that pursuant of cooperation made the delay “reasonable”:

We are unwilling to hold that “pursuit of cooperation” may constitute a basis for delay in presentment. Drawing a line between pursuit of cooperation and the extraction of a confession is untenable without looking at the subjective intent of the officers. It is almost inevitable that the pursuit of cooperation will lead to a confession by way of interrogation. “Few criminals feel impelled to confess to the police purely of their own accord, without any questioning at all.” Miller v. Fenton, 796 F.2d 598, 604 (3d Cir.1986). As a supervising court, it is nearly impossible to separate the pursuit of cooperation from the most unreasonable excuse: interrogation.

The Court reversed the district court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress his confession and remanded for further proceedings.  United States v. Thompson, 2014 WL 6463173(3d Cir. Nov. 19, 2014).

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