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Criminal – Suppression Motion – Traffic Stop – Interrogations

A defendant wanted for multiple capital murders in Virginia who was apprehended by police in the Bronx, New York, after the vehicle in which defendant was a passenger was stopped for turning right through a red light cannot suppress statements he later made by challenging the traffic stop or the subsequent interrogations, except for an interrogation apparently initiated by a NYC detective after defendant clearly had invoked his Fifth Amendment right to counsel.

The record before the court is clear that the traffic stop was not violative of the Fourth Amendment, as it was supported by probable cause. Sergeant Sbarra testified that the vehicle in which defendant was a passenger was stopped pursuant to a traffic infraction. The evidence was uncontroverted in this regard. The evidence proved the officers had probable cause to stop the vehicle in which defendant was riding because Sergeant Sbarra observed the vehicle run a red light. While constitutional purists may have robust debate about whether “tools” such as that implemented by Sergeant Sbarra should be used to effectuate investigatory stops, the case law is clear that these measures are legitimate. Because the officers had probable cause to believe the occupants of the vehicle had committed a traffic infraction, the stop was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Moreover, the evidence before the court proves that Sergeant Sbarra had probable cause to make the arrest at the time the defendant was arrested. The sergeant testified that as he approached the vehicle from the passenger side, in looking through the car’s window, he saw in “plain view” a plastic bag of marijuana near the feet of defendant. At this point, defendant was removed from the vehicle and arrested. The arrest was not an illegal seizure.

Defendant, who was 19 years old at the time, also seeks to suppress certain statements made during the course of several rounds of interrogations. Among other arguments, he contends the detectives exerted an emotional and psychological ploy on him by showing him a picture of his mother and making statements to the effect that he should not disrespect and disappoint his mother by lying about his involvement in the crimes.

The detectives urged defendant to tell the truth, challenged his statements, pointed out the inconsistencies in his statements, and told him they knew he was lying about certain matters. While the interrogation between the three detectives and defendant could be characterized as spirited, the transcript indicates defendant participated willingly from the context of this analytical inquiry. Defendant was not handcuffed, and he was not deprived of physical comforts; indeed he was provided with food and sodas. While defendant was in custody for a number of hours; the interrogation was not continuous for the custodial period. While the detectives may have persuaded defendant to make statements as to his involvement in the crimes, there is not sufficient evidence, when viewing the totality of the circumstances, to convince the court that the detectives coerced defendant.

The court finds the commonwealth proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the statements defendant seeks to suppress from this analytical context were made freely and voluntarily.

Defendant also moves to suppress statements he made after he asserted his Fifth Amendment right to counsel (essentially after the fourth round of interrogation). There is no question that defendant clearly and unequivocally invoked his Fifth Amendment right to counsel.

Because defendant asserted his Fifth Amendment right to counsel, it was necessary for the commonwealth to prove that defendant reinitiated the interrogation with the detectives. The evidence before the court seems to suggest, even giving the commonwealth and its witnesses every reasonable credibility consideration, that it was Detective Heidrich that reinitiated the interrogation with defendant. Also, even assuming that somehow defendant did reinitiate the interrogation, the commonwealth did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived the right to counsel that he had invoked under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The inculpatory statements unconstitutionally elicited from defendant by the detectives shortly after the interrogation resumed are inadmissible against defendant.

Defendant’s motion to suppress is denied in part and granted in part.

Commonwealth v. Andrews (Alston, J.) No. CR63746-63755, June 1, 2007; Prince William Cir.Ct.; Mark Petrovich for defendant; William Jarvis, Comm. Att’y Office. VLW 008-8-089, 14 pp.

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