United States v. Abdallah (P)

The district court reversibly erred in refusing to suppress inculpatory statements the defendant made during a custodial interrogation, and also in not conducting an in camera review of confidential law enforcement records requested by the defendant when he established that the confidential records plausibly contained materially favorable information.

Even though the defendant stated he wasn’t going to say anything all, he was immediately asked an express question – “Do you even know why you’re under arrest?” – that reasonably required him to discuss his substantive offense. The defendant reasonably responded with several incriminating statements, which were ultimately used to convict him.

In this case, the government presented no pre-request context to suggest that the defendant’s statement was nothing more than an “angry response” or otherwise casting ambiguity on the defendant’s clear request to remain silent. Without pre-request context, the defendant’s unambiguous statement that he “wasn’t going to say anything at all” cannot be construed as anything but an unambiguous request to remain silent. There’s no requirement that Miranda invocations be measured, polite, or free of anger, in the assessment of the officers to whom they are directed.

Because of the particularly damaging nature of confessions, and because the defendant’s confession was integral to every count he was convicted of, his coerced statements weren’t harmless as to any count.

Rather than conduct an in camera review, the district court relied solely on law enforcement’s representation that there would not be exculpatory information in officers’ emails. Relying upon this representation was error.

Reversed and remanded.

United States v. Abdallah (P), No. 17-4230, Dec. 18, 2018. 4th Cir. (Wynn) from EDVA at Newport News (Jackson).

Categories: 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Opinions, Published


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