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United States v. Blyden

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

May 7, 2015



JOHN J. McCONNELL, Jr., District Judge.

Emmett Blyden has moved to suppress certain statements made at or shortly after his arrest on June 6, 2014. (ECF 16). An evidentiary hearing was held on April 2, 2015, and, in addition to the testimony of ATF agent Edward Troiano, the government introduced a transcript of the recorded dialogue in which agent Troiano and Mr. Blyden engaged. Mr. Blyden contends that the statements resulted from a violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 536 (1966), and therefore should be excluded from evidence.

The Court excludes Mr. Blyden's statements for the reasons below.


The parties agree that on June 6, 2014, Mr. Blyden was arrested and placed in the back seat of a police cruiser, and it is not contested that this constituted custody for purposes of Miranda. Agent Troiano introduced himself, informed Mr. Blyden why he was being arrested, and, after a short dialogue discussed below, read him Miranda warnings from a card. Mr. Blyden then made lengthy statements.

There are two groups of statements: those made prior to the giving of Miranda warnings and those made after. The Court precludes their introduction into evidence for different reasons.

Pre-Warnings Statements and Rule 403

The first set of statements consists of Mr. Blyden's saying (1) "Yes, sir" when confronted by agent Troiano with the accusation that he "came tonight to do a home invasion, " and (2) "Listen, listen, I don't, I don't know the story. These g-, these... I was at work. You caught me..." when advised by agent Troiano to "be truthful" and "tell [him] what the explanation [is]" for why he (Blyden) had shown up at the scene. It was at this point that agent Troiano interrupted and gave Mr. Blyden Miranda warnings. Government's Exhibit 2(A) at p. 1-2.

The government asserts that these pre-warning statements were not incriminatory. (ECF 30).[1] The Court believes that even though experienced professionals - the government's attorney and agent Troiano himself[2] interpret these words as non-incriminatory, a lay jury might reasonably respond to them differently and believe they offer something probative demonstrating Mr. Blyden's guilt. If that conclusion were drawn, the statements would be highly prejudicial to Mr. Blyden.

On the other hand, as statements that are likely non-incriminatory - and, at most ambiguous - they offer little in the way of relevant evidence. United States v. Tavares, 21 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 1994) ("[r]elevant evidence... means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence"), quoting Fed.R.Evid. 401. An inference of guilt from ambiguous statements such as those at issue is a weak one, having little weight to make a material fact more or less probable.

Rule 403 confers wide discretion upon a trial judge to exclude relevant evidence "if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, ..." United States v. Abel, 469 U.S. 45, 54 (1984) (weighing of relevance against other factors is a matter for the district court's "sound judgment"). In this case, the Court finds that the marginal relevance of these statements is outweighed both by the possibility of undue prejudice should the jury interpret them as incriminating and by the potential for jury confusion as to what the words signified. Therefore, the pre- Miranda warnings statements are excluded from evidence.

Post-Warnings Statements and Waiver

Miranda warnings are a procedural "safeguard[] effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination." Miranda v. Arizona, supra at 444. They serve first to ensure that a person subjected to custodial interrogation understands that he has a privilege granted by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution to remain silent. Id. The warnings complement the privilege itself, by underscoring that the decision to relinquish the privilege must be knowing, intelligent and voluntary. Id.

Waiver may be inferred from the circumstances surrounding the giving of a statement. Berguis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370, 384 (2010) (waiver of Miranda rights need not be express). A critical component, however, is that the government demonstrate the warning was understood by the accused. "If the State establishes that a Miranda warning was given and the accused made an uncoerced statement, this showing, standing alone, is insufficient to demonstrate a valid waiver' of Miranda rights.... The prosecution must make the additional showing that the accused understood these rights." Id. at 384 (citations omitted). See, ...

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