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Seventh Circuit: Knowing and Intelligent Waiver of Miranda Rights Distinct and Separate Issue From Whether Statement Was Voluntary

Jeremy Outland was arrested for selling heroin. While en route to the Drug Enforcement Agency office for questioning, Outland consumed what he alleged to be 3.5 grams of heroin. One of the officers transporting Outland noticed that he had collapsed in the back seat of the squad car and observed a white powder covering his face and jacket. The officers took Outland to a nearby emergency room. Upon arrival at 10:44 a.m., Outland was unresponsive. Doctors administered multiple medications to treat the heroin overdose. Outland continued to go in and out of consciousness for about two hours despite additional doses of medication. He experienced several apneic episodes (i.e., he temporarily stopped breathing while asleep). Doctors placed him on a continuous medication drip at 12:25 p.m. and made plans to transfer him to the intensive care unit.

Around 1:00 p.m., narcotics officer Daniel Weiss arrived to speak with Outland. Weiss read Miranda warnings to Outland and secured a waiver of those rights. Outland agreed to talk. Over a period of about 45 minutes, Outland made several incriminating statements about his heroin dealing. He was charged with several drug-related offenses. He filed a motion to suppress his statement, arguing he was so intoxicated as to render his statement involuntary and that he was unable to knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda rights based upon the long list of medications he was under at the time. At a hearing on the motion, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois made no determination that Outland knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights. Instead, the court denied the motion based solely on a finding that his statements to Weiss were voluntary. Outland entered a plea of guilty conditioned on his appeal of the denial of the suppression motion. On appeal, he argued that his waiver of his Miranda rights was not knowingly and intelligently given.

The Seventh Circuit observed “[a] defendant’s challenge to the admission of statements made during a custodial interrogation presents two separate questions: whether he received and validly waived his Miranda rights, and whether his statements themselves were voluntary.” Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004). The Court further observed that the “requirement that Miranda warnings be given does not, of course, dispense with the voluntariness inquiry.” Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428 (2000).

The first question stems from the obligation that law enforcement, at the outset, convey Miranda warnings and secure a waiver of those rights. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). A defendant can waive his Miranda rights as long as the waiver is “the product of a free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation, coercion, or deception” and is made knowingly and intelligently, “with full awareness of both the nature of the right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon it.” Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412 (1986).

The second question is broader and asks whether, in the totality of the circumstances, the accused’s statements to authorities were voluntary. Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978). The two inquiries are distinct as the Supreme Court has recognized: “Miranda’s procedural safeguards exist precisely because the voluntariness test is an inadequate barrier when custodial interrogation is at stake” for ensuring that inculpatory statements admitted as evidence were the product of free choice. J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 564 U.S. 261 (2011). A failure to comply with Miranda may require the exclusion of incriminating custodial statements that are otherwise voluntary. Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298 (1985).

While Outland’s motion raised both issues, his appeal focused only on whether his waiver of his Miranda rights was knowing and voluntary. The Seventh Circuit focused on the fact that the district court failed to make any findings on whether Outland had made a knowing and intelligent waiver before the interrogation began. The Court explained that “the mere fact ‘that a Miranda warning was given and the accused made an uncoerced statement’ to the police ‘is insufficient to demonstrate a valid waiver of Miranda rights.’” Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370 (2010).

The Court stated that in the 55 years since Miranda was decided there hasn’t been a single instance in which the Seventh Circuit made “a finding in the first instance that a defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his rights.” The reason for this, the Court explained, is because the “resolution of a motion to suppress is almost always a fact-specific inquiry, and it is the district court which heard the testimony and observed the witnesses at the suppression hearing.” United States v. Terry, 915 F.3d 1141 (7th Cir. 2019). While “[the Court] largely read[s] briefs for a living, [the district courts] largely assess the credibility of parties and witnesses for a living.” June Med. Servs. L.L.C. v. Russo, 140 S. Ct. 2103 (2020). Such a factual determination must be made in the first instance by the district court. Pullman-Standard v. Swint, 456 U.S. 273 (1982).

The Court concluded that the instant case must be remanded to the district court for the limited purpose of allowing it to make such a factual determination. Absent a compelling reason otherwise, the determination should be based on the existing record and limited to the testimony and other evidence already presented. United States v. Fields, 371 F.3d 910 (7th Cir. 2004).

Accordingly, the Court remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. See: United States v. Outland, 993 F.3d 1017 (7th Cir. 2021). 

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United States v. Outland



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