by Brian S. Batterton
U.S. v. Courtney, 463 F.3d
333 (5th Cir. 2006)
Cherie Marie Courtney testified falsely at
the trial of her boyfriend, Shawn Kilgarlin. Two EPA Special
two interviews with Courtney. A year later she was indicted,
arrested and Mirandized. She waived her rights and spoke
with the agents. She again made incriminating statements
similar to her prior statements. At a motion to suppress,
she argued that all of her statements should be suppressed
because the agents, in their first two interviews, intentionally
did not advise her of her rights under Miranda and they
did so as a tactic to make her incriminate herself. She
said that these two “unwarned” statements taint
her November 18th, 2004 statement where she was
advised of her rights under Miranda. The District Court
agreed with Courtney and suppressed the statements. They
held that the two interviews that took place without Miranda
warnings were part of an interrogation tactic designed to
avoid the requirements of Miranda. This tactic was held
impermissible by the U.S. Supreme Court in Seibert.
appealed this decision and argued two positions. First,
they said that the Court should not consider an analysis
under Seibert unless Miranda warnings were required. The
Government said, here, the first two interviews with Courtney
were not custodial and thus, Miranda warnings were not
required. Second, they argue that, even if the Court holds
warnings were required, the length of time that passed
between the unwarned statements and the warned statement,
to purge the taint under Seibert.
The 5th Circuit Court
of Appeals agreed with the Government and reversed the
suppression of the statements.
First, the Court considered
whether Miranda warnings were required for the first two
statements. The Court points
out that Miranda is only required when a suspect is “in
custody.” A suspect is “in custody” for
the purposes of Miranda when he or she is placed under formal
arrest or when a reasonable person in the suspect’s
position would believe their freedom was restrained in
a manner normally associated with a formal arrest. Here,
look to the facts of the two interviews.
The first interview
took place on November 5th, 2003. The agents contacted
Courtney and requested to meet with her.
Courtney picked the location which was a public restaurant.
The agents did not make threats or promises, did not display
weapons, and were not in uniform. They also did not tell
her that she had to speak to them, that she could leave,
or that she could hire a lawyer. The interview lasted
The second interview took place one week
later on November 13, 2003. The agents went to Courtney’s
place of employment. They went into a private, unoccupied
room. They did not
tell her that she was free to go, that she could call
a lawyer, or that she did not have to talk to them. They
also did not tell her that she could not leave or that
she was required to speak with them. This also lasted
about an hour.
The last interview took place over a year
later on November
19, 2004. The day prior, Courtney was indicted for perjury.
The agents called her and told her they had to serve papers
on her. She came to their office and they told her she
was under arrest. She was Mirandized and she waived her
She then made incriminating statements.
In examining the
first two interviews, the Court found that Courtney was
not in custody during either interview,
based upon the facts, because a reasonable person would
not have believed their freedom was restricted in a manner
normally associated with formal arrest. They noted that
at each interview, she was not told that she had to speak,
the interviews were conducted in non-coercive environments,
and she was allowed to leave at the conclusion of each.
Miranda warnings were not required for the first two interviews,
Seibert does not apply to this case. Seibert
is the U.S. Supreme Court case that invalidated the police
tactic of “question first, Mirandize later.” In
that case, Seibert’s son died in his sleep. To conceal
possible neglect, she was involved in an arson plot that
resulted in the death of another person at her residence.
The police interrogated her, in custody and without giving
Miranda warnings, for about 40 minutes. After obtaining
a confession, they gave her a 20 minute break, Mirandized
her, and re-interrogated her. She repeated her prior confession.
The U.S. Supreme Court held this tactic is not permissible
when used intentionally as a way to avoid initially giving
However, the District Court, in suppressing
statements in this case, reasoned that the overall investigative
plan of the first two interviews was a plan to circumvent
Miranda. This, they said, placed it under a Seibert analysis.
Even though the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed,
in that Seibert only applies if the unwarned statement is
done in violation of Miranda, they still examined the case
under this rationale. They held, however, that that the
passage of over one year between the first two unwarned
statements and the later warned statement, cured any possible
problems. Seibert held that a substantial break in time
and circumstances between an unwarned statement and a warned
statement, would in most circumstances, allow an accused
to distinguish the two contexts and cure any taint from
the unwarned statement. Thus, the Court held here, that
even if the first two statements were obtained in the violation
of Miranda, the significant time span of over a year between
the unwarned statements and the warned statement, was sufficient
to render the Miranda warning effective and Courtney’s
U.S. v. Courtney, 463 F.3d 333, 336 (5th
Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004)
v. Bengivenga, 845 F.2d 593, 596 (5th Cir. 1988)
463 F.3d at 337.
Id. at 336.
Id. at 338.
Seibert, 542 U.S. at 622.
Courtney, 463 F.3d
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