The Fourth Circuit holds that a police officer did not mislead the Defendant into waiving his Sixth.
Author: Jim Chapman
After a tortured procedural history, the case of United States v. Medley, 34 4th 326 (4th Cir. 2022), returned to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for a resolution of Defendant Jovon Medley’s two remaining appellate arguments. Regarding his conviction, Medley challenged the United States District Court for the District of Maryland’s denial of his motion to suppress certain statements that he had made to the police, without the benefit of counsel, about the gun involved in his federal felon-in-possession charge. Regarding his sentence, Medley argued that the District Court’s application of a Sentencing Guidelines enhancement, based on its finding that he used the firearm to commit a carjacking, violated his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial because it was based on acquitted conduct. This article will focus on and will only discuss Medley’s first argument regarding his right to counsel.
On December 30, 2016, Prince George’s County, Maryland police officers responded to a report of a carjacking and a shooting at an apartment complex. At the scene, the officers discovered Elton Wright, who had multiple gunshot wounds to his leg and hip. Wright had been walking to his car when a masked man with a gun confronted him and demanded his keys. When Wright tried to flee, the man shot him, took the keys, and fled in Wright’s car. Wright did not recognize the man but noted that the gun appeared to be a .45 or some type of Glock.
The next day, Washington, D.C police (on a routine patrol) saw Medley nervously move away from a group of friends as they approached. Medley was not, at that time, a person of interest related to the carjacking. But when the officers identified themselves as police and began to follow him, Medley ran into a nearby house. Medley eventually responded to the officers’ calls to exit the house and was detained.
The resident of the house told the officers that he did not know Medley and that Medley had entered his home without permission. The resident allowed the officers to search the part of the home where Medley had hidden. There, the officers recovered a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun made by the Rock Island Armory (“Rock Island Firearm”) and a Glock, model 17, 9mm. The officers, then, arrested Medley for carrying a firearm without a license in violation of District of Columbia law.
On January 2, 2017, Medley was charged in D.C. Superior Court with Unlawful Possession of a Firearm by a convicted felon in violation of D.C. law. That same day, the D.C. Superior Court appointed a lawyer for Medley. Three days later at his preliminary hearing, the D.C. Superior Court appointed a new lawyer to represent Medley at Medley’s request.
Several weeks later, Darren Dalton, a detective involved with the Prince George’s Country Police Department’s investigation of the Maryland carjacking, received a notification from the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network database that shell casings recovered from the scene of the carjacking were possibly linked to the Rock Island Firearm recovered during Medley’s arrest. Accordingly, Dalton asked the County’s Firearms Examination Unit for an official comparison, and a few days later, the Unit reported that the shell casings were identified as having been fired from the Rock Island Firearm. Looking further into Medley’s D.C. case, Detective Dalton discovered that Medley was being held in a D.C. jail.
Within days, Detective Dalton and two other officers from Prince George’s County traveled to D.C. in order to interview Medley. Dalton introduced himself to Medley as a Prince George’s County detective and explained that he wished to speak with him about the guns that were recovered during his D.C. arrest. Dalton indicated that he was not from the D.C. police department and that he was there to discuss a Maryland carjacking investigation, not the details of Medley’s D.C. case.
Detective Dalton then advised Medley of his Miranda rights, and Medley indicated that he understood those rights. During the interview, Medley did not mention his appointed counsel in the D.C. case; he never asked for the conversation to stop; and he did not request a lawyer. Dalton testified at a suppression hearing before the District Court that, at the time of the interview, he did not know that Medley was represented by an attorney in his D.C. case. Medley told Detective Dalton that he had purchased the Rock Island Firearm four days before his arrest in D.C. Medley also stated that he was the only person to possess the gun during that four-day period. When Medley became hesitant about answering more of Dalton’s questions, Dalton stopped the interview.
Based in part on Medley’s statements, a federal grand jury indicted Medley for carjacking resulting in serious bodily injury; for using, brandishing, carrying and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence; and for possessing a firearm and ammunition as a felon, all in violation of federal law. The felon-in-possession count listed the Rock Island Firearm recovered during Medley’s D.C. arrest as the relevant firearm for the charge against him.
Thereafter, Medley moved to suppress the statements that he had made to Detective Dalton. Medley argued that Dalton obtained those statements in violation of his right to counsel guaranteed by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. At the conclusion of the suppression hearing, the District Court denied Medley’s motion and held that the officers did not violate Medley’s Constitutional right to counsel because Medley had voluntarily waived his rights by answering Dalton’s questions without an attorney present after receiving his Miranda warnings. The District Court explained that, because Medley didn’t ask for counsel and didn’t invoke counsel after receiving his Miranda warnings, the police were free to question him. In short, the District Court held that Medley’s waiver of his Miranda rights also waived his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
After a five-day trial, the jury convicted Medley of the felon-in-possession charge but acquitted him of the two charges related to the carjacking. Based upon this conviction, the District Court sentenced Medley to 78 months of imprisonment. Medley timely appealed his conviction and sentence. On appeal, Medley argued that the District Court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel by denying his motion to suppress and, subsequently, by admitting the statements that he had made to Maryland police after he had been appointed counsel in his D.C. case.
In its appellate Opinion, the Fourth Circuit noted that Medley had acknowledged that he was not federally charged at the time of the interview. Nevertheless, Medley argued that the federal felon-in-possession charge constitutes the “same offense” as the D.C. felon-in-possession charge for Sixth Amendment purposes. Therefore, Medley claimed that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel attached prior to his federal indictment.
Medley also argued that the government did not show that he knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to counsel when he answered Detective Dalton’s questions. Instead, Medley claimed that Dalton led him to believe that he was speaking only about a separate investigation in Maryland and not about his D.C. case. As a result, Medley argued that the admission of his statements at trial violated his Sixth Amendment rights.
The Fourth Circuit began its analysis of Medley’s arguments by considering whether Medley’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel had attached to his federal felon-in-possession charge at the time of the interview. In doing so, the Fourth Circuit explained that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel guarantees a criminal defendant the right to have counsel present at all critical stages of the criminal proceedings, including interrogation by the government. This right, however, does not attach until adversarial judicial proceedings commence by way of formal charge, preliminary hearing, indictment, information, or arraignment. Because this right is offense specific, it can only be invoked regarding offenses for which the defendant has been formally charged. There is no exception that allows the right to be invoked for uncharged offenses that are merely factually related to a charged offense.
The Fourth Circuit continued to explain that, when the Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches, it does encompass offenses that, even if not formally charged, would be considered the same offense under the United States Supreme Court’s Blockburger test. Because this rule stems from Double Jeopardy concerns, the dual sovereignty doctrine also applies for the purposes of defining what constitutes the same offense for right-to-counsel purposes. Therefore, for the “same offense” exception to apply, the charged and uncharged offenses must be prosecuted by the same sovereign, and the Blockburger test must be met.
However, the Fourth Circuit opined that it did not need to resolve whether the same offense exception applied in this case because, even assuming that Medley’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel had attached to his federal felon-in-possession charge on the day that he was questioned by Detective Dalton, Medley had waived the right because he never made a clear, unambiguous assertion of the right to counsel after receiving his Miranda warnings. The Fourth Circuit noted that a defendant who wishes to invoke his Sixth Amendment right to counsel must affirmatively do so. Accordingly, the government is permitted to initiate contact with a represented criminal defendant, subject only to the requirement that the questioning stop if a defendant adequately asserts this right. While a defendant who does not want to speak to the police without counsel present need only say as much when he is first approached and given Miranda warnings, the request for counsel must be clear and unambiguous. This standard is met if a defendant articulates his desire to have counsel present sufficiently clearly that a reasonable police officer under the circumstances would understand the statement to be a request for an attorney.
Furthermore, the Fourth Circuit stated that a defendant’s failure to invoke his Sixth Amendment right to counsel may constitute a waiver of that right. Such a waiver is only permitted if it is voluntary, knowing, and intelligent. To determine if a Sixth Amendment waiver is knowing and voluntary, courts look to whether the defendant received his Miranda warnings and if he subsequently agreed to waive those rights. An accused who has properly received his Miranda warnings has been sufficiently apprised of the nature of his Sixth Amendment rights and of the consequences of abandoning those rights so that his waiver on this basis will be considered a knowing and intelligent one. Because the decision to waive this right need not itself be counseled, the defendant may waive the right whether or not he is already represented by counsel.
In the instant case, the Fourth Circuit noted that Medley never made a clear, unambiguous assertion of his right to counsel after receiving his Miranda warnings from Detective Dalton. Medley did not request his attorney, ask for the interview to stop, or say anything that a reasonable police officer in the circumstances would understand to be a request for an attorney. Instead, the Fourth Circuit held that Medley knowingly and intelligently waived his right to counsel by voluntarily answering Dalton’s questions after being properly informed of his Miranda rights.
But, the Fourth Circuit stated that this finding did not end its waiver inquiry because a defendant who waives his Sixth Amendment right to counsel may still challenge his waiver by establishing it was based on misrepresentation or deception by the State. Medley argued that Detective Dalton misled him by stating that he was not interested in Medley’s D.C. case. Medley contended that, because of Dalton’s statement, he did not understand that by answering Dalton’s questions that he was waiving his right to counsel regarding his D.C. felon-in-possession charge. In other words, Medley claimed that he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his Sixth Amendment right to counsel in the D.C. case.
In response to this argument, the Fourth Circuit stated the obvious: this appeal was taken from Medley’s federal case, not his D.C. case, and this appeal only concerned whether Medley had waived his right to counsel regarding his federal charges. The Fourth Circuit stated that the use of Medley’s statements in his D.C. case was not at issue. What was at issue was whether Dalton’s representations prevented Medley from making a knowing or voluntary waiver of his Fifth or Sixth Amendment rights regarding his subsequent federal charges. The Fourth Circuit stated that Medley had not even made this claim, but even if he had, the Fourth Circuit saw no support for such an argument in the record. At the beginning of the interview, Dalton told Medley that he was not interested in Medley’s D.C. case. Dalton testified that, at the time of the interview, the only charges that he was investigating in relation to the Maryland carjacking were attempted murder, shooting, and an armed carjacking. Medley did not point to anything in the record that suggested that Dalton’s statement was not true.
Further, the Fourth Circuit found that the subsequent federal indictment of Medley for both the carjacking charge and for the felon in possession charge did not establish that Dalton’s representations to Medley were false. On the contrary, Dalton was responsible for conducting a state carjacking investigation. The subsequent federal decision to use Medley’s statements to add a felon-in-possession charge did not show that Dalton tricked Medley into waiving his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit held that, even if Medley’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel had attached to his federal felon-in-possession charge at the time of the interview (which it had not), Medley had waived that right by answering Dalton’s questions after being informed of his Miranda rights. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s denial of Medley’s motion to suppress and affirmed Medley’s conviction and sentence.