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 Agents conducted 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.

The Government 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 that Miranda warnings were required, the length of time that passed between the unwarned statements and the warned statement, was sufficient 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, we 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 one hour.

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 rights. 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.

Because 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 Miranda warnings.

However, the District Court, in suppressing Courtney’s 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 statement voluntary.


U.S. v. Courtney, 463 F.3d 333, 336 (5th Cir. 2006)

Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004)

U.S. v. Bengivenga, 845 F.2d 593, 596 (5th Cir. 1988)

Courtney, 463 F.3d at 337.

Id. at 336.

Id. at 338.

Seibert, 542 U.S. at 622.

Courtney, 463 F.3d at 339.

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