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United States v. Blatchford

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 8, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Brandyn Paul Blatchford, Defendant.


          Honorable G. Murray Snow, Judge

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Brandyn Blatchford's Motion to Suppress Certain Statements and Evidence, (Doc. 42). For the following reasons, the Court grants and denies the motion in part.


         On the evening of April 5, 2016, Sergeant Curtis of the Navajo Police Department identified a victim of a violent assault, RW, at Fort Defiance Indian Hospital.[1] RW had sustained significant injuries to his head. He was brought to the hospital by two friends in a pick-up truck. Sergeant Curtis was joined by Officer Toddy and eventually the pair located the friends that brought RW to the hospital: Ronald Cecil and Melissa Nez.

         Later that evening, the officers arrived at the scene where the incident allegedly occurred and began to try to locate a suspect. The officers interviewed Giordano Cecil, Amanda Nez, Veronica Begay, and others that had information regarding the incident.

         Following these interviews, the officers determined that Brandyn Blatchford (“Blatchford”) was the suspected perpetrator of the assault. Blatchford had allegedly spent the evening drinking and socializing with RW, and attacked him after becoming angry with him for refusing to give Blatchford the keys to a red Chevrolet Cavalier. At least one witness claimed that he observed Blatchford beat RW with a hammer before leaving with the keys to the vehicle. Officers were also informed that Blatchford lived with his grandmother in a nearby trailer.

         Officers arrived at the trailer at roughly 2:45 in the morning. They did not obtain a warrant prior to their arrival. Sergeant Curtis knocked on the front door while Officer Toddy secured the area and covered the back door. While waiting for a response to the knock, Officer Toddy observed a red car under a tarp. He lifted the tarp, and noticed that the car was a red Chevrolet Cavalier. He also noted that there was a bandana as well as a hammer in plain view on the front seat of the vehicle. At no point did Officer Toddy enter the vehicle.

         Blatchford's grandmother[2] answered the door, and gave consent for the home to be searched. She claimed that Blatchford was not home. The police entered the premises, and discovered Blatchford sleeping in one of the back bedrooms. Blatchford confirmed that he was Brandyn Blatchford and the officers handcuffed him. Blatchford was dressed in his boxer shorts at the time. He was handcuffed prior to being able to dress himself. The officers noticed some clothing lying near the bed and brought it with them into the living room at the same time.[3] The officers brought Blatchford into the living room for approximately five minutes, and then subsequently took him to the detention center. At some point during this time, the officers questioned Blatchford about the red Chevrolet Cavalier behind the home. Blatchford claimed he bought it at a flea market.

         The officers claim that the clothing was removed from Blatchford's bedroom to ensure that he would have something to wear if he was released that evening. They also testified that the clothing was consistent with the description that witnesses had earlier given of the clothes Blatchford was wearing at the time of the incident. The officers checked the pockets of the pants that they obtained from the bedroom. The pockets contained Blatchford's identification as well as keys to the Cavalier. Blatchford was subsequently transported to a detention facility. There is no evidence that Blatchford was given the opportunity to change into the clothing the officers obtained on the scene.


         A. Blatchford's Statements Regarding the Red Chevrolet Cavalier

         Once an individual is “in custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way, ” he may not be interrogated by the authorities until he receives Miranda warnings. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 445 (1966). Whether an individual is in custody for the purposes of triggering his right to hearing his Miranda warnings is a fact intensive inquiry, and may be determined by considering “the language used by the officer to summon the individual, the extent to which he or she is confronted with evidence of guilt, the physical surroundings of the interrogation, the duration of the detention and the degree of pressure applied to detain the individual.” United States v. Bautista, 684 F.2d 1286, 1292 (9th Cir. 1982) (quoting United States v. Booth, 669 F.2d 1231, 1235 (9th Cir. 1981)); see also Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 437 (1991) (defining a seizure of an individual under the Fourth Amendment as occurring when “taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that he was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business.” (internal quotation and citation omitted)). An individual need not be formally arrested to be entitled to receive his Miranda warnings; for example, an individual that is “handcuffed and placed in the back seat of a squad car” is in the custody of the police, and therefore entitled to receive his Miranda warnings. United States v. Henley, 984 F.2d 1040, 1042 (9th Cir. 1993).

         The circumstances of this case indicate that Blatchford was arrested in his bedroom. The police entered his bedroom at approximately 2:45 in the morning with the knowledge that he was the only known suspect in this case. They woke him up, and immediately placed him in handcuffs. He was then brought into the living room to speak with officers while dressed in nothing more than his boxer shorts, and eventually he was removed to the officers' squad car for transport to a detention center. Given this treatment, “police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that he was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business.” Bostick, 501 U.S. at 437. Therefore, prior to questioning him, the police should have informed him of his Miranda rights.

         The government argues that handcuffing an individual does not always transform a detention into an arrest, and cites to various cases where the use of handcuffs was not determinative. However, these cases are distinguishable from the circumstances of the instant case. In Bautista, the Ninth Circuit found that the use of handcuffs during a brief Terry stop did not transform a detention into an arrest, as the police were entitled to take “take adequate protective measures before remaining with two men suspected of armed bank robbery, particularly when the suspects appeared extremely nervous and suspect Bautista kept pacing back and forth and looking, turning his head back and forth as if he was thinking about running.” Bautista, 684 F.2d at 1289 (internal quotation omitted). The officers in this case were investigating a violent assault, but they came upon Blatchford while he was asleep, in the middle of the night, with no reason to suspect he was armed. At least one of the officers already discovered the weapon at issue lying in the front seat of the red Chevrolet Cavalier. Furthermore, unlike the detention that occurred during a brief traffic stop in Haynie, there ...

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