United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING AND ADOPTING
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION, OVERRULING
DEFENDANT'S OBJECTIONS AND DENYING DEFENDANT'S
MOTIONS TO SUPPRESS
FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
August 6, 2019, the defendant was indicted for being a felon
in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). ECF No. 1. On October
17, 2019, the defendant, James Joseph Michaels, filed two
motions to suppress. ECF Nos. 19 and 20. One motion to
suppress seeks to exclude from trial all statements the
defendant made before, during, and after a search of his
residence by postal inspectors on March 12, 2019. ECF No. 19.
The other motion to suppress seeks to exclude from trial
evidence obtained in violation of the defendant's
constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment of the
United States Constitution. ECF No. 20. Specifically, the
defendant moves to suppress a firearm seized during a
warrantless search of the defendant's residence.
States Magistrate Judge James P. Mazzone issued a report
recommending that the defendant's motion to suppress be
denied. ECF No. 30. The defendant filed objections to the
magistrate judge's report and recommendation. ECF No. 37.
The government then filed a response to the defendant's
objections. ECF No. 39. For the following reasons, this Court
adopts and affirms the report and recommendation, denies the
defendant's motions to suppress and overrules the
March 12, 2019, postal inspectors working at a distribution
center in Warrendale, Pennsylvania took a package that was
addressed to the defendant at the defendant's home
located at 104 Kuroki Street, Wellsburg, West Virginia. Once
the inspectors arrived at the defendant's residence, the
inspectors met the defendant's ex-wife, Tiffani Kriebel
(“Ms. Kriebel”). The parties dispute whether Ms.
Kriebel then provided consent for the postal inspectors to
search the residence wherein the subject firearm was
discovered or to only enter and speak with the defendant.
Upon meeting the defendant, the postal inspectors then asked
the defendant some questions. The defendant claims that he
was not properly informed of his
Miranda rights. Conversely, the government's
witness, Lindsay Weckerly (“Weckerly”), a postal
inspector who came into contact with the package at issue,
testified that the defendant was read his Miranda
rights after the postal inspectors explained that the
defendant's best option would be to cooperate with them.
ECF No. 33 at 10. Another government witness, James Pierce
(“Mr. Pierce”), another postal inspector who was
working on the postal interdiction at the Warrendale,
Pennsylvania postal facility on the day the package at issue
was found, testified that he did not read the defendant his
Miranda rights, does not recall hearing either of
his colleagues read Miranda warnings to the
defendant, but indicated that he does not believe that he was
physically present at the time the other inspectors may have
read Miranda warnings to the defendant. ECF No. 34
at 26. During the encounter, the postal inspectors presented,
and the defendant signed and initialed, a “consent to
search” form that authorized consent for the postal
inspectors to search the defendant's cellular telephone
and his residence. ECF No. 33 at 14. The defendant claims
that he was not aware that the form authorized search of his
residence. ECF No. 33 at 51. Another government witness,
Brandon Holestine (“Mr. Holestine”), a postal
inspector who came across the subject package while on duty,
testified that Ms. Weckerly informed the defendant of his
Miranda rights in Mr. Holestine's presence and
that the defendant was advised that he could invoke those
rights at any time. ECF No. 34 at 50.
two evidentiary hearings that took place on October 31, 2019
and November 5, 2019, Magistrate Judge Mazzone entered a
report recommending that the defendant's motions to
suppress be denied. ECF No. 30. In making his recommendation,
the magistrate judge “relied upon the testimony of
Inspectors Weckerly and Holestine in assessing the issues
raised by the defendant.” Id. at 24.
Specifically, the magistrate judge found that the defendant
was not in custody during his interview with the postal
inspectors because: (1) the defendant was interviewed inside
his home, (2) the interview lasted for about one to one and
one-half hours, (3) only two or three inspectors who were at
the defendant's house that day participated in the
interview, with only one inspector conducting primary
communication, (4) the postal inspectors did not raise their
voices, (5) the atmosphere surrounding the interview was
calm, (6) the postal inspectors did not draw their weapons,
did not wear flak jackets or bullet-proof vests, (7) the
defendant was not physically restrained or handcuffed, and
(8) the defendant seems to have been able to move about if he
chose to do so. Id. at 26. Magistrate Judge Mazzone
also concluded that Miranda warnings were given to
the defendant and that the defendant's consent and Ms.
Kriebel's consent were knowing and intelligent under the
circumstances. Id. at 26-28. The defendant then
filed objections to the report and recommendation. ECF No.
37. The government then filed a response to the
defendant's objections. ECF No. 39.
the Federal Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 631-639,
a district court may designate a magistrate judge to consider
motions to suppress evidence and statements as
unconstitutionally obtained. Id. §
636(b)(1)(B). After the magistrate judge has considered such
a motion, he must submit “proposed findings of fact and
recommendations for the disposition.” Camby v.
Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983) (internal
quotation marks omitted). The parties are entitled to file
written objections to the magistrate judge's report and
recommendation within 14 days, and the district court must
conduct a de novo review of the findings and
recommendations objected to. Id.; 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(C). Any findings to which no party objects are
upheld by the district court unless “clearly erroneous
or contrary to law.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).
Fourth Amendment protects “[t]he right of the people to
be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S.
Const. amend. IV. “Searches without probable cause are
presumptively unreasonable, but if an individual consents to
a search probable cause is unnecessary.” United
States v. Robertson, 736 F.3d 677, 679-80 (4th Cir.
2013) (citing Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S.
218, 219 (1973)). Courts must “apply a subjective test
to analyze whether consent was given, looking to the totality
of the circumstances.” Id. at 680. The
government has the burden of proving consent by a
preponderance of the evidence. Id. (citing
United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 557
assessing the defendant's motions to suppress, the
magistrate judge was “not persuaded that
Defendant's version of events is the most accurate
accounting of what actually transpired, ” and that due
to various inconsistencies, “Ms. Kriebel's
testimony is inherently incredible.” ECF No. 30 at 23.
Moreover, the magistrate judge found that “the postal
inspectors' testimony, particularly the testimony of
Weckerly and Holestine, was consistent, both with each other
and with the version of events their testimony
portrayed.” Id. at 24. Relying upon the
testimony of Ms. Weckerly and Mr. Holestine, the magistrate
judge concluded that the defendant failed to establish a
basis upon which to suppress the statements and evidence that
are the subject of the defendant's motions to suppress.
Id. at 28. The magistrate judge further found that
the defendant was advised of his Miranda rights, the
defendant was not in custody during his interview with the
postal inspectors, and the government demonstrated by a
preponderance of the evidence that it obtained the
defendant's and Ms. Kriebel's consent to search the
subject residence. Id. at 24-28. The defendant
objects to the magistrate judge's credibility
determinations, to his conclusion that Ms. Kriebel provided
consent for the postal inspectors to search the subject
residence and to his conclusion that the defendant's
consent was voluntary. ECF No. 37 at 2-4, 8.
The Magistrate Judge's Credibility
defendant objects to the magistrate judge's credibility
determinations. ECF No. 37 at 4. The defendant contends that
Mr. Pierce could not recall various facts during his
cross-examination, and that his testimony is
“completely unhelpful and should be disregarded by the
Court.” Id. The defendant also asserts that
the testimony of Ms. Weckerly and Mr. Holestine are not
credible because they did not obtain a signed
Miranda-wavier form from the defendant. Id.
The defendant further contends that the testimony of the
postal inspectors are inconsistent as to the facts pertaining
to whether the postal inspectors informed the defendant of
his Miranda rights. Id. at 5.
party objects to a magistrate judge's credibility
determinations, the district court must conduct a de
novo determination on credibility, but the court need
not “rehear the contested testimony in order to carry
out the statutory command to make the required
‘determination'” under § 636. United
States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 674 (1980). This is
because “Congress intended to permit whatever reliance
a district judge, in the exercise of sound judicial
discretion, chose to place on a magistrate's proposed
findings and recommendations.” Id. at 676.
However, a district court may not reject a magistrate
judge's credibility findings without first conducting a
de novo evidentiary hearing. United States v.
Ridgway, 300 F.3d 1153, 1157 (9th Cir. 2002); United
States v. Cofield, 272 F.3d 1303, 1305-06 (11th Cir.
2001); Cullen v. United States, 194 F.3d 401, 407
(2d Cir. 1999); Hill v. Beyer, 62 F.3d 474, 482 ...