Seventh Circuit Rules Defendant Cannot Suppress Voluntary Confession to Police – U.S. v. Littledale

July 18, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

One of the most important pieces of advice I can give anyone, as a cyber crime criminal defense attorney, is to avoid speaking to the police without an attorney when you believe you may have committed a crime. Frequently, defendants and witnesses being questioned by police don’t realize they have the right to remain silent (sometimes even after a Miranda warning), and give the police confessions or other admissions that can hurt them down the road. Law enforcement also may promise defendants they won't be arrested, or that the officers will speak to prosecutors on their behalf, but these are empty promises. Their job is to make an arrest, and anything you voluntarily say may be held against you, no matter how innocent you believe the statement is. A spectacular version of this happened in United States v. Littledale, a Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision about a young man convicted of child pornography offenses. In this case, the defendant was being questioned about his uncle’s alleged criminal activities when he confessed to involvement with child porn.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement found out that someone living at a house in suburban Chicago was purchasing child pornography. ICE got a warrant to search the home, targeting Richard Ahrens as the resident most likely to be involved with the pornography. As a matter of routine, ICE agents asked to interview Daniel Littledale, a nephew of Ahrens, as soon as they realized he also lived there. After agents found him in a college class, Littledale agreed to be interviewed in private. They explained that he was not under arrest and not in trouble. Partway through the interview, Littledale confessed that he had been downloading the child pornography for five or six years. He was read his rights and then agreed to make a written statement and show which pieces of pornography were his. He was not arrested and left the office on his own. At trial, however, Littledale moved to suppress the statements he had made to agents. The district court denied this, finding that he was never in custody. Littledale appealed.

Under Miranda v. Arizona, the Seventh said, the question was whether a reasonable person would have felt free to leave. The court concluded that such a person in Littledale’s situation would have. Littledale voluntarily agreed to be interviewed, and officers did not use physical force or raise their voices. Though they did not tell him he was free to go, they did explicitly say he was not under arrest. And while the interview was in the campus police station, the court said this was not enough to make the interview compulsory. Thus, the court upheld the trial court’s decision not to suppress Littledale’s confession.

As a child pornography criminal defense lawyer, I cannot advise clients and potential clients strongly enough to avoid speaking to the police. The goal of any law enforcement officer in interrogating someone is to get information they can use to get a conviction. Everything that they hear will be evaluated in that light. Thus, even if you think you have evidence that could convince them you’re innocent, it’s best to stay quiet; they don’t want to hear it. In fact, the more you speak, the more likely it is that you’ll say something police (correctly or incorrectly) believe is incriminating. When being questioned in connection with something as serious as child pornography or online solicitation of a minor, it’s best to say nothing. You have a right to have a cyber crime defense attorney present at questioning, and if you’re nervous or need help making your case, it’s best to have such a person do the talking.

Seltzer Law, P.A., represents clients across the United States who are accused of serious online crimes, including online crimes against minors. If you’re facing this kin d of charge, don’t hesitate to call us for help. For a free, confidential evaluation of your case, send us a message online or call 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

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