[T]he officers showed little interest in getting Mr. Woolridge to talk. They did not compel Mr. Woolridge to speak through abuse, threats, or incentives. Nor did they employ improper tactics to secure a confession.
United States v. Woolridge
No. 22 – 3243
Sixth Circuit Appellate Court
April 6, 2023
After visiting a convenience store just before midnight, Mr. Joshua Woolridge walked through an Akron neighborhood toward his girlfriend’s apartment. As it happens, police officers were searching for a fugitive in the area. When Mr. Woolridge cut across a vacant lot, Akron Police Officer Brandon Collins approached him and asked for his name. Mr. Woolridge turned and ran. As he sprinted, Mr. Woolridge tossed several items. Within a few hundred yards, two officers caught Woolridge.
Mr. Woolridge began talking immediately. As Officer Collins searched him, Mr. Woolridge said, “I got a warrant” out for me. Moments later, he added “I got a parole violation, sir.” Officer Collins moved Mr. Woolridge to a containment van and took his biographical information. All the while, Mr. Woolridge tried to speak with Officer Collins: “Let me tell you something, sir.” “Can I talk to you, sir?” “Sir, let me talk to you for one second.” “Listen, sir, I got to tell you something else.” Officer Collins brushed him off each time: “Not right now, man.” “Just hang tight, okay?”
After a few minutes, Officer Collins asked Mr. Woolridge about the items he threw during the chase: “Nothing illegal then, right?” Mr. Woolridge said no. As Officer Collins turned away, Mr. Woolridge called him back. “Sir? So, we’ll keep it 100, sir. Let me tell you.” Mr. Woolridge explained that his brother had been murdered, and that Mr. Woolridge had been trying to stay out of the way. “I understand that,” Officer Collins said. Mr. Woolridge added “I had a firearm on me, sir.” “Where’s it at now?” Officer Collins asked. During the next few minutes, officers searched for the gun. They spotted it only after asking Mr. Woolridge to specify where he threw the gun.
With the gun secured, Mr. Woolridge remained talkative. “Can I just talk to you though?” he asked Officer Collins several times. Eventually, Officer Collins promised that they would talk soon. “But listen,” Mr. Woolridge insisted, “‘cus I’m telling you the reason I had the gun and everything.” “I understand that,” Officer Collins responded. “Now that we have [the gun], . . . I’ll talk to you. I promise.”
Officer Collins returned a few minutes later. As he began to read the Miranda warnings, Mr. Woolridge interrupted, saying “I know my rights, sir.” Officer Collins explained that he needed to give the warnings anyway and proceeded to give them. At the end, Officer Collins added “and you can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer the questions “Okay,” Mr. Woolridge acknowledged.
Officer Collins returned to the subject that Mr. Woolridge raised earlier: “Do you want to tell me what happened and why you were carrying a gun?” Mr. Woolridge did not hesitate. He again explained that he had carried the gun due to his brother’s murder. “I had a firearm on me,” he added, “but I had no intent to try to hurt nobody.”
Indictment and Plea
A grand jury charged Mr. Woolridge with being a felon in possession of a firearm. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Mr. Woolridge moved to suppress the statements he made to Officer Collins before receiving the Miranda warnings. He did not argue that the post-warning statements violated Miranda. After a hearing, the district court suppressed the unwarned statements and permitted the admission of the post-Miranda statements.
Mr. Woolridge pleaded guilty, reserving the right to appeal the rejected suppression motion and any sentence outside his Guidelines range. At sentencing, the court varied upward by 13 months, imposing a 46-month sentence. Mr. Woolridge appeals.
Suppression challenge. Mr. Woolridge claims that we must vacate his conviction because the district court should have suppressed the statements he made after he received Miranda warnings.
The Fifth Amendment guarantees that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” To protect this right, Miranda requires police officers to warn suspects taken into custody of the right to remain silent and the risk of speaking without a lawyer present, along with other warnings. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 478–79 (1966). Generally speaking, courts honor the Miranda rule by suppressing unwarned statements and by admitting warned statements, the latter because the warnings enable a suspect “to exercise his own volition in deciding whether” to speak again. Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 308 (1985).
Post Miranda Statements
But the warnings do not always suffice to admit post-Miranda statements. If police officers coerce a suspect in custody or “undermine the suspect’s ability to” stay silent, courts will refuse to admit even post-Miranda statements. Id. at 309. One fact pattern that has caught judges’ attention in this area arises when the police withhold warnings until a suspect confesses, administer Miranda, then pressure the suspect to repeat the confession. Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600, 612–13 (2004).
Even in such cases, post-warning statements remain admissible if the Miranda warnings nevertheless functioned effectively—if the warnings informed the suspect that he had a genuine choice to continue speaking. Seibert, 542 U.S. at 611–12 & n.4. Absent an interrogation of this sort or another coercive tactic, the admissibility of a post-warning statement turns “solely” on whether the suspect spoke “knowingly and voluntarily.” Elstad, 470 U.S. at 309.
The district court correctly admitted Woolridge’s post-Miranda statements. Mr. Woolridge spoke voluntarily after receiving Miranda warnings. No coercion or coercive interrogation tactic compromised the voluntariness of his statements or impaired the effectiveness of the warnings.
Mr. Woolridge talked voluntarily. He eagerly spoke to the officers at every opportunity, “unquestionably” seeking “to volunteer information.” He also “freely acknowledged” his parole status and pressed for a chance to explain why he was carrying a gun that night.
For their part, the officers showed little interest in getting Mr. Woolridge to talk. They did not compel Mr. Woolridge to speak through abuse, threats, or incentives. Nor did they employ improper tactics to secure a confession. They did not initiate the conversations, and in fact they hardly spoke to him at all, repeatedly resisting is efforts to talk. Officer Collins refused to talk to Mr. Woolridge numerous times. And Woolridge’s own insistence led Officer Collins to speak with Mr. Woolridge after the officers found the gun: “Can I just talk to you for a minute?” Before doing so, Officer Collins read the Miranda warnings. And Mr. Woolridge “cho[se] to speak after being informed of his rights,” a reality that proves “highly probative” of voluntariness.
This case does not present the coercive qualities that undermined the Miranda warnings in Seibert. Police officers subjected Patrice Seibert to “systematic, exhaustive” questioning. [see Lessons Learned for a full explanation of Seibert] Officer Collins did not employ systematic, exhaustive, or coordinated questioning. And he never pushed for a confession or exploited Woolridge’s unwarned statements.
Today’s facts do not “remotely resemble the police protocol invalidated in Seibert.”. Hoffner v. Bradshaw, 622 F.3d 487, 512 (6th Cir. 2010) … the district court did not err.
Information for this article was obtained from United States v. Woolridge, No. 22 – 3243.
This case was issued by the Sixth Circuit Appellate Court and is binding in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
- Due to the facts of this case and the courts analysis it is instructive to review two older cases to provide context to the courts holding. The first is Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298 (1985). In that case the court held that if a suspect confesses pre-Miranda warning and then later after a valid Miranda waiver, confesses, the statement is admissible. Thereafter, some law enforcement training consisted of intentional Miranda violations by interrogating suspects without Miranda. Then give the Miranda warning and refer to the previous confession as a coercive method.
- In 2004 the U.S. Supreme Court halted this methodology in Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004). Officers used the question-first tactic and the U.S. Supreme Court held “Because the question-first tactic effectively threatens to thwart Miranda’s purpose of reducing the risk that a coerced confession would be admitted and because the facts here to not reasonably support a conclusion that the warnings given could have served their purpose, Siebert’s post warning statements are inadmissible.” Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004).
- Now in this case, Mr. Woolridge’s defense counsel attempted to apply the holding in Sieibert to his confession. What is instructive in this case is that Mr. Woolridge was the one who was consistently and repeatedly attempting to talk to Officer Collins, not the other way around. Officer Collins did not attempt to elicit a confession from Mr. Woolridge and then later ‘cure’ that pre-Miranda statement with a valid Miranda waiver. All of the statements made by Mr. Woolridge were voluntary and self-initiated.
- Officer Collins, his teammates, the federal prosecution team and the federal appellate team should all be HIGHLY commended for their OUTSTANDING work to keep Recidivist Woolridge incarcerated!
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