Wednesday, October 04, 2017

An important coerced confession decision

U.S. v. McNeal, 862 F.3d 1057 (7/10/17) (Col.) (Published) - In this straw-gun-buyer case, the Court rejects defendant's claim that her confession was induced by threats that silence would be used against her. First, the 10th rules it reviews a district court's factual findings for clear error, not de novo, even when, as here, the entire interaction between the officers and the defendant is on videotape. The district court has an institutional advantage over an appellate court even in that situation. Next, while acknowledging Ms. McNeal raised a "significant issue," the 10th finds to be supported by the record the district court's factual finding that the officers did not threaten Ms. McNeal for exercising her right to refuse to answer. The 10th essentially concedes such a threat would be unconstitutionally coercive. But the 10th doesn't see that happening in this case where an officer said: "You've had ample opportunity to talk to us about what happened" and asked: "So are you going to do the right thing and talk?" and then warned her that "an attempt to influence a public official is a felony charge." The 10th says context shows those statements were not threats that silence would be punished. Ms. McNeal was never told she had to talk, the 10th claims. Rather, the officers gave her Miranda warnings at the beginning and reminded her of her rights during the interrogation. The felony charge threat only happened after Ms. McNeal told an apparent lie to try to protect her son. [She said she bought a gun for her own protection because she had been shot in the leg, but officers saw no evidence of leg bullet wounds.] So the officers' "concern was not silence but falsehood," the 10th concludes. Then, the 10th holds it was not per se coercion to warn of a felony charge when the warning was accurate. So the 10th affirms her § 922(d)(1) conviction for buying a gun for her felon son. The 10th also summarily denies Ms. McNeal's contention that Congress lacked power under the Commerce Clause to enact § 922(d)(1). And the 10th dismisses Ms. McNeal's contention she was entitled to a momentary possession defense because she proffered no legally justifiable reason for her son to possess the firearm for a brief period.