Thursday, July 05, 2007

Court Affirms Use of Testimony from Co-conspirator ID'd by Defendant

US v. Sweets: Sweets (yes, that's his real name) was convicted at trial of conspiracy to distribute 50 or more grams of crack and conspiracy to possess a firearm in connection with a drug offense. At issue in his appeal were two interactions with police that Sweets claimed violated his constitutional rights. First, police came to Sweets' home looking for another man, Long, who was a suspect in a murder investigation. Sweets first denied knowing where Long was hiding, but after police threatened to have everyone locked up (Sweets, his girlfriend, etc.), Sweets agreed to lead police to a hotel where Long was hiding. Once arrested, Long provided testimony against Sweets regarding his role in the drug conspiracy. Second, Sweets gave a statement to police after he was arrested which he claimed was taken after he requested a lawyer and before he was Mirandized. The district court rejected both of those claims.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed. With regard to the Long location and testimony, the court assumed arguendo that Sweets's cooperation in locating Long was coerced. Nevertheless, there was no Fifth Amendment violation because Sweets's act did not provide "incriminate Sweets in any real and substantial way," and, in any regard, was not actually used against him at trial. Long's actual testimony was sufficiently attenuated from the coercion to be admissible. With regard to the Miranda issue, the court affirmed the district court's factual findings that Sweets was given Miranda warnings both before an initial statement was given and then again before he repeated the statement on tape.

Judge Michael and District Judge Goodwin (SDWV) concurred separately, refusing to join in the court's use of a "substantial incrimination" standard, but agreeing that Long's testimony was appropriately admitted.

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