Monday, December 06, 2010

Questioning In Kitchen During Execution of Search Warrant Not Custodial

US v. Hargrove: Hargrove spent several months in Internet chat rooms having sexually explicit discussions with several minor girls, one of whom was actually an underage girl, while the others turned out to be cops. At some point, the discussions turned to plans to meet up in real life, leading to the execution of search warrants at Hargrove's home. During the search, Hargrove gave incriminating statements to officers. As a result, he was indicted on obscenity, child pornography, and attempted enticement charges.

Prior to trial, Hargrove sought to suppress the statements made at his home, arguing that they were given with Miranda warnings while subject to custodial interrogation. The district court denied the motion, holding that the questioning was not custodial because Hargrove was not under arrest and told he was free to go. After being convicted on all counts at trial, Hargrove was sentenced to life in prison. In imposing that sentence, the district court noted that Hargrove went to trial (after the court rejected a 20-year plea) and required the minor victim to testify at trial.

On appeal, Hargrove challenged both the denial of his motion to suppress and the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. As to the suppression issue, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court, holding that the totality of circumstances did not show that Hargrove was in custody during the search, noting that he was told he was not under arrest and was free to leave at anytime, he was not handcuffed, and the conversation took place in his kitchen in a "comfortable atmosphere."

As to the sentence, the court affirmed the life sentence, reviewing for plain error because Hargrove raised an specific error - that the district court punished him for going to trial - rather than a general argument that his sentence was too long. Assuming, arguendo, that there was error and it was plain, the court found that Hargrove was not prejudiced by the imposition of a Guideline recommended sentence based on the other findings made by the district court.

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