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Denial of Motion to Suppress Statements Reversed by Third Circuit: Forde

In United States v. Forde, the Third Circuit makes a critical distinction about when the border exception to the Fifth Amendment applies.

Before the district court, Forde made a motion to suppress statements.  These included the physical evidence, his statement “that’s weed,” and statements made in response to officer’s questioning. The district court denied suppression in all respects. Forde appealed that decision to the Third Circuit.

Forde was traveling to the Virgin Islands from the U.S. mainland. Customs and Border Patrol officers performing a routine x-ray scan of luggage revealed baggage containing marijuana. Officers returned the luggage to the baggage belt with the intent on arresting whoever claimed it. When Forde retrieved the luggage, Customs and Border Patrol officers intercepted him.

During a secondary inspection, officers located the marijuana in the luggage and Forde, spontaneously and without prompting, stated “that’s weed.” Officers continued to ask questions of Forde to which he responded. Forde was not read his Miranda rights at baggage claim or during the secondary inspection.

Forde's Appeal

Warrantless Searches

Generally, warrantless searches are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. However, courts have long recognized a “border exception” to the Fourth Amendment. Thus, the Third Circuit held under the border exception, officers did not require a warrant to search Forde’s luggage. The court affirmed the district court’s denial of Forde’s motion to suppress the physical evidence obtained at the border.

Turning to Forde’s statements made to Border Patrol, the Fifth Amendment protects individuals from prosecutors using statements made in custodial interrogations where there is an absence of Miranda warnings. The question before the Third Circuit on appeal was whether Forde was “in custody” at the time of his statements which would have required officers to Mirandize Forde prior to questioning.

Forde's Spontaneous Statement

The district court had concluded that Miranda did not apply to Forde’s questioning because it occurred in the context of a border search. However, the Third Circuit recognized that the border exception ceases to apply once the questions are aimed only to further potential criminal prosecution instead of admissibility. According to the Third Circuit, the question of admissibility was resolved before Forde was even questioned at baggage claim because it was the officers’ intent to arrest whoever claimed the luggage.

Nonetheless, the Third Circuit determined that Forde was not in custody when he made statements at baggage claim. The court also determined that the utterance “that’s weed” during the secondary inspection was not protected by the Fifth Amendment as it was spontaneous and not made in response to any questioning by law enforcement.

Forde's Secondary Questioning

However, the Third Circuit concluded that Forde’s questioning during the secondary inspection did violate Miranda. Forde was unquestionably in custody at the time of the secondary inspection. Forde was interrogated by law enforcement without being properly advised of his Miranda rights. Because the questions asked during the secondary inspection were aimed at Forde’s guilt, the border exception to Miranda did not apply. Accordingly, the Third Circuit determined the district court erred in denying Forde’s motion to suppress statements made during the secondary inspection.

The district court’s denial of Forde’s motion to suppress statements was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.

United States v. Forde, No. 19-3654 (3d Cir.)

JEREMY’S TAKE: Miranda v. Arizona was decided over 50 years ago. Yet, we still see cases where individuals’ Fifth Amendment rights are violated by law enforcement failing to give proper warnings prior to in custody questioning. In Forde, the district court relied on the border exception to conclude Forde’s Miranda rights were not violated by officer’s unwarned questioning. This was error. Where law enforcement asks questions of an individual in custody to ascertain guilt, Miranda warnings must be given.

Suppression issues are generally very fact-specific and many exceptions could apply. If you are seeking assistance with your case and believe your Fourth or Fifth Amendment rights were violated by an unlawful search and seizure or improper questioning, please contact me at [email protected]

If anything here applies to you, contact us today.

At The Law Office of Jeremy Gordon, we fight aggressively for our clients. We are experienced, and know what it takes to present a successful defense in a federal criminal case. For prompt, courteous and skilled representation as your federal criminal defense attorney, contact us today to schedule a free phone consultation.
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