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United States v. Hufstetler

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

March 20, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
DANIEL HUFSTETLER, Defendant, Appellant

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE. Hon. Steven J. McAuliffe, U.S. District Judge.

Joshua L. Solomon, with whom Pollack Solomon Duffy LLP was on brief, for appellant.

Seth R. Aframe, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom John P. Kacavas, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

Before Howard, Lipez and Barron, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 20

HOWARD, Circuit Judge.

Appellant-Defendant Daniel Hufstetler challenges his conviction for robbing a federal credit union, 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a), arguing that he was coerced into confessing to that crime in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights. At the time of Hufstetler's interrogation, his girlfriend was also in police custody for the robbery. A significant chunk of Hufstetler's interview thus dealt with the impact that his cooperation would have on her prospects for release. Before trial, Hufstetler filed two motions to suppress, each anchored on the theory that the invocation of his girlfriend in this manner constituted an improper threat or promise. The district court twice rejected that argument. Because we conclude that the officers did not act impermissibly, and that Hufstetler confessed through his own volition, we affirm.

I.

In November 2011, the New Hampshire State Police and the FBI were investigating a bank robbery at the Guardian Angel Credit Union in Berlin, New Hampshire. Relatively quickly, they homed in on Hufstetler and his girlfriend Sheena Craig as the primary suspects. After arresting Hufstetler and Craig, three law enforcement officers -- FBI Special Agent Laura Hanlon, Berlin Police Corporal Luc Poulin, and Berlin Detective Rich Plourde -- interrogated Hufstetler.[1]

At that time, the officers had already painted a detailed picture of the crime. They knew that the two suspects were in financial trouble; they had conducted a search of Hufstetler's home and car which led them to clothing and shoes that matched those worn by the robber in the bank's surveillance video; they had obtained pictures from the bank video that showed Hufstetler; they had met with witnesses who saw Hufstetler and Craig both sitting in a car and driving around the bank before the robbery; and, they knew that Hufstetler was sitting across from the bank immediately before the crime. They had also interviewed Craig prior to their discussion with Hufstetler, at which time she provided them with the precise routes that the two took on the day of the robbery.

At several points throughout Hufstetler's interrogation, the officers referred to this evidence and indicated that they believed he was guilty. They also noted that the purpose of the interrogation was, in part, to determine Craig's precise role. Though they knew that she drove him to the bank, they knew little else about her culpability. For instance, Special Agent Hanlon said, " This is your opportunity to explain to us what her role is," and, " she's down there [being held by officers] based on what we have right now." Corporal Poulin also asked, " [W]as she there on her own accord or did she not know what was going on?" Later on, Corporal Poulin cut to the chase and stated, " I know it was you. I already know it was you . . . My only intention up here Daniel, is to figure out [Craig's] involvement."

Page 21

Intersecting with that line of inquiry was the officers' recognition that Hufstetler was concerned for his significant other. After Hufstetler repeatedly expressed that concern, his interrogators tried to explain the situation in terms that would resonate with him; that is, they explained how his cooperation could or could not assist Craig. For instance, Special Agent Hanlon said, " You should feel like a real heel because you put her in this position . . . Our job is to find [the person responsible for the robbery] and arrest him . . . We feel we've done that job." At another point, Special Agent Hanlon also stated, " you should be upset because you care for her and this is quite disruptive to her life." Corporal Poulin summed it up for Hufstetler by saying, " There's obviously different outcomes for [Craig], depending on what it is in the details that we're looking for here." Critically, the officers consistently told Hufstetler that he needed to tell the truth and that they lacked the authority to make any guarantee or promise in exchange for his cooperation.

For Hufstetler's part, he appeared to be enjoying the process and wanted it to continue. He noted, " I don't get what you, you're trying to speed up the process . . . Why are you so quick on the draw? . . . Don't you know every minute I sit in here is a little more funner than down there?" At other times, he steered the conversation back to Craig in a blatant attempt to secure a deal for her; he obfuscated his answers; or, he simply ignored the officers' questions. Both his tone and cadence reflected his aim at any given point; e.g., he spoke quickly and somewhat combatively when attempting to secure a deal for Craig, but was slow and relaxed when trying to elongate the interview.

At the end of this two hour and fifteen minute conversation, Hufstetler seemed satisfied that his confession would save Craig from criminal charges. He asked, " so once you get your guy, so to speak, for that . . . are you still gonna keep digging like super deep." After Detective Plourde assured Hufstetler that " I'm not gonna go from here . . . and just try to rip every part of your life and everybody involved with you," Hufstetler confessed. During that admission, he took full responsibility for the robbery.

In March 2012, a federal grand jury indicted Hufstetler for this crime. Prior to trial, his counsel moved to suppress the confession. The district court, albeit with limited discussion, rejected the motion after finding the confession to be " entirely voluntary." Roughly one week before trial, Hufstetler tried again with an analogous pro se motion. The district court again denied it. A jury subsequently found Hufstetler guilty on the charged crime, and the court sentenced him to 180 months in prison.

This timely, single-issue ...


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