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United States v. Cowette

United States District Court, D. Maine

August 13, 2019




         On February 14, 2019, the Defendant, Amanda Cowette, was charged with (1) conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl (a Schedule II controlled substance), in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a) and 841(b)(1)(A); (2) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i), and aiding and abetting such conduct in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2; (3) knowing possession with the intent to distribute 40 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2; and (4) maintaining drug-involved premises, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 856(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Indictment (ECF No. 1). Cowette now moves to suppress statements she made to law enforcement on July 16, 2018 and July 17, 2018. Mot. Suppress 1 (ECF No. 36). A hearing on the motion was held on August 5, 2019. After careful consideration of the evidence and the arguments of counsel, Defendant's Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 36) is DENIED.


         On July 12, 2018, officers from the Somerset County Sheriff's Office executed a drug search warrant on the person and vehicle of Nicholas Culver based on information Mr. Culver was trafficking Fentanyl in and around Somerset County. Def.'s Ex. 1 (“Ex. 1”), 4 (ECF No. 36-2, #96); Def.'s Ex. 2 (“Ex. 2”), 1 (ECF No. 36-3, #109). Following this search, Culver was arrested and then charged with aggravated trafficking in a scheduled drug and possession of scheduled drugs. Ex. 1 at 8; Ex. 2 at 3.

         As part of their ongoing investigation into Culver's drug trafficking, law enforcement officers executed a drug search warrant at the residence of the Defendant, Amanda Cowette, on July 16, 2018. Ex. 1 at 10; Ex. 2 at 5. Officers suspected Cowette was Mr. Culver's girlfriend. Ex. 1 at 5; Ex. 2 at 1.

         Upon arrival at Cowette's residence, law enforcement officers notified Cowette that they had a search warrant and provided her with a copy of the warrant. Ex. 1 at 10. Cowette had been standing outside her residence speaking with Corporal Joseph Jackson of the Somerset County Sheriff's Office regarding her reports that she had observed men in the trees around her residence. Ex. 1 at 10; Ex. 2 at 5. Law enforcement officers were unable to locate any trespassers and officers suspected she “was basically ‘seeing things that were not there,' due to the drugs that she may have ingested.” Ex. 2 at 5. Nevertheless, other than unsubstantiated claims of men on her property, officers reported she was “coherent and walked, talked, and acted in a normal manner.” Ex. 2 at 5.

         One of the responding officers, Lieutenant Gottardi, requested that Cowette sit in his unmarked police vehicle so they could speak. Ex. 2 at 5. Cowette was handcuffed at the time. Def.'s Ex. 4 (“Ex. 4”) (ECF No. 40). After confirming that Cowette did not have anything hidden on her person, Lieutenant Gottardi read her Miranda rights from a prepared card. Ex. 2 at 5; Ex. 4 at 2:40-3:30. When Lieutenant Gottardi asked Cowette if she wished to speak with him, Cowette responded while shrugging her shoulders: “I guess I should probably wait until I have a lawyer, that sounds like the best idea, I don't - I've never been in Court, never been in trouble, I don't - … I guess not, I guess I'll wait until I have a lawyer.”[1] Ex. 2 at 5-6; Ex. 4 at 3:35-3:52. Lieutenant Gottardi did not question her further, but did explain what would be taking place at her residence as a result of the search warrant. Ex. 2 at 6. While waiting in the vehicle, Cowette once again reported seeing “homeless people in the trees.” Ex. 2 at 6; Def.'s Ex. 5 (“Ex. 5”), 0:53-1:24 (ECF No. 40). Lieutenant Gottardi was unable to locate any people. Ex. 2 at 6; Ex. 5 at 2:20-2:22. Cowette denied recent drug use and indicated that she had not taken any medications other than ZQuil to help her sleep the previous night. Ex. 2 at 6; Ex. 5 at 1:27-1:29, 3:12-3:23.

         Law enforcement officers entered Cowette's residence to execute the warrant while Lieutenant Gottardi and Cowette stood outside the home. Ex. 1 at 10-11; Ex. 2 at 6. Once again, Cowette reported seeing men in the woods, but Lieutenant Gottardi was unable to see any men. Ex. 2 at 6. When Lieutenant Gottardi repeated his concerns regarding Cowette's health, she responded that she “did not feel affected by what she had taken.” Ex. 2 at 6. Inside the residence, officers found two safes. Ex. 1 at 11; Ex. 2 at 6. In response to Lieutenant Gottardi's request, Cowette provided the combination to the safes. Ex. 1 at 11; Ex. 2 at 6.

         A few minutes after providing the combinations, Cowette spontaneously commented that a bag of Fentanyl in her top drawer was hers. Ex. 2 at 6. Lieutenant Gottardi reminded her of what he had interpreted as her previous request to not talk. Ex. 2 at 6. Cowette then indicated “she would talk now.” Ex. 2 at 6. Lieutenant Gottardi advised Cowette to think about her request to talk and indicated that he would be willing to talk with her later if she chose to speak with him. Ex. 2 at 6. In an effort to ensure Cowette “knew what she was talking about, ” Lieutenant Gottardi also asked Cowette to confirm her name and date of birth - “which she did rapidly and correctly” - and then to confirm that she knew where she was. Ex. 2 at 6-7.

         In the home, officers located a loaded 9mm Glock handgun, various drug paraphernalia items, approximately 100 grams of Fentanyl, several Xanax pills, and over $7, 000 in cash. Ex. 2 at 10-11; Def.'s Ex. 3 (“Ex. 3”), 1 (ECF No. 36-4, #118).

         Lieutenant Gottardi asked Cowette to return to his police vehicle so he could advise her of the status of the search. Ex. 2 at 7. After Lieutenant Gottardi informed Cowette that officers had found 100 grams of Fentanyl and a large quantity of cash, Cowette stated that the small bag of Fentanyl was hers, but the remaining Fentanyl was Culver's property. Ex. 2 at 7; Def.'s Ex. 6 (“Ex. 6”), 3:58-4:24 (ECF No. 40). Lieutenant Gottardi then explained the charges against her. Ex. 2 at 7; Def.'s Ex. 7 (“Ex. 7”), 0:01-0:45 (ECF No. 40). Cowette once again reported seeing men in the woods. Ex. 2 at 7; Ex. 7 at 1:32-1:42.

         Cowette exited Lieutenant Gottardi's vehicle and Detective David Cole transported Cowette to the Somerset County Jail. Ex. 1 at 11; Ex. 2 at 8. Before speaking with her, Detective Cole reminded Cowette of her Miranda rights and reiterated that she did not need to speak with him. Ex. 1 at 11; Def.'s Ex. 8 (“Ex. 8”), 0:46-1:04 (ECF No. 40). Nevertheless, Cowette continued to speak with Detective Cole and during the course of their ensuing conversation, she shared information regarding her personal drug use as well as information relating to Culver's drug trafficking. Ex. 1 at 11-12; Ex. 8 at 1:05-15:44.

         The following day, July 17, 2018, Detective Cole met with Cowette in his office. Ex. 1 at 14. He reread Cowette's Miranda warnings in full. Ex. 1 at 14; Ex. 2 at 8; Def.'s Ex. 10 (“Ex. 10”), 0:41-1:09 (ECF No. 40). Cowette indicated she understood her rights pursuant to Miranda but wished to waive those rights and later signed a waiver to that effect. Gov't Ex. 1. During the conversation, Cowette provided officers with additional information regarding Culver's drug trafficking activities as well as her involvement in those activities. Ex. 1 at 14-15, Ex. 2 at 8.


         In support of her motion to suppress, Defendant advances two primary arguments. First, she asserts that immediately after being read her Miranda rights in Lieutenant Gottardi's vehicle - at which point the parties agree she was in custody - she “invoked her right to counsel.” Mot. Suppress, 8 (ECF No. 36, #82). Defendant then asserts the officers impermissibly reinitiated questioning four times and, as a result, her responsive statements should be suppressed. Id. at 11. In response, the Government asserts that the Defendant failed to “articulate her desire to have counsel present sufficiently clearly that a reasonable police officer in the circumstances would understand the statement to be a request for an attorney.”[2] Gov't Resp., 5 (ECF No. 42, #133) (quoting Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 459 (1994)). In her reply, Defendant raises additional arguments, one of which is that the waiver of rights she signed on July 17, 2018, is invalid under Maryland v. Shatzer, 559 U.S. 98 (2010).[3] Def.'s Reply, 12 (ECF No. 43, #155).

         As established by the Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona, an individual subject to a custodial interrogation must be “warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed.” 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). An individual may waive her right to remain silent or right to counsel, and if that waiver is made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently, then officers are free to question the individual and the statements made will be available for use by the prosecution in court. Id. If, however, an individual “clearly assert[s] his right to have counsel present during custodial interrogation, ” the officers “must immediately cease questioning [the] suspect” and may not reinitiate questioning “until a lawyer has been made available or the suspect himself reinitiates conversation.” Davis, 512 U.S. at 454, 458 (citing Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981)); see also Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 433 n.4 (1986) (“‘[T]he interrogation must cease until an attorney is present' only ‘[i]f the individual states that he wants an attorney.'” (quoting Michigan v. Mosley, 423 U.S. 96, 104 n. 10 (1975))).

         With this elemental primer in mind, I turn to the parties' arguments, keeping in mind that the Government must bear the heavy burden of establishing that the statements made by Cowette were not in violation of her Miranda rights. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 475 (“This Court has always set high standards of proof for the waiver of constitutional rights, Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458 (1938), and we reassert these standards as applied to in custody interrogation.”).

         I. Failure to Invoke ...

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