(CN) - A man who implicated himself in meth smuggling while talking to his parole officer should have been read his rights, the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday, reversing his conviction.
Federal agents had asked the parole officer of Michael Barnes to call him in for a meeting in 2007 because they suspected he had helped to smuggle methamphetamine through the airport in Anchorage, Alaska.
During the meeting, which Barnes had no choice but to attend, the FBI agents played a recording of Barnes talking to informant George Craig about a drug deal. Barnes admitted to having participated in the crime after hearing the recording, and the agents then read him his Miranda rights.
After Barnes waived his rights and confessed, he moved to suppress the statements he made during the meeting, arguing that he was technically in custody and therefore the agents should have read him rights before the meeting began.
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess disagreed and ruled that Barnes had confessed voluntarily because he had not been in custody.
Barnes appealed that finding after he was convicted of distributing a controlled substance, and a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit reversed Thursday.
"The FBI agents directly confronted Barnes with evidence of guilt before administering the Miranda warnings," the unsigned opinion states. "They spent several minutes questioning Barnes, told him they had evidence he had met Craig at the airport, and played a tape recording of an incriminating phone call between Barnes and Craig."
Moreover, the "confrontation occurred with three law enforcement officials in a small office, behind a closed door, inside the Alaska Department of Corrections Probation building," according to the ruling.
As such, the meeting bore the hallmarks of a custodial "two-step interrogation," the panel found.
"The agents deliberately delayed giving warnings to induce Barnes's cooperation in an ongoing investigation," the judges wrote. "Although the target of the agents' inquiry was ostensibly another suspect, the questioning necessarily elicited information that incriminated Barnes. The mid-stream warnings provided after Barnes incriminated himself were too little, too late. The district court's failure to suppress the statements was in error."
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