MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - An FBI agent's pre-Miranda questioning of a militia member about guns during an investigation of the planned bombing of several targets in Minnesota is not admissible at trial, a federal judge ruled.
In deciding the issue, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery partially adopted the earlier conclusions of a magistrate judge, but modify others, finding some of the questions posed by FBI Agent Shane Ball during the May 2013 interrogation of Buford Braden Rogers did not fall under the "public safety" exception of the Miranda rule.
Rogers, an alleged member of the Black Snake Militia, is accused of plotting attacks on a radio tower, National Guard armory and police station in Montevideo, Minnesota, in May 2013.
The FBI received a tip about the attacks and obtained and executed a search warrant for a trailer and storage sheds on property owned by Rogers' parents. Rogers was arrested at his home around the same time.
As described in Montgomery's opinion, Ball was about to interrogate Rogers, when he learned investigators had turned up two Molotov cocktails, a containerized explosive device wrapped in duct tape, and a containerized explosive device wrapped in cloth. They also found eight to 10 guns and ammunition.
"Agent Ball testified that at the outset of the interview he did not advise Rogers of his rights as established under Miranda v. Arizona ... because he felt the public safety exception to Miranda applied in these circumstances," Montgomery wrote.
Rogers answered questions regarding the explosives, and after forty minutes, he was read his Miranda rights.
During a pre-trial evidentiary hearing, Magistrate Judge Jeanne Graham found that probably cause existed to execute the search warrant and also found that Rogers' post-Miranda statements and admissions during his interrogation were voluntary.
Judge Montgomery agreed with this finding. However, she was quick to say Rogers' pre- Miranda statements presented a more complicated issue to the court. While interrogations conducted without the individual first being advised of his Miranda rights are generally not admissible at trial, there is, as the FBI agent knew, a public safety exemption.
During the pre-trial hearing, Rogers filed a motion to suppress his statements to Ball, arguing his 40-minute initial interview did not fall under the public safety exception to Miranda. Graham rejected Rogers' assertion.
But Judge Montgomery took exception to some of Ball's interview.
"Agent Ball veered into a line of questioning that does not fit even within his own description of topics to explore with Rogers to protect public safety. He posed questions to Rogers about when he handled particular firearms explaining to Rogers that fingerprints cannot be dated. ... He honed in on when Rogers may have handled the gun in relation to when he was placed on probation for a prior offense," she wrote.
"This line of questioning cannot reasonably be found to be motivated be exigent circumstances or the public safety. Rather, the questions are an experienced investigators' [sic] effort to have Rogers admit a key element of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, an offense Agent Ball undoubtedly anticipated would be charged against Rogers."
Judge Montgomery concluded that "to allow wide latitude for an investigator to pose questions related to elements of offense rather than public safety issues is contrary to the Supreme Court's description of Quarles as creating a narrow exception to the Miranda rule. Statements of Rogers relating to his own possession of firearms which were made prior to his being advised of his Miranda rights will be inadmissible at trial."
Rogers reiterated his desire to have the entire interrogation thrown out by claiming Agent Ball's line of questioning was a methodical attempt to skirt Miranda, but Judge Montgomery rejected his argument.
"In this case, Agent Ball was at least initially motivated to use the public safety exemption by the dangerous nature of the suspected plot and the explosives found on the Benson Road property. Notwithstanding Agent Ball's distraction from his task and the dwindling exigencies of the situation, the court agrees with [Magistrate] Judge Graham that Agent Ball did not employ a calculated strategy to circumvent Miranda," she wrote.
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