United States v. Michael O’Brien (2d Cir. June 2019)

The Federal Docket

August 25, 2019

Fifth Amendment/Miranda– Suppression was not warranted where the defendant waived his Miranda rights, despite officers allowing him to take valium to avoid withdrawals, where there was other evidence indicating he was lucid.

Fourth Amendment/Warrantless search – Suppression was not warranted where the court held that the defendant voluntarily consented to the search of his apartment where he signed a Written Consent.

The defendant appealed from his conviction on substantive and conspiracy counts of importing methylone and anabolic steroids and operating a stash house. Among other issues, the defendant argued that his statements to law enforcement and consent to search his apartments were involuntary and unknowing given that he made them while suffering withdrawals from his addiction to GHB, a human growth hormone.

The record reflected that, after being read his Miranda rights, O’Brien made several statements about acquiring the controlled substances at issue and told the agents they could “look anywhere you want.” There was also evidence that O’Brien told the agents he was addicted and was allowed to take a valium to avoid withdrawals. The agents later testified that O’Brien was “very talkative” and “very alert” as he described, in detail, how he imported controlled substances through the dark web. O’Brien also signed at least two documents acknowledging his rights and allowing agents to search his apartments and electronics.

The Court affirmed the denial of O’Brien’s motion to suppress, holding that O’Brien voluntarily waived his Miranda rights. In addition to the circumstances discussed above, the Court looked at O’Brien’s jail calls with his ex-fiancé in which he acknowledged telling the agents they could search his apartment, his statements in court after his arrest in which he lucidly discussed the effects of GHB withdrawals, and the lack of evidence that O’Brien was suffering a withdrawal at the time he made his statements. The Court also discounted O’Brien’s contradictory testimony that he never gave consent to search and that he told the agents he needed to go to a hospital within four hours or he would die.

For similar reasons, the Court also held that O’Brien voluntarily consented to the searches of his apartments. Unlike the analysis regarding his Miranda waiver, it was not determinative that O’Brien was not informed of his right to refuse consent, though the Written Consent he signed in fact described that right. The Court also rejected O’Brien’s argument that the officers’ allowing him to take a Valium rendered his statements involuntary, reiterating that O’Brien was lucid at the time he made his statements and consented and noting that he was given Valium at the hospital when he later complained of GHB withdrawals.

The Court also held there was sufficient evidence that O’Brien knew he was importing controlled substances, citing the fraudulent labels on the shipping packages, O’Brien’s statements, the network of couriers O’Brien used, and other evidence. The Court also rejected O’Brien’s non-delegation and vagueness arguments relating to the Government’s method of scheduling controlled substances.

Appeal from Eastern District of New York

Opinion by Kearse, joined by Livingston and Carney

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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