Girlfriend Destroys Expectation of Privacy in Identity Theft Case

By February 15, 2011Identity Theft

Identity Theft in TexasAfter being convicted of aiding and abetting mail fraud and aggravated identity theft, Lonnie Oliver Jr., challenged his convictions on appeal, arguing that federal agents conducted an illegal search of the contents of a cardboard box that his girlfriend provided to them and that his statements to police officers were involuntary.

See the full opinion in United States v. Oliver  (5th Circuit, 2011)

Mr. Oliver left an unsecured cardboard box, which contained ample evidence of his identity theft operation, in the dining room of his girlfriend’s apartment. When agents interviewed his girlfriend, she gave them the box, but did not tell them she had already examined its contents.

Does a person have a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in the contents of a box that was not kept private from his girlfriend?

The court held that the girlfriend’s prior search of the box destroyed Appellant’s reasonable expectation of privacy in it, and rendered the subsequent warrantless police search permissible under the Fourth Amendment. The court stated that the girlfriend’s search made the agents’ warrantless search permissible, regardless of whether the agents knew about it. The court cautioned that his holding was limited to the unique facts of this case and was not intended to expand significantly the scope of the private search doctrine.

Does a waiver of Miranda Right to remain silent need to be in writing?

Appellant also argued that incriminating statements he made to the agents during his custodial interrogation should have been suppressed, claiming that he had not waived his Miranda rights. After agents arrested Appellant, they advised him of his Miranda rights and provided him two forms. Appellant signed the first form acknowledging that he understood his rights, but he refused to sign the second form waiving those rights. Nevertheless, Appellant told the agents that he wished to answer their questions and he confessed to his role in a mail fraud and identity theft scheme.

The Court explained that suspect may waive his Miranda rights if the waiver is made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently. The mere refusal to sign a written Miranda waiver does not automatically make subsequent statements by a defendant inadmissible. The court held that the circumstances surrounding Appellant’s arrest and interview established that Appellant’s waiver was voluntary, even though he refused to sign the wavier form. Specifically: (1) agents provided Appellant with a copy of the Miranda warning waiver form and read it aloud to him as he followed along, (2) Appellant expressly told the agents that although he would not sign the Miranda waiver form, he would discuss the fraud scheme, (3) Appellant never requested an attorney, (4) Appellant was articulate, coherent and not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and appeared to understand what was going on, (5) Appellant clearly understood his rights since he signed the first form that acknowledged this, and he had extensive experience with the criminal justice system, and (6) Appellant was not coerced in any way during the interview.