The United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit recently ruled that a man who pleaded guilty to enticement and child pornography charges was not tricked into handing over evidence to investigators.
The defendant, Gregory Mays, pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to producing child pornography and enticement of a minor on the condition that he be allowed to appeal the admission of evidence obtained from his cellphone.
Mays was arrested in 2014 in a sting operation designed to catch sexual predators of underage children on Craigslist.
That spring, Mays posted an ad in the “Casual Encounters” section of the site seeking a “submissive and ready” female open to “new experiences.”
An Alliance Police Department officer responded to the ad posing as a 14-year-old girl named Ashley.
Even though Ashley identified herself as an underage minor, Mays showed interest and began emailing her.
For several weeks, the two exchanged explicit messages and Mays repeatedly asked to meet.
The two also began corresponding via text message and Mays frequently encouraged Ashley to delete the incriminating messages from her phone.
Eventually, they agreed to meet and Mays was arrested upon his arrival.
Two cellphones and a condom were discovered in Mays’ vehicle and confiscated. At the police department, he was placed in a “soft” interview room, designed to be comfortable in order to encourage suspects to divulge incriminating information.
“It worked,” case summary states. “Detectives read Mays his Miranda rights for a second time and presented him with a Miranda waiver form, which he quickly signed.”
Mays openly discussed his plans to meet with Ashley and his interactions with another juvenile female.
When he was presented with a consent form for the search of his two phones, Mays stated, “I really should have a lawyer, huh?”
Detectives said they would provide Mays with a lawyer if he requested one but eventually, Mays stated that lawyers were a waste of money and he voluntarily continued his discussion with the police.
Court documents sate that when he was provided with a printed copy of his Craigslist ad, Mays stated that he could not tell if it was his without his glasses.
But he signed the search waiver form in three different places and then proceeded to help officers operate his cellphones, one of which contained videos of himself and a minor female engaged in sexually explicit conduct and which he had sent to others.
Mays was sentenced to 210 months in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release.
In the district court and in his appeal, Mays claimed that the officers should have provided him with a lawyer and that he did not voluntarily consent to the search of his phones because he could not read the forms he was signing. He moved to have the evidence suppressed.
“Mays signed the search-waiver form in three separate places,” Judge Danny Boggs wrote on behalf of the 6th Circuit court’s three-judge appellate panel. “At no point did he inform the officers that the print on the form was too small to read, in sharp contrast to his response to the printed copy of his Craigslist ad.
“It stands to reason that, if Mays felt comfortable telling the investigators that he was unable to read the Craigslist ad, he would have felt just as comfortable telling them that he could not read the search-waiver form.”
The circuit court held that the fact that he never did complain suggests that Mays found the form to be legible.
“The police never threatened Mays; in fact, the record reflects that police intentionally adopted a ‘good cop’ approach when they placed Mays in a ‘soft’ interview room and engaged him in casual conversation,” Boggs wrote. “At one point, the district court noted, Mays even volunteered to show his investigators how to operate his cellphones.”
The appellate panel held that “these are not the actions of a man who was coerced or tricked into signing a waiver of his Fourth Amendment rights.”
“Because Mays knowingly and voluntarily signed the search-waiver form, we affirm the district court’s denial of his Fourth Amendment challenge,” Boggs concluded.
The appellate panel also overruled a Fifth Amendment challenge from Mays, calling it “equally meritless.”
According to Mays, he requested a lawyer via his comment, “I really should have a lawyer, huh?”
But the circuit court pointed out an officer’s response of “You want a lawyer, you can ask for a lawyer.”
It also noted that at no point did Mays make a statement requesting an attorney with sufficient clarity.
“Because Mays did not make an unambiguous and unequivocal request for legal representation, we affirm the district court’s denial of Mays’ suppression motion on this ground as well,” Boggs wrote. “Appellant Mays was repeatedly informed of his constitutional rights, but chose to waive them.”
The circuit court affirmed the district court’s judgment with Judges John Rogers and Deborah cook concurring.
The case is cited United States v. Mays, Case No. 16-3177.