In United States v. Wilson, No. 20140386 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Aug. 15, 2004) (link to unpub. op.), the Army CCA reverses in part a trial judge’s decision suppressing the accused’s confession and physical evidence seized from his vehicle.
A camera was observed during a safety inspection of the accused’s vehicle by leaders from his command. It was suspected that the camera belonged to the unit and the camera’s serial number was going to be compared against unit records when the accused – who was not advised of his Article 31(b) rights – “stated that the camera belonged to the unit and that he had intended to borrow it for the weekend.” Slip op. at 2. Military police were called and the accused consented to a search of his vehicle, revealing “drug paraphernalia containing marijuana residue.” Slip op. at 3.
The military judge suppressed everything in a five page ruling that the CCA references as an appendix but is not actually attached to the CCA’s opinion. But the CCA reproduces this passage:
The absence of Article 31(b) rights renders the statements given by the accused inadmissible. Since the accused’s statements and verbal acts were obtained based on implicit coercion, the statements are also inadmissible for impeachment purposes. Subsequent evidence obtained, including the camera, lens, [storage device], and paraphernalia, as well as the accused’s written consent to search his POV, are fruit of the poisonous tree and are also inadmissible pursuant to [Mil. R. Evid] 304(a).
Slip op. at 5. The CCA affirms the judge’s suppression of the unwarned statements by the accused but reverses on their inadmissibility for impeachment purposes, finding that the facts “cannot support a necessary conclusion of law that appellee’s statement was involuntary in the sense that it was the product of coercion, unlawful influence, or inducement, which is the prerequisite to precluding use of admissions in impeachment of an accused, notwithstanding failure to advise of Article 31 rights or rights to counsel.” Slip op. at 6. The CCA also reverses the judge’s ruling regarding the search, finding that:
Here, the military judge determined that appellee’s statutory Article 31 rights were violated. The military judge focused solely on unwarned statements by appellee—there were no findings or analysis regarding an illegal search or other constitutional violation. The military judge concluded summarily that: (1) the absence of Article 31 rights warnings made all the appellee’s statements inadmissible; (2) the statements were, therefore, obtained by “implicit coercion;” and (3) all subsequent evidence was “fruit of the poisonous tree” and inadmissible. However, this “fruit” was not from the same tree, nor was it even from the same orchard. More than three hours after the initial questions by SGT WA, appellee voluntarily consented in writing to a search of his vehicle. Because the consent to search was not a “statement” of the accused, the military judge applied the wrong legal principles and abused his discretion when he suppressed the drug paraphernalia discovered during the consent search.
Slip op. at 7 (emphasis in original).