United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON MOTION TO SUPPRESS
Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.
Government accuses John Eastman of posing online as a teenage
pop star to induce young girls to expose themselves to him in
violation 18 U.S.C § 2422(b). He is also accused of
possessing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
2252A(a)(5)(B). In 2012, a young girl told her mother that a
person online posing as the pop star Harry Styles told her
and other girls at a sleep-over to pose sexually for him. The
mother reported the incident to the police. Later, the police
traced the report to an internet protocol address assigned to
John Eastman. The police went to Mr. Eastman’s home.
Mr. Eastman spoke with the police and gave his desktop
computer to them. The police did not obtain a warrant before
entering Mr. Eastman’s home and seizing his computer.
Mr. Eastman allegedly gave a detailed confession the same
Eastman now moves to suppress the physical evidence and
incriminating statements. The defendant seeks to suppress
“all physical evidence seized from [his apartment] as
well as certain statements he allegedly made that day to law
enforcement officers.” (ECF No. 30 at 1.) He argues
that the search and seizure is constitutionally infirm
because it was conducted without a warrant and without
consent. He also argues that his confession must be
suppressed because he did not receive Miranda
warnings. More specifically, he argues that the police forged
his signatures on documents purporting to show his consent to
the seizure of his computer, his acknowledgment of having
received and understood Miranda warnings, and his
an evidentiary hearing on the motion to suppress on May 31,
2016. The Government presented three witnesses, including
Peter Morgan, David Terni, and William Fox. The defense
presented a single witness: the defendant’s mother,
Linda Eastman. The Court also considered the exhibits and
affidavits submitted by the parties as well as the
parties’ pre-hearing submissions and post-hearing
briefing. For the reasons discussed below, I deny the motion
to suppress because I find that Mr. Eastman consented to the
search and seizure and received adequate Miranda
warnings when they were required.
trial, a criminal defendant may move to suppress evidence
that was obtained illegally. See Fed. R. Crim. P.
12(b). “On a motion to suppress, the defendant bears
the initial burden of establishing that a government official
acting without a warrant subjected him to a search or
seizure. Once the defendant has met this burden, the burden
then shifts to the government to demonstrate by a
preponderance of the evidence, that the search or seizure did
not violate the Fourth Amendment.” U.S. v.
Herron, 18 F.Supp.3d 214, 221 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (citations
omitted). See also United States v. Arboleda, 633
F.2d 985, 989 (2d Cir. 1980). The government also bears the
burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the
defendant waived his Miranda rights. United
States v. Jaswal, 47 F.3d 539, 542 (2d Cir. 1995).
Fourth Amendment protects the “right of the people to
be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S.
Const. amend. IV. “The touchstone of the Fourth
Amendment is reasonableness.” Florida v.
Jimeno, 500 U.S. 248, 250 (1991) (citing Katz v.
United States, 389 U.S. 347, 360 (1967)). The police do
not violate the Fourth Amendment if a defendant consents to a
search or seizure. See Id. at 250-51 (“Thus,
we have long approved consensual searches because it is no
doubt reasonable for the police to conduct a search once they
have been permitted to do so.” (citing Schneckloth
v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 219 (1973))). The question
“is whether ‘the officer had a reasonable basis
for believing that there had been consent to the
search.’” United States v. Garcia, 56
F.3d 418, 423 (2d Cir.1995) (quoting United States v.
Sanchez, 32 F.3d 1330, 1334 (8th Cir.1994)).
long as the police do not coerce consent, a search conducted
on the basis of consent is not an unreasonable search.”
Id. at 422 (citing Schneckloth, 412 U.S. at
228). “The test of voluntariness is whether[, under the
totality of the circumstances, ] the consent was the product
of an essentially free and unconstrained choice by its maker,
as opposed to mere acquiescence in a show of
authority.” United States v. Moreno, 701 F.3d
64 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal citations and quotations
omitted); United States v. Perez, 72 Fed.
App’x 857, 859 (2d Cir. 2003); see also
Schneckloth, 412 U.S. at 227. “The standard for
measuring the scope of a suspect’s consent under the
Fourth Amendment is that of ‘objective’
reasonableness-what would the typical reasonable person have
understood by the exchange between the officer and the
suspect?” Jimeno, 500 U.S. at 251. “The
scope of the suspect’s consent is a question of fact,
and ‘[t]he government has the burden of proving, by a
preponderance of the evidence, that a consent to search was
voluntary.’” United States v. Gandia,
424 F.3d 255, 265 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting United States
v. Isiofia, 370 F.3d 226, 230-31 (2d Cir. 2004)).
the court should consider in assessing the voluntariness of a
consent include the defendant’s age, intelligence and
educational background, the length and nature of his or her
interaction with the police, and whether the officers engaged
in coercive behavior.” United States v.
Zaleski, 559 F.Supp.2d 178, 185 (D. Conn. 2008); see
Schneckloth, 412 U.S. at 226-27. The Court should also
consider “whether the alleged consenting person was
advised of his constitutional rights . . . .”
United States v. Puglisi, 790 F.2d 240, 243 (2d
Cir.1986). See also Garcia, 56 F.3d at 422-23.
Fifth Amendment protects against compelled
self-incrimination. It is well settled that before a suspect
may properly be subjected to custodial interrogation, he must
be informed that he has the right to remain silent, that any
statement he makes may be used in evidence against him, and
that he has the right to have counsel present.”
United States v. Mathurin, 148 F.3d 68, 69 (2d Cir.
1998) (citing Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436,
467-71 (1966)). “‘Failure to administer
Miranda warnings creates a presumption of
compulsion, ’ and that ‘presumption . . .
[is]irrebuttable for purposes of the prosecution’s case
in chief.’” Mathurin, 148 F.3d at 69
(quoting Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 307
(1985)). “Thus, ‘unwarned statements that are
otherwise voluntary within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment
must nevertheless be excluded from evidence under
Miranda.’” Id. (quoting
Elstad, 470 U.S. at 307.)
test for determining custody is an objective inquiry that
asks (1) ‘whether a reasonable person would have
thought he was free to leave the police encounter at
issue’ and (2) whether ‘a reasonable person would
have understood his freedom of action to have been curtailed
to a degree associated with formal arrest.’”
United States v. Faux, ___F.3d___, No. 15-1282-CR,
2016 WL 3648331, at *4 (2d Cir. July 8, 2016) (quoting
United States v. Newton, 369 F.3d 659, 672 (2d Cir.
2004)). A seizure is necessary, but not sufficient, for
finding that a person is in custody. Id. “An
individual’s subjective belief about his or her status
generally does not bear on the custody analysis.”
Id. An officer’s subjective belief about the
status of an individual, “if conveyed . . . to the
individual being questioned, ” “‘may bear
upon the custody issue . . .’ but ‘only to the
extent [it] would affect how a reasonable person in the
position of the individual being questioned would gauge the
breadth of his or freedom of action.’” See
Id. (quoting Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S.
318, 322 (1994)).
considerations include: (1) ‘the interrogation’s
duration’; (2) ‘its location (e.g., at
the suspect’s home, in public, in a police station, or
at the border)’; (3) ‘whether the suspect
volunteered for the interview’; (4) ‘whether the
officers used restraints’; (5) ‘whether weapons
were present and especially whether they were drawn’;
and (6) ‘whether officers told the suspect he was free
to leave or under suspicion.’” Id.
(quoting United States v. FNU LNU, 653 F.3d 144, 153
(2d Cir. 2011)).
Findings of Fact
defendant contends that the officers lacked a warrant to
enter his apartment and that he did not consent to the entry
of his apartment or the seizure of his computer. He also
contends that his mother revoked any consent that may have
been given. Finally, he asserts that his signatures on the
consent-to-search and acknowledgment-of-rights forms were
forged. (ECF No. 31 at 1.) After considering all of the
evidence presented at the evidentiary hearing and the
evidence the parties included in their written submissions, I
make the following findings of fact, rejecting the
defendant’s contentions (other than that the police
lacked a warrant) and concluding that the Government
satisfied its burden of proving by a preponderance of the
evidence that the defendant voluntarily consented to the
searches, was not in custody when he made statements in his
house, and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights
before signing a confession at the police
The Alleged Crime
to 2012, John Eastman moved in with his mother, Linda
Eastman. Tr. 209. His mother leased the apartment where they
lived and bought a computer that Mr. Eastman kept in his
bedroom. Id. at 209, 217. His mother would go into
his bedroom once a week “to see what was on there,
” i.e., the computer. Id. at 225-26.
2012, a group of eleven and twelve year-old girls in Vermont
were playing with Skype, an online video chat program, during
a sleep-over. See Id. at 12-13. Mr. Eastman was
allegedly also using Skype that night and began chatting with
the girls. Id. at 13. His username,
“Harry.Styles888, ” resembled the name of a
member of a popular boy band. Id. To trick children
into thinking that he was Harry Styles, he would allegedly
project video images of Harry Styles via his webcam.
Def.’s Ex. 5. The night of the sleep-over, he allegedly
asked the eleven and twelve year-old girls to pose sexually
in front of their webcam. Tr. 13. One of the girls told her
mother, who reported the incident to the Vermont State
Police. Id. at 12-13.
The Preliminary Investigation
Vermont State Police interviewed the child, who confirmed
what her mother had reported. (Decl. of Peter Morgan, ECF No.
46-1 at ¶ 3.) The police then obtained a court order to
obtain the Skype account information and the IP address
associated with the username “Harry.Styles888, ”
which allowed the police to trace the account to Waterbury,
Connecticut. Tr. 14, 58. The Vermont State Police contacted
the Waterbury Police Department, who assigned the
investigation to Detective Peter Morgan. Id. at 12,
57. Detective Morgan specializes in digital forensic
examination and focuses on the investigation of child
pornography and similar crimes. Id. at 12.
Morgan obtained a court order to acquire from Comcast Cable
(“Comcast”) the account information on the IP
address associated with Harry.Styles888. Id. at 15,
58-59. Comcast reported that the IP address was assigned to
John Eastman, 157 Congress Avenue, Third Floor, Waterbury,
CT. Id. at 15, 59. Armed with that information,
Detective Morgan went to that address with Detective David
Terni, hoping that Mr. Eastman would cooperate with the
investigation and that obtaining a warrant would not be
necessary. Id. at 66-69.
The Defendant Consents to the Police Entering His Home,
Allows the Police to Take His Computer, and
Admits to Sex Chatting as Harry Styles
detectives arrived in the dark around 6:00 p.m. on November
10, 2012. Id. at 70-71, 92. The two were in plain
clothes but visibly wearing police badges and firearms.
Id. at 73-74. The detectives identified themselves
when Mr. Eastman answered the door to the apartment on the
third floor of 157 Congress Avenue. Id. at 74.
Detective Morgan asked Mr. Eastman if the detectives could
“come in and talk to him.” Id. at 75.
Mr. Eastman said “yes, okay.” Id. at 21,
inside, the detectives asked Mr. Eastman about his computer
and the investigation. Id. at 78. The detectives
told Mr. Eastman that he was not under arrest and Mr. Eastman
was calm and cooperative throughout the discussion.
Id. at 22. Detective Morgan told Mr. Eastman about
the information that he had received from the Vermont police,
which included that the incident under investigation had
occurred on Skype with a Harry Styles username. Id.
point, Mr. Eastman’s mother came out of her room, but
as soon as Detective Morgan identified himself and told her
that he was investigating a case, Mr. Eastman told his mother
to return to her room and she walked away. Id. at
23-24. The detectives asked about a laptop computer that was
in the living room. Id. at 25. Mr. Eastman explained
that he did not use the laptop, but that he did use a desktop
computer in his bedroom. Id. at 25-26. Mr. Eastman
led the detectives to his bedroom where the desktop computer
was located and told the detectives that he had used the
Harry Styles username for video sex chatting. Id. at
25-26, 30, 81-82.
hearing and in the briefs, the defendant contested that he
was a lessee of the apartment and that he owned the computer.
Although the lease of the apartment was in Mr.
Eastman’s mother’s name, Mr. Eastman had resided
at the apartment for a few years. Id. at 210,
221-22. According to Mr. Eastman’s mother, the
defendant had authority to set up services such as Comcast
internet for the apartment. Id. at 222-23. At the
apartment, he had his own room where he kept a ...