US v. Charles Wiggin
UNPUBLISHED AUTHORED OPINION filed. Originating case number: 8:14-cr-00488-GJH-1 Copies to all parties and the district court/agency. .. [16-4402]
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UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff - Appellee,
CHARLES JEROME WIGGINS,
Defendant - Appellant.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Greenbelt.
George J. Hazel, District Judge. (8:14-cr-00488-GJH-1)
Submitted: August 21, 2017
Decided: September 12, 2017
Before TRAXLER, DIAZ, and FLOYD, Circuit Judges.
Affirmed by unpublished per curiam opinion.
Richard S. Stolker, UPTOWN LAW, LLC, Rockville, Maryland, for Appellant. Rod J.
Rosenstein, United States Attorney, Hollis Raphael Weisman, Assistant United States
Attorney, Greenbelt, Maryland, for Appellee.
Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit.
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Charles Jerome Wiggins appeals his convictions for two counts of involuntary
manslaughter, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1112(b) (2012), and one count of reckless
driving, in violation of Md. Code Ann., Transp. § 21-901.1(a) (Lexis Nexis 2009), as
incorporated into federal law by 36 C.F.R. § 4.2 (2017). On appeal, Wiggins argues that
the district court erred in: (1) admitting certain statements to the police, as well as blood
test results seized pursuant to a search warrant; (2) certifying an expert witness in crash
reconstruction because, Wiggins contends, the individual lacked sufficient qualifications
in that field and his testimony was not helpful to the jury; (3) failing to sua sponte take
action to cure any prejudice that resulted from a crying spectator; and (4) denying
Wiggins’ request for a continuance to locate a witness or, in the alternative, refusing to
give a missing witness instruction. We affirm.
First, Wiggins argues that the district court erred in admitting statements that he
made while hospitalized because he was in police custody, the statements were
involuntary, and the police did not read Wiggins his Miranda 1 rights. Because the
statements were inadmissible, Wiggins argues, so too were the blood test results that
police purportedly obtained solely upon his involuntary statements.
“In reviewing a district court’s ruling on a motion to suppress, this [c]ourt reviews
conclusions of law de novo and underlying factual findings for clear error.” United
States v. Clarke, 842 F.3d 288, 293 (4th Cir. 2016) (brackets and internal quotation marks
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).
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omitted). “Because the district court denied Defendant’s motion to suppress, we construe
the evidence in the light most favorable to the government.” Id. (internal quotation marks
With regard to Wiggins’ contention that Miranda warnings were required, “law
enforcement [must] inform individuals who are in custody of their Fifth Amendment
rights prior to interrogation. Without a Miranda warning, evidence obtained from the
interrogation is generally inadmissible.” United States v. Hashime, 734 F.3d 278, 282
(4th Cir. 2013) (citations omitted). “When deciding whether a defendant not under
formal arrest was in custody . . . a court asks whether, under the totality of the
circumstances, a suspect’s freedom of action was curtailed to a degree associated with
Id. (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted).
individual’s “‘freedom of movement [is] restricted by a factor independent of police
conduct’ . . . ‘the appropriate inquiry is whether a reasonable person would feel free to
decline officers’ requests or otherwise terminate the encounter.’”
United States v.
Jamison, 509 F.3d 623, 628 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429,
436 (1991)). We have explained that:
Facts relevant to the custodial inquiry include, but are not limited to, the
time, place and purpose of the encounter, the words used by the officer, the
officer’s tone of voice and general demeanor, the presence of multiple
officers, the potential display of a weapon by an officer,  whether there
was any physical contact between the officer and the defendant[,] . . . the
suspect’s isolation and separation from family, and physical restrictions.
Hashime, 734 F.3d at 283 (citations and internal quotations marks omitted).
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Here, police questioning occurred in a medical facility where Wiggins was being
treated for injuries that he sustained in the car accident; United State Park Police
(“USPP”) Detective Michelle Ludwick questioned Wiggins with the sole intent of
discovering the identity of the passengers in his vehicle, although USPP Officer Matthew
Manning questioned Wiggins with the intent of discovering the cause of the accident.
Wiggins was never informed that he was under arrest, he was never physically restrained
or handcuffed, and police only physically touched Wiggins once, after they obtained the
challenged statements, in order to comfort Wiggins when he discovered his wife died in
the accident. The police never brandished a weapon. There were only two police
officers in the room with Wiggins, and medical personnel continually entered and exited
the room during the interview. There is no indication in the record that the police ever
adopted an aggressive or authoritative tone or demeanor, and Wiggins never asked the
police officers to leave or to stop questioning him. In short, almost none of the coercive
factors that have previously led us to determine that an individual is “in custody” were
present during Wiggins’ questioning. Under these circumstances, a reasonable person in
Wiggins’ circumstances would have felt free to terminate the police questioning, and
Wiggins therefore was not in custody for purposes of the Fifth Amendment.
With regard to Wiggins’ claim that his statements were not given voluntarily,
“[w]hen Miranda warnings are unnecessary, . . . we assess the voluntariness of a
defendant’s statements by asking whether the confession is ‘the product of an essentially
free and unconstrained choice by its maker.’” United States v. Abu Ali, 528 F.3d 210,
232 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 602 (1961)). “[I]f
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the defendant’s ‘will has been overborne and his capacity for self-determination critically
impaired, the use of his confession offends due process.’” Id. (quoting Culombe, 367
U.S. at 602). “In evaluating whether a defendant’s will has been overborne, courts must
assess the totality of the circumstances, taking into account characteristics of the accused,
and details of the interrogation.” Id.
The factors we consider include: “the youth of the accused, his lack of
education, or his low intelligence, the lack of any advice to the accused of
his constitutional rights, the length of detention, the repeated and prolonged
nature of the questioning, and the use of physical punishment such as the
deprivation of food or sleep.”
Id. (quoting Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 226 (1973)).
There is no indication that Wiggins is unintelligent or lacking in education, and,
despite Wiggins’ claim that he “was generally unresponsive, barely coherent, and
obviously under the influence of injuries suffered in the collision,” there is no indication
that he was addled or incoherent. To the contrary, the district court determined that he
was “lucid and coherent.” Given the testimony presented by Manning and Ludwick, the
district court’s findings on that point were not clearly erroneous.
Furthermore, the length of Wiggins’ questioning was relatively brief; Manning
spoke with Wiggins for a mere 10 minutes before Wiggins made the damaging
statements, and Ludwick questioned Wiggins for approximately 20 minutes in total after
Manning obtained a blood sample. There was no use of physical punishment, nor did the
police take any other coercive action to obtain Wiggins’ statements. Given these facts,
the mere fact that Wiggins was receiving medical treatment at the time of the questioning
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does not render his statements involuntary. 2 See United States v. Cristobal, 293 F.3d
134, 141-43 (4th Cir. 2002) (statements voluntary despite medical treatment for serious
injuries and treatment with narcotic painkillers where defendant was coherent and no
evidence demonstrated that he was incapable of making an informed decision).
Wiggins next argues that the district court erred in permitting USPP Officer
Christopher Gogarty to testify as an expert witness in accident reconstruction.
Specifically, Wiggins contends that Gogarty lacked sufficient qualifications to testify as
an expert, and that his testimony was not helpful to the jury.
“We review a district court’s decision to qualify an expert witness, as well as the
admission of such testimony, for abuse of discretion.” United States v. Garcia, 752 F.3d
382, 390 (4th Cir. 2014). “A court abuses its discretion if its decision is guided by
erroneous legal principles or rests upon a clearly erroneous factual finding.” Id. (internal
quotation marks omitted).
The Federal Rules of Evidence allow expert testimony as follows:
A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience,
training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge
will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine
a fact in issue;
Although Wiggins argues that the warrant authorizing seizure of a blood sample
was not based on probable cause, we conclude that Wiggins’ own statements, combined
with the testimony of officers Manning and Ludwick that they were able to smell alcohol
emanating from Wiggins from a distance of several feet, provided sufficient probable
cause to support the search warrant. See United States v. Henry, 673 F.3d 285, 290 (4th
Cir. 2012) (setting forth probable cause standard).
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(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods;
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the
facts of the case.
Fed. R. Evid. 702.
Gogarty has received specialized training in accident reconstruction, including 3
40-hour training courses in accident reconstruction, a training course in pedestrian
reconstruction, and a course in motor vehicle reconstruction. In these courses Gogarty
learned how to calculate formulas for crash reconstruction, how to create crash diagrams,
and how to calculate vehicle speeds. In addition, prior to Wiggins’ crash, Gogarty held
his investigatory position for 4 years and had assisted or been the primary investigator in
25 to 30 accidents. Gogarty’s training and experience gave him sufficient expertise in
accident reconstruction, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in qualifying
him as an expert witness. See Garcia, 752 F.3d at 391 (finding witness qualified as
expert based on 5 years of experience in the field).
Furthermore, Gogarty’s testimony was helpful to the jury.
He testified that
Wiggins’ white sedan “was straddling both the exit lane and the right lane of northbound
traffic,” while the truck was entirely “in the exit lane.” Gogarty explained that Wiggins’
sedan struck the truck from behind with sufficient force to “ride completely underneath
that pickup truck,” and ripped out the B-pillar of the sedan. The force of the accident and
the speed at which the sedan was traveling caused the rear end of the sedan to pull out
from the truck and flip again onto its roof before the sedan came to a stop “230 feet from
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the area of impact.” Gogarty further testified that, although he could not definitively state
how fast Wiggins’ sedan was traveling prior to the crash, it was traveling at “a minimum
of 47 miles an hour” after the impact in a 45 mile-per-hour zone, which meant that
Wiggins was traveling at a “significantly higher” rate of speed prior to the collision.
All of this information tended to indicate that Wiggins was driving in a reckless
manner prior to the collision because: (1) Wiggins was straddling lanes of traffic at the
time of impact; (2) he was traveling well in excess of the posted speed limit; and (3) he
struck the truck from behind while the truck was traveling in the exit lane. Thus, the
district court did not abuse its discretion in permitting Gogarty’s testimony.
Wiggins next argues that the district court erred in failing sua sponte to order a
mistrial or issue a curative instruction when a spectator began to cry during trial
testimony. Wiggins contends that this “outburst” amounted to improper contact with the
jury that infused prejudice into the case.
We ordinarily “review both a district court’s denial of a motion for a mistrial and
its decision regarding a curative instruction for an abuse of discretion.” United States v.
Wallace, 515 F.3d 327, 330 (4th Cir. 2008). However, where, as here, an individual fails
to request a mistrial or curative instruction below, “we review the district court’s decision
for plain error.” United States v. Ford, 88 F.3d 1350, 1363 (4th Cir. 1996). To establish
plain error, Wiggins must “demonstrate that an error was made, the error was plain, the
error affected [his] substantial rights, and [this] court should exercise its discretion to
correct the error because it seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation
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of judicial proceedings.” United States v. Chittenden, 848 F.3d 188, 194 (4th Cir. 2017),
petition for cert. filed, __U.S.L.W.__ (U.S. June 30, 2017) (No. 17-5100).
It is unclear that any disruption in fact occurred; while Wiggins’ counsel stated
that a spectator was crying “within earshot of the jury,” the district court determined that
the spectator was not being disruptive. Furthermore, there is no evidence that any of the
jurors actually heard the crying or were impacted by it. Under these circumstances,
Wiggins has not established any disruption that would warrant even a curative instruction
and, consequently, no error occurred when the district court did not sua sponte order a
mistrial or issue a curative instruction.
Finally, Wiggins contends that the district court erred in denying a continuance to
allow Wiggins to locate Terry Trice, the driver of the other vehicle involved in the crash.
Alternatively, Wiggins argues that the court should have, at the least, issued a missing
witness instruction. “We review the denial of a motion for a continuance for abuse of
discretion.” United States v. Copeland, 707 F.3d 522, 531 (4th Cir. 2013). “Even if such
an abuse of discretion is found, the defendant must show that the error specifically
prejudiced his case in order to prevail.” Id. (brackets omitted).
When a continuance is sought to secure the attendance of a witness, the
following elements must be proved by the party requesting the continuance:
who the witness is, what his testimony will be, that it will be relevant under
the issues in the case and competent, that the witness can probably be
obtained if the continuance is granted, and that due diligence has been used
to obtain his attendance for the trial as set.
United States v. Colon, 975 F.2d 128, 131 (4th Cir. 1992) (brackets and internal quotation
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With regard to the denial of continuance, Wiggins cannot establish two of the
required factors. First, USPP Detective Robert Freeman testified that he attempted to
locate Trice, to no avail, and, in doing so: he “utilized every law enforcement database
that [he] ha[d] access to” and spoke to several of Trice’s family members, Trice’s
probation and parole officers, and Trice’s former attorneys. Given these facts, there is no
reasonable probability that Wiggins would have been able to locate Trice and secure his
attendance at trial. Second, Wiggins never made a proffer as to what testimony Trice
would offer. Consequently, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying
Wiggins’ motion for a continuance.
With regard to Wiggins’ argument that the district court erred in failing to issue a
missing witness instruction, because Wiggins did not object to the district court’s
instructions below, any alleged error is reviewed for plain error only. United States v.
Alvarado, 816 F.3d 242, 248 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 492 (2016). A missing
witness instruction is only appropriate “if a party has it peculiarly within his or her power
to produce witnesses whose testimony would elucidate the transaction.” United States v.
Brooks, 928 F.2d 1403, 1412 (4th Cir. 1991) (brackets omitted).
Wiggins argues that Trice was peculiarly within the power of the Government to
call because Trice’s parole officer was charged with his continuing supervision.
However, a witness is not peculiarly within the power of the government to call even
when that witness is in federal custody. See United States v. Graves, 545 F.App’x 230,
241 (4th Cir. 2013). Consequently, Trice was equally available to both Wiggins and the
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Government, and Wiggins fails to show plain error.
See United States v. Garcia-
Lagunas, 835 F.3d 479, 496 (4th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 713 (2017).
Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s judgment. We dispense with oral
argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the
materials before this court and argument would not aid the decisional process.
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