Erwin v. Rodriguez et al
ORDER DISMISSING CASE without prejudice. Signed by Chief Judge Frank D. Whitney on 9/13/2017. (Pro se litigant served by US Mail.)(kby)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
WILLIAM I. ERWIN,
ERIC RODRIGUEZ, CHUCK VINES,
THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of pro se Plaintiff William I.
Erwin’s Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 12). See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A, 1915(e).1
Plaintiff is a prisoner of the state of North Carolina. He names Eric Rodriquez, identified
as a detective employed by the Marion Police Department, and Chuck Vines, identified as an
agent with the State Bureau of Investigation, as Defendants in this action brought pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983.
Plaintiff was arrested on May 18, 2016, and charged with murder, attempted robbery, and
first-degree burglary. He was interrogated by Defendants. (Plaintiff’s Aff. ¶ 1, Doc. No. 12 at
7.) According to Plaintiff’s affidavit attached to the Complaint:
After a few minutes of [interrogation], I attempted to invoke my right to have an
attorney present by telling the officers that I did not wish to speak to them any
longer without an attorney, and I attempted to remain silent. Instead of honoring
this request by stopping all questioning, they discouraged my desire with an implied
promise of leniency by telling me that the district attorney would not go easy on
me if I did not co-operate with them.
On May 11, 2017, the Court entered an Order waiving the initial filing fee and directing monthly payments to be
made from Plaintiff’s prison account. (Doc. No. 8.)
The proposition of this faulse [sic] promise proved to be the key to causing my will
to be [overborne] and my defenses collapsed. From this point forward I was in full
compliance with the officers [sic] requests and I scrupulously honored my side of
the bargaining chip I thought I had entered into.
During this extensive flow of information the officers gained a considerable amount
of knowledge concerning my personal well being. I told them I was intoxicated on
controlled substances and suffering from a long term addiction, that I had been
deprive[d] of any significant amount of sleep for a long period of time, and I was
obviously malnourished and extremely under weight. I told the[m] about my past,
and on going mental health issues and that I had been contemplating and attempting
to take my own life for the past few weeks. I told them that I had reacquired a
shotgun and had [intended] to use it to kill myself had my arrest not occurred.
(Plaintiff’s Aff. ¶¶ 2-4.)
Plaintiff contends that Defendants “are responsible for circumventing [his] 5th
Amendment protection against compelled self-incrimination” (Am. Compl. 2, Doc. No. 12), and
that they “acted with reckless indifference by compelling [him] to confess to a crime” (Am.
Compl. 3). He seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the alleged constitutional violation
and for pain and suffering. (Am. Compl. 3-4.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must review the Complaint
to determine whether it is subject to dismissal on the grounds that it is “frivolous,” “malicious,”
“fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted,” or “seeks monetary relief against a
defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). In its frivolity review, the
Court must determine whether the Complaint raises an “indisputably meritless legal theory,”
Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992), or is founded upon clearly baseless factual
contentions, such as “fantastic or delusional scenarios,” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 32728 (1989).
A complaint fails to state a claim if after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the
complaint as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those allegations in the
plaintiff's favor, the complaint does not contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). While a pro
se complaint must be construed liberally, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), the
liberal construction requirement will not permit a district court to ignore a plaintiff’s clear failure
to allege facts which set forth a claim that is cognizable under federal law, see Weller v. Dep't of
Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).
“To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by
the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was
committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that no person “shall be
compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” U.S. Const. amend. V. In order
to protect this right against self-incrimination, the Supreme Court has adopted procedural
safeguards for criminal suspects. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602 (1966).
Law enforcement officers must provide Miranda warnings to suspects in custody prior to
interrogation. Id. Once the suspect invokes his or her right to counsel, the custodial
interrogation must cease until an attorney is present or the suspect reinitiates conversation with
the police. See Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477, 484–85 (1981).
While Plaintiff’s allegations might suffice to prevent the use in a criminal trial of any
statements he made to Defendants after requesting counsel, violations of Miranda procedures do
not form the basis of a § 1983 claim for damages. See Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760, 772
(2003) (“Chavez's failure to read Miranda warnings to Martinez did not violate Martinez's
constitutional rights and cannot be grounds for a § 1983 action.”); see also Jones v. Cannon, 174
F.3d 1271, 1291 (11th Cir. 1999) (“[F]ailing to follow Miranda procedures triggers the
prophylactic protection of the exclusion of evidence, but does not violate any substantive Fifth
Amendment right such that a cause of action for money damages under § 1983 is created.”).
That is so because Miranda safeguards are “not themselves rights protected by the Constitution,
but [are] instead measures to insure that the right against compulsory self-incrimination [is]
protected.” Michigan v. Tucker, 417 U.S. 433, 444 (1974). Thus, in Chavez, a plurality of the
Supreme Court held that Fifth Amendment violations can occur only in the context of criminal
prosecutions, and as a result, coercive or uncounseled questioning by law enforcement officers
does not amount to a freestanding constitutional violation needed to support a § 1983 claim. 538
U.S. at 772-73. It is not until statements obtained in violation of Miranda safeguards are used
against a defendant at trial, “that a violation of the Self-incrimination Clause occurs.” Id. at 767.
Here, Plaintiff's contention that Defendants violated his Fifth Amendment rights by
subjecting him to a coercive custodial interrogation does not state a claim of a constitutional
violation because he does not allege that the statements he made were used against him in his
criminal prosecution. See e.g. Burrell v. Virginia, 395 F.3d 508, 513-14 (4th Cir. 2005)
(concluding pursuant to Chavez that a § 1983 complaint failed to state a claim where plaintiff did
“not allege any trial action that violated his Fifth Amendment rights”). Because Plaintiff has not
stated a claim of a constitutional violation, he has not stated a claim for relief under § 1983.
Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted,
see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The Court shall dismiss the Amended Complaint without prejudice,
however, so as not to foreclose Plaintiff’s ability to pursue relief in a future, properly-pleaded
IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that Plaintiff’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Amended
Complaint (Doc. No. 12) is DISMISSED without prejudice.
Signed: September 13, 2017
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