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United States v. Dehghani

December 22, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gruender, Circuit Judge.

Submitted: October 14, 2008

Before MELLOY, BEAM and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.

After a jury trial, Kamron Dehghani was convicted of four counts of various child pornography offenses. He appeals, arguing that the district court*fn1 erred in denying his motion to suppress, abused its discretion in failing to recuse at sentencing, and abused its discretion in imposing a procedurally flawed and substantively unreasonable sentence. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm.


In January 2006, a Kansas City, Missouri police investigation of child pornography-related messages posted to web sites led to an internet account registered at an address in Belton, Missouri. Detectives Maggie McGuire and Brian Roach visited the Belton address, which belonged to Kamron Dehghani and his wife. During the visit, with Dehghani's permission, Roach removed a computer from the residence. After a forensic evaluation of the computer revealed child pornography, the detectives contacted Dehghani to arrange an interview. Dehghani originally declined to meet with the detectives, claiming that he suffered anxiety problems when traveling long distances. After the detectives agreed to conduct the interview at a police station close to his residence and at a time when his wife could drive him, Dehghani agreed to be interviewed.

The detectives' interview with Dehghani began around 6:30 p.m. and ended approximately five and a half hours later. At the beginning of the interview, McGuire read Dehghani his Miranda*fn2 rights from a form. Dehghani read the form back to McGuire and signed it. Dehghani initially denied having any involvement with child pornography. At one point during the interview, Roach slammed his hand on the table and, in a loud tone of voice, told Dehghani that if he continued denying involvement, he would be arrested. Roach then told Dehghani he needed to get ready for the arrest by taking everything out of his pockets and removing his belt and shoelaces. As Dehghani emptied his pockets, he told the detectives that they were correct when they earlier suggested that some people might be curious about child pornography because they had been abuse victims themselves. Dehghani stated that he was molested by his father and began to cry. After the detectives resumed questioning, Dehghani continued to deny his involvement with child pornography until the detectives confronted him with evidence from his computer, at which point he confessed. The detectives then prepared a statement reflecting Dehghani's answers to their questions, which Dehghani signed, and they allowed Dehghani to go home.

A federal grand jury indicted Dehghani on charges of publishing a notice to exchange child pornography over the internet, 18 U.S.C. § 2251(d), attempting to receive child pornography, 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2), attempting to distribute child pornography, 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2), and possession of child pornography, 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4). Before trial, Dehghani filed a motion to suppress his statements from the interview. The district court found that Dehghani knowingly waived his Miranda rights and made his statements voluntarily. A jury found Dehghani guilty on all counts of the indictment.

While in custody awaiting sentencing before Judge Fenner, Dehghani attempted to send a letter to a newspaper that contained a threat to the judge's life. The letter alluded to the location of the judge's home and referred to his wife and stepson. The letter also included threats to assassinate President Bush, to plant bombs on city buses, and to poison the city's drinking water. Dehghani also hatched an escape plot with another inmate in which they would use a sharpened toothbrush to subdue a female guard. After the threats and the escape plot, including the sharpened toothbrush, were discovered, Dehghani filed a motion seeking the recusal of Judge Fenner, arguing that he would be biased because of Dehghani's threat to the judge. Judge Fenner denied Dehghani's recusal motion, explaining that Dehghani's threat against him was an attempt to manipulate the criminal justice system and that Dehghani had no realistic ability to carry out the threat.

At sentencing, the district court calculated a total offense level of 39, including a two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice under United States Sentencing Guidelines § 3C1.1, and a criminal history category of I, resulting in an advisory sentencing guidelines range of 262 to 327 months' imprisonment. The district court then sentenced Dehghani to 432 months' imprisonment after finding that the advisory guidelines range did not fully account for the scope of Dehghani's criminal conduct or the extent of his attempts to obstruct justice. Dehghani appeals, arguing that his statement to the detectives was involuntary and should have been suppressed, that Judge Fenner should have recused himself, and that the sentence was procedurally flawed and substantively unreasonable.


We first address Dehghani's argument that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress. Dehghani alleges that the detectives' coercive tactics overcame his will and that his confession was, therefore, involuntary. "We review the district court's factual findings for clear error and its conclusion regarding the voluntariness of a confession de novo." United States v. Brave Heart, 397 F.3d 1035, 1040-41 (8th Cir. 2005). A statement is involuntary if the totality of the circumstances show that "pressures exerted by the authorities overwhelmed the defendant's will." United States v. Martin, 369 F.3d 1046, 1055 (8th Cir. 2004). However, an interrogation of a suspect will always involve some pressure "because its purpose is to elicit a confession." Id. A lengthy interrogation, a raised voice or deception do not render a confession involuntary "unless the overall impact of the interrogation caused the defendant's will to be overborne." Id.

In support of his argument that his statement was involuntary, Dehghani contends that the detectives overcame his will by physically intimidating him, promising that he would not be jailed if he confessed, and questioning him after he had an emotional breakdown. The magistrate judge's report and recommendation, adopted by the district court, made several factual findings that rebut Dehghani's claims.*fn3 The court found that although Roach slammed his hand on the table and raised his voice, he did not physically intimidate Dehghani by, for example, raising his fists or using profanity. The court also found that the detectives never told Dehghani he would not be arrested if he confessed. The court additionally found that although Dehghani cried, he did not cry uncontrollably or appear disoriented. He did not confess immediately after crying; instead, he continued to deny involvement with child pornography until the detectives confronted him with evidence from his computer. None of these findings of fact are clearly erroneous in light of the detectives' testimony. See United States v. Hines, 387 F.3d 690, 695 (8th Cir. 2004) (explaining that a trial judge's decision to credit testimony of witnesses who tell coherent and facially plausible stories that are not contradicted by extrinsic evidence "can virtually never be clear error"). Based on these findings, we find no error in the district court's conclusion that, considering the totality of the circumstances, the detectives did not overcome Dehghani's will. See United States v. Santos-Garcia, 313 F.3d 1073, 1079 (8th Cir. 2002) (noting that raised voices and promises of leniency do not render a confession involuntary); cf. Gingras v. Weber, 543 F.3d 1001, 1003 (8th Cir. 2008) (finding no involuntary confession where defendant had stopped crying by the time he confessed).

Furthermore, there is no evidence that Dehghani was particularly susceptible to the detectives' pressure. Dehghani appeared to be of at least average intelligence because his answers to questions were coherent, if not always truthful, and he displayed some understanding of the internet and file-sharing programs. See, e.g., United States v. LeBrun, 363 F.3d 715, 726 (8th Cir. 2004) (en banc) (noting that when a defendant possesses at least "average intelligence," his inculpatory statements are less likely to be compelled). Moreover, the court found that Dehghani had at least nine years of education, an amount that does not render his confession involuntary per se. See United States v. Makes Room, 49 F.3d 410, 415 (8th Cir. 1995) (explaining that a defendant's eighth grade education, among other factors, did not make his confession involuntary where he clearly understood his rights). Additionally, although Dehghani argues that he was affected by certain medications he had taken on the day of the interview, the court found that there was no evidence that Dehghani's medication impaired him in any way. This finding is not clearly erroneous in light of the detectives' testimony that Dehghani did not appear impaired and that he gave clear, responsive answers to the detectives' questions. See Martin, 369 F.3d at 1056 (finding no clear error in the district court's determination that the ...

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