Statements a private investigator gave to agents as they searched his home in the investigation of a DWI bribery scheme in the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office can be used as evidence in his upcoming trial, a federal magistrate judge has found.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna’s finding is a recommendation to U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote, who has the final say, but such recommendations are generally followed.
Robert Williamson faces trial June 8 in a case that already has netted guilty pleas from five others, including three former employees of the District Attorney’s Office.
Federal prosecutors have not publicly revealed the substance of what Williamson said when questioned as a team of federal and local agents searched his home for evidence on the evening of Feb. 27, 2012.
Williamson argued at a court hearing last week that his statements should not be allowed as evidence against him because investigators never advised him of his right to remain silent or to contact an attorney, the so-called “Miranda warning.”
Hanna sided with federal prosecutors, who countered that Williamson was not under arrest or even being detained at the time, conditions that would require investigators to read him his rights if they planned to use his statements in court.
“Police officers are not required to administer Miranda warnings to everyone whom they question,” Hanna wrote in an 18-page recommendation issued Friday.
Hanna noted in the ruling that Williamson was not arrested during the search, was not handcuffed, was told he could leave at any time, and was allowed to keep his cellphone and use it during the search.
The judge wrote that “a reasonable person in Williamson’s position would have understood that he could stop the interview at any time and leave the premises — even if he chose not to do so.”
Williamson faces charges of fraud, bribery and lying to a federal agent in an investigation of allegations that he charged cash fees to his clients to secure special plea deals, mainly in DWI cases.
The deals allowed for a quick resolution of the charges, which in many cases were wiped from public record within a few months.
Prosecutors said he secured those deals by doling out cash and gifts to District Attorney’s Office employees.
Evidence in the case includes several recorded conversations obtained via a wire tap on Williamson’s phone, which federal agents had been monitoring since September 2011, about six months before they searched his home.
The February 2012 search of Williamson’s home came the same day the FBI also searched the District Attorney’s Office in Lafayette.
Former District Attorney Mike Harson has not been implicated in the investigation, but it was a major campaign issue in a race he lost on Nov. 4 to retired prosecutor Keith Stutes.