Lawyers for former U.S. intelligence contractor Reality Leigh Winner said in court on Feb. 27 that Winner was not read her Miranda Rights by FBI agents on June 3, 2016.
Winner’s lawyers want the statements that she made to the FBI to be thrown out because she was not advised of her Miranda Rights at her home in Augusta, Georgia.
The FBI is reportedly claimed that Winner was under custodial interrogation when she was questioned, and could leave anytime. But the FBI reportedly had warrants to search Winner’s person, her car and home, which meant she could not leave.
Winner pleaded not guilty to leaking a top-secret document to The Intercept news site about Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Winner has been charged under the World War I era Espionage Act, which was written to prosecute Americans who gave classified information to enemy countries.
Reality Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told Democracy Now that her daughter felt she was being detained against her will because the armed FBI agents “had search warrants for her home, her car and her person”:
This week, in court, her lawyers argued that, basically, the actions that the FBI agents took were actions that confined her. They had her in their custody.
She never felt at any time that she was free to leave. And in fact, her actions during the interview and during the whole process told them that she felt like she wasn’t free to leave.
She asked for permission to move about. She asked for permission to even use the restroom, which they gave her. She was at all times accompanied by agents.
And on that day, it was 11 FBI agents that came into this home to either interview her or search her. And so—and it is a very small home.
And so, basically, I get the impression that it was very frightening, it was very intimidating, for her that day…
And at no point did they return her cellphone to her, return her car keys to her. We saw photographs which definitely showed that her car was surrounded.
There would have been no physical way for her to even leave in her vehicle if she wanted to. And so, the argument that the defense made this week was a strong one, that she was basically being held here.
No, she was never read her Miranda rights. And the FBI agents did admit to that. They did admit that at no time did they read her Miranda rights or did they feel like they had to do that.
Kevin Gosztola, managing editor of Shadowproof Press, explained how the FBI wanted to question Winner, but at the same time claim that she was not in custody so that the FBI would not have to read Winner her Miranda Rights:
One of the aspects of the law that is at issue here is something that I didn’t really know, until this case, existed: a concept called custodial interrogation.
And FBI agents apparently can come into your home, and if you’re not in a police-dominated atmosphere, if a court of law doesn’t determine that police took over this area, then in fact you were never detained or arrested, and they can basically manipulate or have their way with you.
And so, what the judge is looking at here is whether enough factors appear where she is actually in custody. And if that’s the case, if the judge agrees with the defense, what they’ve listed off and what Billie was talking about, then, in fact, the judge may rule that her rights were violated.
And some other things that were talked about is the fact that, you know, she had a search warrant for her person—or the FBI had a search warrant for her person.
And when they came there, the government wants to maintain that they executed it when they took the cellphone. But about 28 minutes into this whole encounter, another agent, who did not take the stand, Wally Taylor, said something about still having a search warrant for her person.
Nobody is free to leave if the FBI still has a search warrant to execute against you. And so, clearly, she couldn’t have left her home and just wandered to the convenience store, as the government talked during the hearing.
Another aspect that’s important is that she was regarded, even before this encounter, as someone who was a danger to the community. That’s how the FBI viewed her. They also viewed her as a potential target of foreign intelligence.
One way that the defense really tried to poke at the government’s arguments that they didn’t do anything wrong was to say that if you have somebody in their home and they’re isolated in this way and they’re surrounded by a surveillance team, you’re not really going to let them leave and go into the community.
You know, if we’re going to follow your logic, you wouldn’t have let Reality Winner leave her house.