May 10, 2019
- Whether the defendant’s incriminating statements made before her Miranda warning violated her constitutional rights
The defendant was convicted of second degree murder of her three-year-old daughter. This appeal followed. Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress statements made to police prior to being advised of her Miranda rights. The pre-Miranda statements consisted of three sets of statements, in her home, in a police cruiser, and in a family waiting room at the police station. Each contained a different version of circumstances giving rise to her daughter’s fatal injuries. The trial court concluded that the defendant was not in custody until after she was advised of her Miranda rights.
The Court noted the relevant facts as follows. On November 25, 2014, the defendant called 911 and reported her daughter was unconscious. First responders and an officer responded to the home. The officer asked the defendant to step into an adjacent bedroom to obtain information for the purpose of facilitating medical treatment. The officer stood near the open door for a while and at some point closed the door. The unconscious daughter was subsequently transported to the hospital. A second officer arrived and introduced himself to the defendant and asked what happened to her daughter. The defendant stated that she distrusted police and wanted to go to the hospital. The officer left the bedroom and the defendant started using her cell phone. The officer then told her she could not use her phone and took it. The officer told the defendant she had to leave the house because it was being secured as a crime scene. The defendant wanted to go upstairs and the officer did not let her. The officer told the defendant that the children were being transported to the police station and he would prefer the defendant to go with her children. The defendant was told the children would remain in police custody until the police could determine what happened.
The defendant agreed to accompany the children to the police station. During the five-minute drive, a new officer asked the defendant what happened to her daughter. The defendant told different stories at each point. The family was escorted into a family waiting room. A new officer joined the conversation. The defendant gave another version of events of what happened to her daughter. The conversation continued for several hours, then, DCYF took custody of the two children. An officer then moved the defendant into a special investigations room. The officer obtained consent to photograph the home, collect her clothing, and examine and photograph her body for injuries to verify the defendant’s story. The defendant did not give consent to review her cell phone, and agreed with the officers that she was there voluntarily. The police took a break. When they returned, the defendant told an officer she was bored and wanted to talk. The officer then told the defendant that she was no longer free to leave and the police were obtaining a warrant. He explained that they could continue talking if she waived her Miranda rights and asked her to consent to an audio and video recording. The defendant did not consent to recording, but waived her Miranda rights. The officers then questioned her for hours, stopping periodically for breaks.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred when it (1) found she was not in custody prior to being advised of her Miranda rights; (2) failed to address her argument that the illegal obtained pre-Miranda statements tainted the post-Miranda statements. The Court conducted a de novo review. The Court concluded that the trial court did not err when it found that she was not in custody when she gave the court the pre-Miranda statements in her home, the police cruiser, and in the family waiting room at the police station. A defendant must be advised of her Miranda rights when there is a custodial interrogation by the police. In a custody analysis, two discrete inquiries are required, including (1) circumstances giving rise to the interrogation and (2) whether a reasonable person would have felt she was at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave. After conducting an analysis of the above-facts, the Court concluded that the defendant was not in custody until she was advised of her Miranda rights. Therefore, the Court held that the trial court did not err when it denied the defendant’s motion to suppress.
Andrew Wolpon, assistant appellate defender, Concord, for the defendant. Gordon MacDonald, attorney general (Erin Fitzgerald, assistant attorney general), for the State.