Legal Updates Spring 2019

Investigator's promises rendered the defendant's confession involuntary (Case 1)

In Cardman v. People (August 2019) the Supreme Court of Colorado found that defendant's statements were involuntarily made and that his will was "overborne by police coercion." From the Supreme Court's opinion:

Cardman was interviewed by the police about whether or not he had sexually abused a seven-year-old child. After initially denying the allegations, Cardman incriminated himself "after the detective made certain promises."

"The interview was coercive and disturbing. Cardman initially denied doing anything of a sexual nature with A.W. The detective told Cardman that he did not believe him. But Cardman remained steadfast in his denial. As the interrogation progressed, though, the detective conveyed to Cardman that the case would go away and would not proceed if Cardman met A.W. halfway and apologized to her. When the detective said, "if we can provide an explanation to help this go away for you," Cardman interrupted him: "I would love that." And the detective responded with encouragement: "Okay, so then let's fix that. Let's fix that. Because right now, it's not going away." .. He then told Cardman that he could put the case "in a drawer" if Cardman admitted to some "inappropriate sexual stuff." ... After the detective asked Cardman if he understood what he was telling him, he added that he was "trying to paint the picture" for him. Cardman then appeared to seek confirmation that his understanding of the detective's promises was accurate: "If I can get this all figured out, closed out, dealt with, I can go home tomorrow." And the detective responded: "Let's do it."

[the investigator] elicited incriminating statements from Cardman by repeatedly promising that, if he met A.W. halfway, apologized to her, and admitted to some inappropriate sexual conduct with her that was not as egregious as sexually assaulting her fifty to sixty times, he would not be prosecuted for it. Cardman then admitted to inappropriate sexual conduct with A.W. on a few occasions, and the State later used those admissions to obtain a conviction against him. Because Cardman's will was overborne by police coercion, we conclude that his statements were involuntarily made. Therefore, it was error for the court to admit them into evidence at trial.

Click here for the complete decision.

Investigator's promises rendered the defendant's confession involuntary (Case 2)

In State v. L.H (July 2019) the Supreme Court of New Jersey upheld the lower court's decision that the defendant's confession was involuntary due to promises of leniency. From the Supreme Court's opinion:

The primary issue in this appeal is whether the interrogation techniques that induced defendant L.H. to confess crossed the forbidden line drawn by our case law. In this case, the police took defendant into custody on suspicion that he had sexually assaulted two women and attempted to sexually assault another woman. During an interrogation that lasted approximately three hours, the two interrogating detectives repeatedly promised defendant counseling, indicating that he would not go to jail if he cooperated. The detectives also told defendant that "the truth would set him free" -- advice seemingly at odds with the Miranda1 warning given to defendant that anything he said could be used against him. More than an hour into the interrogation, defendant made incriminating statements that implicated him in all three crimes. He was arrested and criminally charged.

... Therefore, like the Appellate Division, we conclude that the detectives secured an involuntary confession.

Click here for the complete decision.

Defendant does not have to know the issue he will be questioned about to make a knowing and intelligent waiver of rights

In People v. Molano (June 2019) the Supreme Court of California found that the defendant made a knowing, intelligent and voluntary waiver of his Miranda rights even though he was not advised of the true nature of the purpose of the questioning. From the Supreme Court's opinion:

Defendant claims his initial Miranda waiver was constitutionally invalid because he was deceived into waiving his rights at the outset of the San Quentin interview. Specifically, he agreed to speak to Chicoine because Chicoine said he was a sex crime investigator conducting a routine pre-release interview of defendant, who would have to register as a sex offender under section 290. According to defendant, because of Chicoine's deliberate falsehood the waiver was not knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. The claim fails.

The governing principles are well established. Before subjecting suspects to custodial interrogation, the police must inform them of their Miranda rights and obtain a waiver that is knowing, voluntary, and intelligent.. The test for validity is as follows. "First, the relinquishment of the right must have been voluntary in the sense that it was the product of a free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation, coercion, or deception. Second, the waiver must have been made with a full awareness of both the nature of the right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon it. Only if the 'totality of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation' reveals both an uncoerced choice and the requisite level of comprehension may a court properly conclude that the Miranda rights have been waived."

There is no factual dispute as to the circumstances of defendant's initial waiver at San Quentin. Chicoine testified that he and Dudek came up with a "ruse" to make defendant think they had come to talk to him about sex offender registration matters. Chicoine told defendant that he had "files full" of sex registrants, and that "the objective" was for defendant to stay out of the "red file" on his desk of "the guys I'm going after." Chicoine did not reveal that he was investigating McKenna's death. Nonetheless, he did say that he wanted to talk to defendant "about some of your past crimes and some of the sex registration laws and things like that." (Italics added.)

The high court has made it clear that merely withholding certain information from a defendant does not invalidate a Miranda waiver. In Moran, supra, 475 U.S. 412, 106 S.Ct. 1135, a public defender called the police station where the defendant was in custody on a burglary arrest. She said she would act as his counsel if he were to be interrogated and was told he would not be. However, the defendant's cohorts in the burglary had implicated him in a murder, and police from a different jurisdiction soon began questioning him about that crime. The defendant waived his Miranda rights and gave a statement. (Moran, at p. 417, 106 S.Ct. 1135.) The court affirmed the denial of a suppression motion, holding there was no need for the police to inform the defendant that his attorney was trying to reach him.

Noting there was no question the waiver was voluntary, and that the defendant understood his rights, the Moran court said "[e]vents occurring outside of the presence of the suspect and entirely unknown to him surely can have no bearing on the capacity to comprehend and knowingly relinquish a constitutional right." (Moran, supra, 475 U.S. at p. 422, 106 S.Ct. 1135.) The court reasoned that "we have never read the Constitution to require that the police supply a suspect with a flow of information to help him calibrate his self-interest in deciding whether to speak or stand by his rights.. Once it is determined that a suspect's decision not to rely on his rights was uncoerced, that he at all times knew he could stand mute and request a lawyer, and that he was aware of the State's intention to use his statements to secure a conviction, the analysis is complete and the waiver is valid as a matter of law."

...Not withstanding Chicoine's failure to disclose that he was investigating McKenna's death, defendant was aware that he was speaking with law enforcement officers and that the scope of the interview would include his "past crimes." Having received full and complete Miranda warnings, defendant was also aware that anything he said during the interview could be used against him. This "broad and explicit warning" conveyed to defendant "the nature of his constitutional privilege and the consequences of abandoning it." .. "Thus, in general, a suspect in custody who, having heard and understood a full explanation of these rights, then makes an uncompelled and uncoerced decision to talk, has thereby knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived them." .. the fact that the officers did not tell defendant they were going to ask him about McKenna's killing does not invalidate the waiver. Defendant's lack of.. "awareness of all the possible subjects of questioning in advance of interrogation is not relevant to determining whether [he] voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his Fifth Amendment privilege."

Click here for the complete decision.

Confession voluntariness and the value of recording the interrogation (Case 1)

In Janusiak v. Cooper (August 2019) the US Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, rejected the defendant's claim that her statements were coerced by (1) comments that law enforcement made to her about keeping access to her children, (2) the length and other features of the interrogation, and (3) her vulnerability as a pregnant woman and mother. From the Court's opinion:

Janusiak was charged with first-degree intentional homicide. Before trial, she moved to suppress a video recording of the interrogation. The trial court denied the motion, and the recording was shown to the jury to undermine her credibility with her inconsistent story. The state appellate court described the testimony received at the suppression hearing and the trial court's ruling on Janusiak's motion:

At the hearing on voluntariness, Janusiak did not testify. The officers who conducted the interview testified to facts that included the following. Janusiak was cooperative and willing to go to the police station for the interview. Janusiak was not in handcuffs either prior to entering the interview room or during the interview. The entire interview was recorded. Janusiak was read, understood, and waived her Miranda rights. The officers provided Janusiak with soda and with "at least three" breaks during the interview, which Janusiak used to smoke or to use the restroom. Janusiak appeared to understand the interview questions and did not appear to be tired.

Based on this testimony and a viewing of the recording of the interview, the circuit court determined that the statements were made voluntarily. The court noted that the interview session was lengthy (approximately seven hours including breaks), but found that Janusiak "did not appear to be over tired or unable to exercise her free will during the interview." The court found that there were "at least a couple" breaks in the questioning and that the officers offered Janusiak food and drink during the interview. Addressing Janusiak's arguments that the officers coerced her statements by promising her that she would return home to her children and would not go to jail if she cooperated, the court found that "the officers were confrontational about her explanation for the victim's injuries which they believe did not match what they were being provided by medical professionals." However, the court also found that nothing that the officers did or said "rose to the level of coercive police conduct." The court ultimately concluded that the statements "were voluntary under the totality of the circumstances," because police did not use "improper ... practices or coercion" "to obtain the statements."

In sum, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals' decision was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, nor was it based on any unreasonable factual finding. The district court's judgment denying Janusiak's petition is AFFIRMED.

Click here for the complete decision.

Confession voluntariness and the value of recording the interrogation (Case 2)

In Johnson v. Winn (August 2019) the US District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division upheld the lower court's decision that the defendant's confession was voluntarily made. From the Court's opinion:

Petitioner's first claim for relief concerns the admissibility of his statements to police. He argues that his confession and waiver of his Miranda rights were involuntary for these reasons: (1) he was interrogated numerous times for several hours, resulting in a total interrogation time of approximately nine hours; (2) he was held "completely cut off from his family and anyone else for 24 hours"; (3) he was deprived of sleep; (4) he may not have been provided food; (5) the officers repeatedly told defendant they did not believe him, increasing the pressure to confess; and (6) he was young and inexperienced, having never have been convicted of a crime.

Based upon the Walker hearing testimony and a review of the interview tapes, the trial court denied Petitioner's motion to suppress the confession. The trial court summarized its findings as follows:

In observing the interviews, this Court did not see that the officers in any way badgered the defendant, they didn't attempt to lead him in any way. The defendant was coherent, he didn't appear to be under the influence of any medication or other drugs. The defendant is a high school graduate and he also indicated that he was taking classes at Henry Ford Community College. The defendant appeared to understand what was being asked of him and what was said to him.

Based upon my observations of both the DVDs and the testimony that's been - - that was heard by this Court, it appears to this Court that the defendant did voluntarily waive his rights based upon the totality of the circumstances, and that nothing that I heard or that I saw indicated that his confession was either coerced or that he did not understand what was going on.

So this Court is not going to suppress the defendant's confession.

The Michigan Court of Appeals also denied Petitioner's claim:

Given this record, the totality of the circumstances indicate that defendant was not coerced through prolonged questioning or detention, …. There is no evidence that defendant was threatened, abused, or promised anything in exchange for his statements. Nor is there evidence that the police deliberately isolated defendant from his family for the purpose of coercing a confession or that defendant ever requested the opportunity to speak with his family. Even if he had, the police would not have been required to grant such a request for an adult suspect facing a murder charge. There is likewise no evidence that defendant was ill, intoxicated, under the influence of drugs, or deprived of food or drink. Although defendant claims that he was sleep deprived, defendant never complained or indicated to the police that he was tired, and the video recording and the detective's testimony demonstrates that defendant was consistently alert, attentive, and focused on the questions asked of him….

Viewing the totality of the circumstances, we are not convinced that a mistake was made in denying defendant's motion to suppress his statements. Defendant did not testify about the circumstances of his statements. Thus, the trial court rendered its decision from the video recordings of defendant's interviews and the testimony of the officers who conducted the interviews, which the trial court apparently found to be credible. Because the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court's finding, and giving deference to the trial court's assessment of the evidence and the officers' credibility, there is no basis to disturb the trial court's findings.

The Court has reviewed the videotaped interviews that are part of the state court's and this Court's records. Nothing in the tapes contradicts or calls into question the state courts' conclusion that Petitioner's statements were voluntary.

Considering the totality of these circumstances, the Michigan Court of Appeals' decision that Petitioner's statements were made voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of federal law. Therefore, habeas relief is denied on this claim.

Click here for the complete decision.