State v. Benitez, 2022-NCCOA-261

Held: 
Affirmed

Facts: The trial court was instructed, on remand (State v. Benitez, 258 N.C. App. 491, 813 S.E.2d 268 (2018)), to conduct a review of the totality of the circumstances of the juvenile’s statements to law enforcement to determine if the juvenile knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights. The juvenile made the statements at age 13 during two and a half hours of questioning that occurred at the Sheriff’s office. The statements were made through an interpreter and in the presence of the juvenile’s uncle. The juvenile’ initial motion to suppress was denied, and he subsequently pled guilty to first-degree murder.  On remand, the trial court again denied the motion to suppress.

Opinion: Whether a juvenile understood Miranda warnings does not require testimony of an expert. It is a question of law to be answered by the court based on the evidence presented by both sides. The trial court appropriately considered evidence regarding the circumstances surrounding the interrogation, as well as the juvenile’s age, experience, education, background, intelligence, and capacity to understand the warnings given him, the nature of his Fifth Amendment rights, and the consequences of waiving those rights.  The trial court did not need further expert testimony on these topics to make its determination. The trial court was also clear that evidence from the capacity hearing, held well after the interrogation occurred, was not used in determining that the defendant understood the Miranda warnings at the time of interrogation. The binding findings of fact support the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress.

Category:
Motions to Suppress
Stage:
Custodial Interrogation
Topic:
Waiver of Rights
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