Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

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E.g., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021
Howes v. Fields, 565 U.S. 499 (Feb. 21, 2012)

The Sixth Circuit erroneously concluded that a prisoner is in custody within the meaning of Miranda if the prisoner is taken aside and questioned about events that occurred outside the prison. While incarcerated, Randall Fields was escorted by a corrections officer to a conference room where two sheriff’s deputies questioned him about allegations that, before he came to prison, he had engaged in sexual conduct with a 12-year-old boy. In order to get to the conference room, Fields had to go down one floor and pass through a locked door that separated two sections of the facility. Fields arrived at the conference room between 7 and 9 pm and was questioned for between five and seven hours. At the beginning of the interview, Fields was told that he was free to leave and return to his cell. Later, he was again told that he could leave whenever he wanted. The interviewing deputies were armed, but Fields remained free of handcuffs and other restraints. The door to the conference room was sometimes open and sometimes shut. About halfway through the interview, after Fields had been confronted with the allegations of abuse, he became agitated and began to yell. One of the deputies, using an expletive, told Fields to sit down and said that “if [he] didn’t want to cooperate, [he] could leave.” Fields eventually confessed to engaging in sex acts with the boy. Fields claimed that he said several times during the interview that he no longer wanted to talk to the deputies, but he did not ask to go back to his cell before the interview ended. When he was eventually ready to leave, he had to wait an additional 20 minutes or so because an officer had to be called to escort him back to his cell, and he did not return to his cell until well after when he generally went to bed. At no time was Fields given Miranda warnings or advised that he did not have to speak with the deputies. Fields was charged with criminal sexual conduct. Fields unsuccessfully moved to suppress his confession and the jury convicted him of criminal sexual conduct. After an unsuccessful direct appeal, Fields filed for federal habeas relief. The federal district court granted relief and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that the interview was a custodial interrogation because isolation from the general prison population combined with questioning about conduct occurring outside the prison makes any such interrogation custodial per se. Reversing, the Court stated: “it is abundantly clear that our precedents do not clearly establish the categorical rule on which the Court of Appeals relied, i.e., that the questioning of a prisoner is always custodial when the prisoner is removed from the general prison population and questioned about events that occurred outside the prison.” “On the contrary,” the Court stated, “we have repeatedly declined to adopt any categorical rule with respect to whether the questioning of a prison inmate is custodial.” The Court went on to hold that based on the facts presented, Fields was not in custody for purpose of Miranda.

In this North Carolina case, the Court held, in a five-to-four decision, that the age of a child subjected to police questioning is relevant to the Miranda custody analysis. J.D.B. was a 13-year-old, seventh-grade middle school student when he was removed from his classroom by a uniformed police officer, brought to a conference room, and questioned by police. This was the second time that police questioned J.D.B. in a week. Five days earlier, two home break-ins occurred, and items were stolen. Police stopped and questioned J.D.B. after he was seen behind a residence in the neighborhood where the crimes occurred. That same day, police spoke to J.D.B.’s grandmother—his legal guardian—and his aunt. Police later learned that a digital camera matching the description of one of the stolen items had been found at J.D.B.’s school and in his possession. Investigator DiCostanzo went to the school to question J.D.B. A uniformed school resource officer removed J.D.B. from his classroom and escorted him to a conference room, where J.D.B. was met by DiCostanzo, the assistant principal, and an administrative intern. The door to the conference room was closed. With the two police officers and the two administrators present, J.D.B. was questioned for 30-45 minutes. Before the questioning began, J.D.B. was given neither Miranda warnings nor the opportunity to speak to his grandmother. Nor was he informed that he was free to leave. J.D.B. eventually confessed to the break-ins. Juvenile petitions were filed against J.D.B. and at trial, J.D.B.’s lawyer moved to suppress his statements, arguing that J.D.B. had been subjected to a custodial police interrogation without Miranda warnings. The trial court denied the motion and J.D.B. was adjudicated delinquent. The N.C. Court of Appeals affirmed. The N.C. Supreme Court held that J.D.B. was not in custody, declining to extend the test for custody to include consideration of the age of the individual questioned. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Miranda custody analysis includes consideration of a juvenile suspect’s age and concluding, in part: “[A] reasonable child subjected to police questioning will sometimes feel pressured to submit when a reasonable adult would feel free to go. We think it clear that courts can account for that reality without doing any damage to the objective nature of the custody analysis.” Slip Op. at 8. The Court distinguished a child’s age “from other personal characteristics that, even when known to police, have no objectively discernible relationship to a reasonable person’s understanding of his freedom of action.” Slip Op. at 11. It held: “[S]o long as the child’s age was known to the officer at the time of police questioning, or would have been objectively apparent to a reasonable officer, its inclusion in the custody analysis is consistent with the objective nature of that test.” Slip Op. at 14. However, the Court cautioned: “This is not to say that a child’s age will be a determinative, or even a significant, factor in every case.” Id. The Court remanded for the North Carolina courts to determine whether J.D.B. was in custody when the police interrogated him, “this time taking account of all of the relevant circumstances of the interrogation, including J.D.B.’s age.” Slip Op. at 18.

State v. Hammonds, 370 N.C. 158 (Sept. 29, 2017)

Because the defendant was in custody while confined under a civil commitment order, the failure of the police to advise him of his Miranda rights rendered inadmissible his incriminating statements made during the interrogation. On December 10, 2012, a Stephanie Gaddy was robbed. On December 11, 2012, after the defendant was taken to a hospital emergency room following an intentional overdose, he was confined pursuant to an involuntary commitment order upon a finding by a magistrate that he was “mentally ill and dangerous to self or others.” Officers identified the defendant as a suspect in the robbery and learned he was confined to the hospital under the involuntary commitment order. On December 12 they questioned him without informing him of his Miranda rights. The defendant provided incriminating statements. At trial he unsuccessfully moved to suppress the statements made during the December 12th interview. The defendant was convicted and he appealed. Before the Court of Appeals, the majority determined that the trial court properly found that the defendant was not in custody at the time of the interview and that the trial court’s findings of fact supported its conclusion of law that the confession was voluntary. A dissenting judge concluded that the trial court’s findings of fact were insufficient. The defendant filed an appeal of right with the Supreme Court, which vacated the opinion of the Court of Appeals and instructed and the trial court to hold a new hearing on the suppression motion. After taking additional evidence the trial court again denied the motion. When the case came back before the Supreme Court, it reversed. The court noted, in part, that the defendant’s freedom of movement was already severely restricted by the civil commitment order. However the officers failed to inform him that he was free to terminate the questioning and, more importantly, communicated to him that they would leave only after he spoke to them about the robbery. Specifically, they told him that “as soon as he talked, they could leave.” The court found that “these statements, made to a suspect whose freedom is already severely restricted because of an involuntary commitment, would lead a reasonable person in this position to believe that he was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation without first answering his interrogators’ questions about his suspected criminal activity.” (quotations omitted). 

State v. Waring, 364 N.C. 443 (Nov. 5, 2010)

A capital defendant was not in custody when he admitted that he stabbed the victim. Considering the totality of the circumstances, the defendant is an adult with prior criminal justice system experience; the officer who first approached the defendant told him that he was being detained until detectives arrived but that he was not under arrest; when the detectives arrived and told him that he was not under arrest, the defendant voluntarily agreed to go to the police station; the defendant was never restrained and was left alone in the interview room with the door unlocked and no guard; he was given several bathroom breaks and offered food and drink; the defendant was cooperative; the detectives did not raise their voices, use threats, or make promises; the defendant was never misled, deceived, or confronted with false evidence; once the defendant admitted his involvement in the killing, the interview ended and he was given his Miranda rights. Although the first officer told the defendant that he was “detained,” he also told the defendant he was not under arrest. Any custody associated with the detention ended when the defendant voluntarily accompanied detectives, who confirmed that he was not under arrest. The defendant’s inability to leave the interview room without supervision or escort did not suggest custody; the defendant was in a non-public area of the station and prevention of unsupervised roaming in such a space would not cause a reasonable person to think that a formal arrest had occurred.

Considering the circumstances under which Miranda warnings are required when a member of the Armed Forces is questioned by a superior officer about involvement in the commission of a crime, the court concluded that the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s motion to suppress statements to the officer lacked findings of fact on key issues and that the trial court did not fully apply the correct legal standard; it held however that the trial court properly denied a motion to suppress statements in a jail letter. The defendant’s motion to suppress pertained, in relevant part, to two items of inculpatory evidence: an oral statement made to Sgt. Schlegelmilch, a non-commissioned first sergeant in the third brigade of the United States Army, on 18 August 2011; and written statements contained in a letter sent by the defendant from jail to Sgt. Schlegelmilch.

(1) As to the oral statement made to Schlegelmilch, the court vacated and remanded, finding that the trial court did not make factual findings on several issues integral to the question of whether a Miranda violation had occurred and it failed to fully apply the correct legal standard applicable to the issue. The defendant argued that because he was interrogated by a superior officer who had the power to arrest him, a custodial interrogation occurred. The State countered that no custodial arrest can occur unless the soldier is questioned by a commissioned officer with independent arrest authority. Citing federal law, the court noted that a commanding officer may delegate arrest authority to a non-commissioned officer. When this has occurred, the non-commissioned officer’s interrogation of the soldier can trigger the need for Miranda warnings. Here, it is undisputed that Schlegelmilch was a non-commissioned officer. Therefore to resolve the issue of whether the defendant was entitled to Miranda warnings, it is necessary to determine whether she had previously been delegated authority to arrest the defendant by a commanding officer as authorized by federal law. However, the trial court did not make any findings of fact as to whether such a delegation occurred. Additionally, the trial court’s order suggests that it failed to understand the potential applicability of Miranda if Schlegelmilch had, in fact, been delegated authority to arrest and then proceeded to question him under circumstances amounting to custodial interrogation. Nor, the court continued, did the trial court make findings about the specific degree to which the defendant’s liberty had been restricted when he made the statements. The court thus vacated the portion of the trial court’s suppression order relating to the statements and remanded for additional findings of fact and conclusions of law, along with a new hearing if necessary.

(2) The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the contents of the jail letter. While the defendant was being held in jail after his arrest, the decision was made to initiate military discharge proceedings against him. When the defendant was delivered a notice of separation, he signed a memorandum indicating that he would not contest the proceedings. Thereafter and while in jail, he exchanged letters with Schlegelmilch. In the reply letter at issue, the defendant gave an account of the victim’s death, including inculpatory statements. The defendant argued that the letter should have been suppressed because it was a response to a letter from Schlegelmilch asking the defendant to explain how the victim had died and thus constituted a custodial interrogation. The court rejected this argument, finding the circumstances under which the letter was written did not implicate Miranda. First, it noted the defendant’s failure to cite any cases supporting the proposition that questioning conducted through an exchange of letters can constitute a custodial interrogation for purposes of Miranda, nor did the court’s own research reveal any legal authority for that proposition. Furthermore, the court noted, when the defendant responded to Schlegelmilch’s letter, he was in the midst of being discharged from the military, was not contesting those proceedings, and thus the circumstances “simply do not amount to the type of coercive environment that Miranda was intended to address.” The court thus affirmed the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress with respect to the letter.

In this impaired driving case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress self-incriminating statements made without Miranda warnings, finding that the defendant was not in custody at the time. The standard for determining whether an individual is in custody for purposes of Miranda is, based on the totality of the circumstances, whether there was a formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement to a degree associated with a formal arrest. In this case, the defendant argued that when the detective retained his drivers license he was seized, not free to leave, and thus entitled to Miranda warnings. The court found that the defendant had erroneously conflated the Miranda custody standard with the standard for a seizure. Noting that the defendant was not under formal arrest at the time he was questioned, the court determined that under the totality of the circumstances the defendant’s movement was not restrained to the degree associated with a formal arrest. The court noted that the inquiry is an objective one, not a subjective one. Here, the defendant was standing outside of his own vehicle while speaking with the detective. He was not told he was under arrest or handcuffed, and other than his license being retained, his movement was not stopped or limited further. No mention of any possible suspicion of the defendant being involved in criminal activity, impaired driving or otherwise, had yet been made. A reasonable person in these circumstances would not have believed that he was under arrest at the time.

In this child sexual assault case, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that his confession was obtained in violation of Miranda. During an interview at the sheriff’s department, the defendant admitted that he had sex with the victim. The transcript and videotape of the interview was admitted at trial. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that a custodial interrogation occurred. The defendant contacted a detective investigating the case and voluntarily traveled to the sheriff’s department. After the detective invited the defendant to speak with her, the defendant followed her to an interview room. The defendant was not handcuffed or restrained and the interview room door and hallway doors were unlocked. The defendant neither asked to leave nor expressed any reservations about speaking with the detective. A reasonable person in the defendant’s position would not have understood this to be a custodial interrogation.

Although the defendant was in handcuffs at the time of the questioning, he was not, based on the totality of the circumstances, “in custody” for purposes of Miranda. While the defendant was visiting his cousin’s house, a parole officer arrived to search of the cousin’s home. The parole officer recognized the defendant as a probationer and the officer advised him that he was also subject to a warrantless search because of his probation status. The officer put the defendant in handcuffs “for officer safety” and seated the two men on the front porch while officers conducted a search. During the search, the parole officer found a jacket with what appeared to be crack cocaine inside a pocket. The officer asked the defendant and his cousin to identify the owner of the jacket. The defendant claimed the jacket and was charged with a drug offense. The court held: “Based on the totality of circumstances, we conclude that a reasonable person in Defendant’s situation, though in handcuffs would not believe his restraint rose to the level of the restraint associated with a formal arrest.” The court noted that the regular conditions of probation include the requirement that a probation submit to warrantless searches. Also, the defendant was informed that he would be placed in handcuffs for officer safety and he was never told that his detention was anything other than temporary. Further, the court reasoned, “as a probationer subject to random searches as a condition of probation, Defendant would objectively understand the purpose of the restraints and the fact that the period of restraint was for a temporary duration.”

(1) The defendant was not in custody when he gave statements to officers at the hospital. The victim was killed in a robbery perpetrated by the defendant and his accomplice. The defendant was shot during the incident and brought to the hospital. He sought to suppress statements made to police officers at the hospital, arguing that they were elicited during a custodial interrogation for which he had not been given his Miranda warnings. There was no evidence that the defendant knew a guard was present when the interview was conducted; the defendant was interrogated in an open area of the ICU where other patients, nurses, and doctors were situated and he had no legitimate reason to believe that he was in police custody; none of the officers who were guarding him spoke with him about the case prior to the interview; the detectives who did so wore plain clothes; and there was no evidence that the defendant’s movements were restricted by anything other than the injuries he had sustained and the medical equipment connected to him. Additionally, based on the evidence, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the interrogation was custodial because he was under the influence of pain and other medication that could have affected his comprehension. It also rejected the defendant’s argument that he was in custody because the detectives arrived at the hospital with the intention of arresting him. Although they may have had this intention, it was not made known to the defendant and thus has no bearing on whether the interview was custodial. (2) Where there was no evidence that the defendant’s first statement, given in the hospital, was coerced, there was no support for his contention that his second statement was tainted by the first. (3) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his inculpatory statements resulted from substantial violations of Chapter 15A requiring suppression.

(1) Because the defendant was handcuffed and placed under arrest, the trial court erred by concluding that the defendant was not in custody when he made a statement to the officer. (2) The defendant was subject to an interrogation when, after handcuffing the defendant, placing him under arrest, and conducting a pat down, the officer asked, “Do you have anything else on you?” The defendant, who was in front of a doorway to a motel room, stated, “I have weed in the room.” (3) The court rejected the State’s argument that the public safety exception established in New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984) applied. The court found the facts of the case at hand “noticeably distinguishable” from those in Quarles, noting that the defendant was not suspected of carrying a gun or other weapon; rather, he was sitting on the ground in handcuffs and already had been patted down.

State v. Davis, 237 N.C. App. 22 (Oct. 21, 2014)

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that she was in custody within the meaning of Miranda during an interview at the police station about her missing child. The trial court properly used an objective test to determine whether the interview was custodial. Furthermore competent evidence supported the trial court’s findings of fact that the defendant was not threatened or restrained; she voluntarily went to the station; she was allowed to leave at the end of the interviews; the interview room door was closed but unlocked; the defendant was allowed to take multiple bathroom and cigarette breaks and was given food and drink; and defendant was offered the opportunity to leave the fourth interview but refused.

A thirteen-year-old juvenile was not in custody within the meaning of G.S. 7B-2101 or Miranda during a roadside questioning by an officer. Responding to a report of a vehicle accident, the officer saw the wrecked vehicle, which had crashed into a utility pole, and three people walking from the scene. When the officer questioned all three, the juvenile admitted that he had been driving the wrecked vehicle. Noting that under J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 131 S. Ct. 2394, 2406 (2011), a reviewing court must take into account a juvenile’s age if it was known to the officer or would have been objectively apparent to a reasonable officer, the court nevertheless concluded that the juvenile was not in custody.

Citing Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 442 (1984), the court held that the defendant was not in custody for purposes of Miranda during a traffic stop.

The juvenile defendant was not in custody for purposes of Miranda. After the defendant had been identified as a possible suspect in several breaking or entering cases, two detectives dressed in plain clothes and driving an unmarked vehicle went to the defendant’s home and asked to speak with him. Because the defendant had friends visiting his home, the detectives asked the defendant to ride in their car with them. The detectives told the defendant he was free to leave at any time, and they did not touch him. The defendant sat in the front seat of the vehicle while it was driven approximately 2 miles from his home. When the vehicle stopped, one of the detectives showed the defendant reports of the break-ins. The detectives told the defendant that if he was cooperative, they would not arrest him that day. The defendant admitted to committing the break-ins. The juvenile was 17 years and 10 months old at the time. Considering the totality of the circumstances—including the defendant’s age—the court concluded that the defendant was not in custody. The court rejected the argument that J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 564 U.S. 261 (June 6, 2011), required a different conclusion. 

The defendant’s response to the officer’s questioning while on the ground and being restrained with handcuffs should have been suppressed because the defendant had not been given Miranda warnings. The officer’s questioning constituted an interrogation and a reasonable person in the defendant's position, having been forced to the ground by an officer with a taser drawn and in the process of being handcuffed, would have felt his freedom of movement had been restrained to a degree associated with formal arrest. Thus, there was a custodial interrogation. The court went on, however, to find that the defendant was not prejudiced by the trial court’s failure to suppress the statements. A concurring judge agreed that the defendant was not entitled to a new trial but believed that the defendant was not in custody and thus not subjected to a custodial interrogation.

The defendant was not in custody when he made a statement to detectives. The defendant rode with the detectives to the police station voluntarily, without being frisked or handcuffed. He was told at least three times — once in the car, once while entering the police station, and once at the beginning of the interview — that he was not in custody and that he was free to leave at any time. He was not restrained during the interview and was left unattended in the unlocked interview room before the interview began. The defendant was not coerced or threatened. To the contrary, he was repeatedly asked if he wanted anything to eat or drink and was given food and a soda when he asked for it.

The defendant was not in custody when he confessed to three homicides. Officers approached the defendant as he was walking on the road, confirmed his identity and that he was okay, told him that three people had been injured at his residence, and asked him if he knew anything about the situation. After the defendant stated that he did not know about it, an officer conducted a pat down of the defendant. The defendant’s clothes were damp and his hands were shaking. An officer told the defendant that the officer would like to talk to him about what happened and asked if the defendant would come to the fire department, which was being used as an investigation command post. The officer did not handcuff the defendant and told him that he was not under arrest. The defendant agreed to go with the officers, riding in the front passenger seat of the police car. The officers entered a code to access the fire department and the defendant followed them to a classroom where he sat at one table while two officers sat across from him at a different table. Officers asked the defendant if he wanted anything to eat or drink or to use the restroom and informed him that he was not under arrest. An officer noticed cuts on the defendant’s hands and when asked about them, the defendant stated that he did not know how he got them. Although the officer decided that she would not allow the defendant to leave, she did not tell the defendant that; rather, she said that forensic evidence would likely lead to apprehension of the perpetrator. When she asked the defendant if there was anything else that he wanted to tell her, he confessed to the murders. Due to a concern for public safety, the officer asked where the murder weapon was located and the defendant told her where it was. The officer then left the room to inform others about the confession while another officer remained with the defendant. The defendant then was arrested and given Miranda warnings. He was not handcuffed and he remained seated at the same table. He waived his rights and restated his confession. The court concluded that the defendant was not in custody when he gave his initial confession, noting that he was twice told that he was not under arrest; he voluntarily went to the fire department; he was never handcuffed; he rode in the front of the vehicle; officers asked him if he needed food, water, or use of the restroom; the defendant was never misled or deceived; the defendant was not questioned for a long period of time; and the officers kept their distance during the interview and did not use physical intimidation. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the pat-down and the officer’s subjective intent to detain him created a custodial situation. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the interrogation was an impermissible two-stage interrogation under Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004), concluding that the case was distinguishable from Seibert because the defendant was not in custody when he made his first confession.

State v. Clark, 211 N.C. App. 60 (Apr. 19, 2011)

A reasonable person in the defendant’s position would not have believed that he or she was under arrest or restrained in such a way as to necessitate Miranda warnings. Key factors in the Miranda custody determination include: whether a suspect is told he or she is free to leave, is handcuffed, or is in the presence of uniformed officers and the nature of any security around the suspect. There was no evidence that officers ever explicitly told the defendant that he was being detained. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that because he was moved to a patrol car and instructed to remain there when he came in contact with the victim’s father and that he was told to “come back and stay” when he attempted to talk to his girlfriend, the victim’s sister, this was tantamount to a formal arrest. The court concluded that the officers’ actions were nothing more than an attempt to control the scene and prevent emotional encounters between a suspect and members of the victim’s family. Moreover, even if the defendant was detained at the scene, his statements are untainted given that the detective expressly told him that he was not under arrest, the defendant repeatedly asked to speak with the detective, and the defendant voluntarily accompanied the detective to the sheriff’s department.

The proper standard for determining whether a person was in custody for purposes of Miranda is not whether one would feel free to leave but whether there was indicia of formal arrest. On the facts presented, there was no indicia of arrest. 

The defendant was not in custody while being treated at a hospital. Case law suggests that the following factors should be considered when determining whether questioning in a hospital constitutes a custodial interrogation: whether the defendant was free to go; whether the defendant was coherent in thought and speech, and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol; and whether officers intended to arrest the defendant. Additionally, courts have distinguished between questioning that is accusatory and that which is investigatory. On the facts presented, the defendant was not in custody. As to separate statements made by the defendant at the police station, the court held that although interrogation must cease once the accused invokes the right to counsel and may not be resumed without an attorney present, an exception exists where, as here, the defendant initiates further communication.

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