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., 09/25/2021
E.g., 09/25/2021

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.

The court rejected the defendant’s claim that counsel was ineffective by failing to object to the admission of his statement to an officer that the cocaine in question belonged to him and not a passenger in the vehicle; the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the statements were obtained in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights because the officer failed to advise him of his Miranda rights before reading the warrants to him and the passenger in each other’s presence. After the two were arrested and taken to the county detention center the officer read the arrest warrants to the defendant and the passenger in each other’s presence. When the officer finished reading the charges, the defendant told the officer that the cocaine belonged to him. The court concluded that the defendant’s admission is properly classified as a spontaneous statement, not the product of an interrogation.

(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.

The defendant’s statements, made during the stop were voluntary and not the result of any custodial interrogation. None of the officers asked or said anything to the defendant to elicit the statement in question. Rather, the defendant volunteered the statement in response to one officer informing another that suspected heroin and had been recovered from a person in the vehicle.

The defendant’s statements, made while a police officer who responded to a domestic violence scene questioned the defendant’s girlfriend, were spontaneous and in not response to interrogation. The State conceded that the defendant was in custody at the time. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that asking his girlfriend what happened in front of him was a coercive technique designed to elicit an incriminating statement. Conceding that the “case is a close one,” the court concluded that the officer’s question to the girlfriend did not constitute the functional equivalent of questioning because the officer’s question did not call for a response from the defendant and therefore was not reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from him.

In Re L.I., 205 N.C. App. 155 (July 6, 2010)

A juvenile’s statement, made while in custody, was the product interrogation and not a voluntary, spontaneous statement. The trial court thus erred by denying the juvenile’s motion to suppress the statement, since the juvenile had not advised her of her rights under Miranda and G.S. 7B-2101(a). The juvenile was a passenger in a vehicle stopped by an officer. When the officer ordered the juvenile out of the vehicle, he asked, “[Where is] the marijuana I know you have[?]” After handcuffing and placing juvenile in the back of the patrol car, the officer told her that he was going to "take her downtown" and that "if [she] t[ook] drugs into the jail it[] [would be] an additional charge." The juvenile later told the officer that she had marijuana and that it was in her coat pocket. The court went on to hold that the trial judge did not err by admitting the seized marijuana. Rejecting the juvenile’s argument that the contraband must be excluded as fruit of the poisonous tree, the court concluded that because there was no coercion, the exclusionary rule does not preclude the admission of physical evidence obtained as a result of a Miranda violation. Although the juvenile was in custody at the time of her statement and her Miranda rights were violated, the court found no coercion, noting that there was no evidence that the juvenile was deceived, held incommunicado, threatened or intimidated, promised anything, or interrogated for an unreasonable period of time; nor was there evidence that the juvenile was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or that her mental condition was such that she was vulnerable to manipulation.

In Re D.L.D., 203 N.C. App. 434 (Apr. 20, 2010)

The trial judge properly determined that a juvenile’s statements, made after an officer’s search of his person revealed cash, were admissible. The juvenile’s stated that the cash was not from selling drugs and that it was his mother’s rent money. The statement was unsolicited and spontaneous.

Defendant’s mother was not acting as an agent of the police when, at the request of officers, she asked her son to tell the truth about his involvement in the crime. This occurred in a room at the police station, with officers present.

The defendant was subject to interrogation within the meaning of Miranda when he made incriminating statements to a detective. The detective should have known that his conduct was likely to elicit an incriminating response when, after telling the defendant that their conversation would not be on the record, the detective turned discussion to the defendant’s cooperation with the investigation. Also, the detective knew that the defendant was particularly susceptible to an appeal to the defendant’s relationship with the detective, based on prior dealings with the defendant, and that the defendant was still under the effects of an attempted overdose on prescription medication and alcohol. Additionally the defendant testified that he knew that the detective was trying to get him to talk.

Officers did not interrogate the defendant within the meaning of Miranda. An officer asked the defendant to explain why he was hanging out of a window of a house that officers had approached on an informant’s tip that she bought marijuana there. The defendant responded, “Man, I’ve got some weed.” When the officer asked if that was the only reason for the defendant’s behavior, the defendant made further incriminating statements. Additional statements made by the defendant were unsolicited.

State v. Herrera, 195 N.C. App. 181 (Feb. 3, 2009)

The police did not impermissibly interrogate the defendant after he requested a lawyer by offering to allow him to speak with his grandmother by speaker phone. Once the defendant stated that he wished to have a lawyer, all interrogation ceased. However, before leaving for the magistrate’s office, an interpreter who had been working with the police, informed an officer that he had promised to let the defendant’s grandmother know when the defendant was in custody. The officer allowed the interpreter to use a speaker phone to call the grandmother to so inform the grandmother. When the interpreter asked the defendant if he wanted to speak with his grandmother, the defendant responded affirmatively. While on the phone with his grandmother, the defendant admitted that he did the acts charged. The grandmother urged him to tell the police everything. Thereafter, the defendant indicated that he wanted to make a statement, was given Miranda warnings, waived his rights, and made a statement confessing to the crime.

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