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., 12/05/2021
E.g., 12/05/2021

The defendant was arrested in connection with a shooting that left one victim dead and another injured. At the start of their interrogation of the defendant, officers presented him with a written notification of his constitutional rights, which contained Miranda warnings. During the three-hour interrogation, the defendant never said that he wanted to remain silent, did not want to talk with the police, or he wanted a lawyer. Although he was largely silent, he gave a limited number of verbal answers, such as “yeah,” “no,” and “I don’t know,” and on occasion he responded by nodding his head. After two hours and forty-five minutes, the defendant was asked whether he believed in God and whether he prayed to God. When he answered in the affirmative, he was asked, “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?” The defendant answered “yes,” and the interrogation ended shortly thereafter. The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that his answers to the officers’ questions were inadmissible because he had invoked his privilege to remain silent by not saying anything for a sufficient period of time such that the interrogation should have ceased before he made his inculpatory statements. Noting that in order to invoke the Miranda right to counsel, a defendant must do so unambiguously, the Court determined that there is no reason to adopt a different standard for determining when an accused has invoked the Miranda right to remain silent. It held that in the case before it, the defendant’s silence did not constitute an invocation of the right to remain silent. The Court went on to hold that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to remain silent when he answered the officers’ questions. The Court clarified that a waiver may be implied through the defendant’s silence, coupled with an understanding of rights, and a course of conduct indicating waiver. In this case, the Court concluded that there was no basis to find that the defendant did not understand his rights, his answer to the question about praying to God for forgiveness for the shooting was a course of conduct indicating waiver, and there was no evidence that his statement was coerced. Finally, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the police were not allowed to question him until they first obtained a waiver as inconsistent with the rule that a waiver can be inferred from the actions and words of the person interrogated.

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

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that by telling officers that he did not want to snitch on anyone and declining to reveal the name of his accomplice, the defendant invoked his right to remain silent requiring that all interrogation cease.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress incriminating statements made to police during a custodial interview. The defendant asserted that the statements were made after he invoked his right to counsel. Before the custodial interview, the defendant was advised of his Miranda rights, initialed and signed the Miranda rights form, waived his Miranda rights, and spoke with law enforcement. The defendant asked at one point “Can I consult with a lawyer, I mean, or anything?” Finding that the trial court did not err by concluding that this question was not an unambiguous assertion of the right to counsel, the court noted:

Merely one-tenth of a second elapsed between the time that defendant asked, “[c]an I consult with a lawyer, I mean, or anything?” and then stated, “I mean I – I – I did it. I’m not laughing man, I want to cry because its f[*]cked up to be put on the spot like this.” The officers then immediately reminded defendant of his Miranda rights, that they had just read him those rights, that defendant “ha[d] the right to have [his attorney] here,” and that the officers “[could] never make that choice for [him] one way or another.” After police attempted to clarify whether defendant’s question was an affirmative assertion of his Miranda rights, defendant declined to unambiguously assert that right, continued communications, and never again asked about counsel for the rest of the interview.

The court concluded that although the defendant explicitly asked if he could consult with a lawyer, considering the totality of the circumstances his statement was ambiguous or equivocal, such that the officers were not required to cease questioning. He did not pause between the time he asked for counsel and gave his initial confession, the officers immediately reminded him of his Miranda rights to clarify if he was indeed asserting his right to counsel, and the defendant declined the offered opportunity to unambiguously assert that right but instead continued communicating with the officers. The court went on to hold that even if his question could be objectively construed as an unambiguous invocation of his Miranda rights it was immediately waived when he initiated further communication.

On remand from the NC Supreme Court the court held, in this murder case, that the defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights were not violated. The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress because he invoked his Fifth Amendment right to counsel during a custodial interrogation. The court disagreed, holding that the defendant never invoked his right to counsel. It summarized the relevant facts as follows:

[D]uring the police interview, after defendant asked to speak to his grandmother, Detective Morse called defendant’s grandmother from his phone and then handed his phone to defendant. While on the phone, defendant told his grandmother that he called her to “let [her] know that [he] was alright.” From defendant’s responses on the phone, it appears that his grandmother asked him if the police had informed him of his right to speak to an attorney. Defendant responded, “An attorney? No, not yet. They didn’t give me a chance yet.” Defendant then responds, “Alright,” as if he is listening to his grandmother’s advice. Defendant then looked up at Detective Morse and asked, “Can I speak to an attorney?” Detective Morse responded: “You can call one, absolutely.” Defendant then relayed Detective Morse’s answer to his grandmother: “Yeah, they said I could call one.” Defendant then told his grandmother that the police had not yet made any charges against him, listened to his grandmother for several more seconds, and then hung up the phone.

After the defendant refused to sign a Miranda waiver form, explaining that his grandmother told him not to sign anything, Morse asked, “Are you willing to talk to me today?” The defendant responded: “I will. But [my grandmother] said—um—that I need an attorney or a lawyer present.” Morse responded: “Okay. Well you’re nineteen. You’re an adult. Um—that’s really your decision whether or not you want to talk to me and kind-of clear your name or—” The defendant then interrupted: “But I didn’t do anything, so I’m willing to talk to you.” The defendant then orally waived his Miranda rights. The defendant’s question, “Can I speak to an attorney?”, made during his phone conversation with his grandmother “is ambiguous whether defendant was conveying his own desire to receive the assistance of counsel or whether he was merely relaying a question from his grandmother.” The defendant’s later statement —“But [my grandmother] said—um—that I need an attorney or a lawyer present”—“is also not an invocation since it does not unambiguously convey defendant’s desire to receive the assistance of counsel.” (quotation omitted). The court went on to note: “A few minutes later, after Detective Morse advised defendant of his Miranda rights, he properly clarified that the decision to invoke the right to counsel was defendant’s decision, not his grandmother’s.”

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent was violated where there was ample evidence to support the trial court’s finding that the defendant did not invoke that right. The defendant had argued that his refusal to talk to police about the crimes, other than to deny his involvement, was an invocation of the right to remain silent. The court found that the defendant’s “continued assertions of his innocence cannot be considered unambiguous invocations of his right to remain silent.”

Citing Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370 (2010), the court held that the defendant’s silence or refusal to answer the officers’ questions was not an invocation of the right to remain silent.

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