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

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.

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