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).