State v. Hartley, 212 N.C. App. 1 (May. 17, 2011)

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.