State v. Lee, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Jul. 7, 2020)

The defendant was accused of killing his aunt in Lenoir County. Following his arrest, the defendant initially requested an attorney and was not interrogated, but later contacted detectives and signed a Miranda waiver. The defendant offered to make a full statement if he could see his family face-to-face again (visits at the jail were conducted by computer and phone only). Officers initially declined the offer but eventually agreed to a face-to-face family visit, and the defendant confessed. The trial court refused to suppress the statement and the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder at trial. He appealed, arguing that his confession was the product of improper inducement by police and therefore not voluntary.

Due process prohibits the admission of an involuntary confession by a person in custody. “[A] confession obtained by the improper ‘influence of hope or fear implanted in the defendant’s mind’ by law enforcement can render the confession involuntary.” Slip. op. at 5. However, for an inducement to be improper, it “must promise relief from the criminal charge to which the confession relates, not to any merely collateral advantage.” Id. at 6 (citations omitted). Here, the defendant initiated the contact with law enforcement and offered to confess in exchange for the family visit; the plan did not originate with law enforcement. The defendant also testified at suppression that he was motivated in part to confess after talking with his father, who encouraged the defendant to make a truthful statement. The totality of circumstances showed that the confession was knowing and voluntary. Further, the purported inducement here related only to a collateral advantage and did not promise relief from the crime. The denial of the motion to suppress was therefore unanimously affirmed.