State v. Santillan, ___ N.C. App. ___, 815 S.E.2d 690 (May. 1, 2018)

(1) In this case involving a gang-related home invasion and murder, the court remanded to the trial court on the issue of whether the defendant’s waiver of his right to counsel was voluntary. Officers interrogated the 15-year-old defendant four times over an eight hour period. Although he initially denied being involved in either a shooting or a killing, he later admitted to being present for the shooting. He denied involvement in the killing, but gave a detailed description of the murders and provided a sketch of the home based on information he claimed to have received from another person. All four interviews were videotaped. At trial, the State sought to admit the videotaped interrogation and the defendant’s sketch of the home into evidence. The defendant moved to suppress on grounds that the evidence was obtained in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. The trial court denied the motion and the defendant was convicted. He appealed arguing that the trial court’s suppression order lacks key findings concerning law enforcement’s communications with him after he invoked his right to counsel. The video recording of the interrogation shows that the defendant initially waived his right to counsel and spoke to officers. But, after lengthy questioning, he re-invoked his right to counsel and the officers ceased their interrogation and left the room. During that initial questioning, law enforcement told the defendant that they were arresting him on drug charges. The officers also told the defendant they suspected he was involved in the killings, but they did not tell him they were charging him with those crimes, apparently leaving him under the impression that he was charged only with drug possession. Before being re-advised of his rights and signing a second waiver form, the defendant engaged in an exchange with the police chief, who was standing outside of the interrogation room. During the exchange, the defendant asked about being able to make a phone call; the police chief responded that would occur later because he was being arrested and needed to be booked for the shooting. The defendant insisted that he had nothing to do with that and had told the police everything he knew. The chief responded: “Son, you f***** up.” Later, when officers re-entered the interrogation room, the defendant told them that he wanted to waive his right to counsel and make a statement. The trial court’s order however did not address the exchange with the chief. Because of this, the court concluded that it could not examine the relevant legal factors applicable to this exchange, such as the intent of the police; whether the practice is designed to elicit an incriminating response from the accused; and any knowledge the police may have had concerning the unusual susceptibility of a defendant to a particular form of persuasion. The court thus remanded for the trial court to address this issue.

(2) The court went on however to reject the defendant’s argument that separate and apart from the chief’s communication with him, his waiver of his right to counsel was involuntary given his age, the officers’ interrogation tactics, and his lack of sleep, food, and medication. The court concluded that the trial court’s order addressed these factors and, based on facts supported by competent evidence in the record, concluded that the defendant’s actions and statements showed awareness and cognitive reasoning during the entire interview and that he was not coerced into making any statements, but rather made his statements voluntarily. Because the trial court’s fact findings on these issues are supported by competent evidence, and those findings in turn support the court’s conclusions, the court rejected this voluntariness challenge.

The website encountered an unexpected error. Please try again later.