State v. Taylor, 247 N.C. App. 221 (Apr. 19, 2016)

On remand from the NC Supreme Court the court held, in this murder case, that the defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights were not violated. The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress because he invoked his Fifth Amendment right to counsel during a custodial interrogation. The court disagreed, holding that the defendant never invoked his right to counsel. It summarized the relevant facts as follows:

[D]uring the police interview, after defendant asked to speak to his grandmother, Detective Morse called defendant’s grandmother from his phone and then handed his phone to defendant. While on the phone, defendant told his grandmother that he called her to “let [her] know that [he] was alright.” From defendant’s responses on the phone, it appears that his grandmother asked him if the police had informed him of his right to speak to an attorney. Defendant responded, “An attorney? No, not yet. They didn’t give me a chance yet.” Defendant then responds, “Alright,” as if he is listening to his grandmother’s advice. Defendant then looked up at Detective Morse and asked, “Can I speak to an attorney?” Detective Morse responded: “You can call one, absolutely.” Defendant then relayed Detective Morse’s answer to his grandmother: “Yeah, they said I could call one.” Defendant then told his grandmother that the police had not yet made any charges against him, listened to his grandmother for several more seconds, and then hung up the phone.

After the defendant refused to sign a Miranda waiver form, explaining that his grandmother told him not to sign anything, Morse asked, “Are you willing to talk to me today?” The defendant responded: “I will. But [my grandmother] said—um—that I need an attorney or a lawyer present.” Morse responded: “Okay. Well you’re nineteen. You’re an adult. Um—that’s really your decision whether or not you want to talk to me and kind-of clear your name or—” The defendant then interrupted: “But I didn’t do anything, so I’m willing to talk to you.” The defendant then orally waived his Miranda rights. The defendant’s question, “Can I speak to an attorney?”, made during his phone conversation with his grandmother “is ambiguous whether defendant was conveying his own desire to receive the assistance of counsel or whether he was merely relaying a question from his grandmother.” The defendant’s later statement —“But [my grandmother] said—um—that I need an attorney or a lawyer present”—“is also not an invocation since it does not unambiguously convey defendant’s desire to receive the assistance of counsel.” (quotation omitted). The court went on to note: “A few minutes later, after Detective Morse advised defendant of his Miranda rights, he properly clarified that the decision to invoke the right to counsel was defendant’s decision, not his grandmother’s.”

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