Monday, January 23, 2017

State v. Holman

Opinion handed down December 6, 2016
After fatally shooting his wife, David Holman (“Defendant”) was read his Miranda rights and proceeded to talk with law enforcement officials, giving incriminating statements.[1]  Only when asked to sign a search consent form to his home, did Defendant state, “I ain’t signing shit without my attorney.”[2]  On interlocutory appeal, the Supreme Court of Missouri held that the Defendant did not clearly and unequivocally invoke his Fifth Amendment right to counsel after being read his Miranda rights and reversed the decision of the lower court.[3]

I.  Facts and Holding
On the morning of December 10, 2013, it was asserted that the Defendant’s wife, RaDonna Roland (“Wife”), shot the Defendant in the back of the arm.[4]  As a result, Defendant fatally shot his Wife and then called 911.[5]
            Upon calling 911, deputies Ryan Devost and Michael Thorn were dispatched to Defendant’s home.[6]  The deputies knocked on the door and were allowed inside by Defendant.[7]  Deputy Devost performed a security sweep of the home, while Deputy Thorn checked on Wife.[8]  Deputy Devost then handcuffed Defendant and escorted him to the patrol car.[9]  Shorty thereafter, paramedics arrived and attempted to treat Wife.[10]  Deputy Thorn then moved Defendant into the ambulance and read Defendant his Miranda rights.[11]  Defendant was emotional about his wife and kept repeating that he could not believe he shot her.[12]  Defendant stated that he could not believe there was not more being done for Wife and that he should have run away rather than shooting Wife.[13]  At this point, Deputy Devost requested that Defendant sign a consent form to search his home, to which Defendant responded, “I ain’t signing shit without my attorney.”[14]
            Once other detectives arrived at the scene, Deputy Devost informed them that Defendant was in custody, had been read his Miranda rights, and refused to sign a search warrant without his attorney.[15]  The following morning, Detective Linda McElroy again read Defendant his Miranda rights and asked if he understood them.[16]  Defendant indicated he did, and he proceeded to speak with the detective.[17]  Following this interview, Defendant was charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action.[18]
            Before trial, Defendant brought this motion to suppress statements he made after originally being read his Miranda rights.[19]  The trial court sustained the motion, holding that in stating “I ain’t signing shit without my attorney,” Defendant had invoked his right to counsel.[20]
II.  Legal Background
            In Missouri, a trial court’s ruling on a motion to suppress will only be reversed by an appellate court if it is “clearly erroneous.”[21]  To be “clearly erroneous,” the appellate court must be “left with a definite and firm belief a mistake has been made.”[22]
            As for Miranda rights, these are designed to “inform a criminal defendant of his constitutional rights during the interrogation process.”[23]  A request for consent to search is “not an ‘interrogation’ because giving consent to search is not a self-incriminating statement under the Fifth Amendment.”[24] 
            Once a criminal suspect is subjected to a custodial interrogation (formally arrested or is subjected to arrest-like restraints),[25] the suspect is entitled to Miranda warnings.[26]  In the Supreme Court of Missouri case of State v. Stover, the court noted: “Statements obtained during a custodial interrogation not preceded by Miranda warnings are subject to suppression at trial.”[27]  Further, once these rights are read, if the suspect “indicates in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease.”[28]  Likewise, when a suspect invokes his Fifth Amendment right to counsel, the police must stop all interrogation and may not again question the suspect unless counsel is present.[29]
            However, for this right to counsel to be triggered during a custodial investigation, the suspect must be sufficiently clear so that a reasonable officer would understand that the suspect is invoking his or her right to have an attorney present during the interrogation.[30]
III.  Instant Decision
In the present case, the Supreme Court of Missouri reversed the judgment of the trial court and found that the trial court had erroneously sustained Defendant’s motion to suppress the statements made to Detective McElroy.[31]
To support its decision, the court found that at no time did Defendant seek to terminate questioning by the police or clearly state that he wanted an attorney.[32]  More so, the court found that Deputy Devost had advised Defendant of his Miranda rights, Defendant indicated that he understood them, and Defendant continued talking to him after he did so.[33]
As to the statement made by Defendant, “I ain’t signing shit without my attorney,” the court determined that “a reasonable police officer would not have understood Defendant’s statement refusing to sign the consent to search form to be an invocation of his Fifth Amendment right to counsel.”[34] 
More so, as to the interrogation the following day by Detective McElroy after again reading Defendant his Miranda rights, the court found that “[b]ecause Defendant did not invoke his right to counsel clearly and unequivocally after being read his Miranda rights by [both officers], Detective McElroy’s interrogation of Defendant was proper.”[35]

IV.  Comment
            There have been numerous cases across the modern legal landscape in which statements are suppressed due to law enforcement’s violation of a defendant’s invocation of his or her Fifth Amendment right to counsel.  While these cases may come on a spectrum, with interrogation continuing after a clear invocation for counsel on one extreme, and interrogation continuing after a potentially weak invocation for counsel on the other, the trial court’s decision to sustain Defendant’s motion appears to be outside of such spectrum.  
            Here, the supposed invocation of Defendant’s right to counsel came only after the suspect had continued speaking with Deputy Devost after his Miranda rights were read.  Further, this “request” came only in reference to signing a search consent form.  At no time did Defendant state he did not wish to speak to law enforcement officials or ask that his attorney be present for any of the questioning.  While Defendant mentioned that he would not sign anything without his attorney present, that is not what this case is about.  This case is about Defendant’s statements to law enforcement officials following a custodial interrogation.  As such, Defendant did not invoke his Miranda rights clearly and unequivocally, as the law requires he so do.[36] 
Currently, law enforcement officials are tasked with countless decisions and a maze of law and procedure they must follow in both responding to and investigating a crime.  On top of this already-steep burden, should we also require law enforcement officials to try to decipher every statement made by suspects during an investigation that could potentially trigger a right to counsel?  Or should we take the statements made by suspects at face value and interpret them how a reasonable officer in such situation would?
            I argue the answer is simple and should be the latter.  As such, I believe the Supreme Court of Missouri was correct in determining that the trial court erroneously sustained Defendant’s motion to suppress. 
-       EC Duckworth

[1] State v. Holman, 502 S.W.3d 621, 623–24 (Mo. 2016) (en banc).
[2] Id. at 623.
[3] Id. at 627.
[4] Id. at 623.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] Id.
[14] Id.
[15] Id.
[16] Id.
[17] Id.
[18] Id. at 624.
[19] Id.
[20] Id.
[21] Id.
[22] State v. Bell, 488 S.W.3d 228, 238 (Mo. Ct. App. 2016) (quoting State v. Haldiman, 106 S.W.3d 529, 533 (Mo. Ct. App. 2003)).
[23] State v. Collings, 450 S.W.3d 741, 753 (Mo. 2014) (en banc) (quoting State v. Johnson, 284 S.W.3d 561, 582 (Mo. 2009) (en banc)).
[24] State v. Metz, 43 S.W.3d 374, 382 (Mo. Ct. App. 2001).
[25] Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 445 (1966).
[26] Holman, 502 S.W.3d at 625.
[27] State v. Stover, 388 S.W.3d 138, 155 (Mo. 2012) (en banc).
[28] Miranda, 384 U.S. at 473–74.
[29] Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 459 (1994).
[30] Id.
[31] Holman, 502 S.W.3d at 627.
[32] Id. at 625.
[33] Id. at 625–26.
[34] Id.
[35] Id. at 626.
[36] Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 459 (1994).