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Freeman v. State

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant shot a man to death and went to the police station. She was handcuffed and she was Mirandized and signed the form. Defendant did not request an attorney and appeared to be calm, intelligent, and articulate. Defendant then recounted the events leading up to the shooting of the man. The trial court denied Defendant’s motion to suppress her statements. Defendant appealed a conviction of first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree assault, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony when she shot a man to death.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    For Miranda purposes, an officer faced with an ambiguous response to an initial advisement of Miranda rights at the pre-waiver stage, is limited to posing questions designed to clarify the suspect’s ambiguous response.

    Facts.

    On March 30, 2000, Adele Florence Freeman (Defendant) shot Kevin Gross to death. Immediately thereafter, Defendant drove to a Maryland State Police station and informed Sergeant Albert Paton that she had shot someone and that the gun was in her purse. Paton had previously heard over the radio that a female had shot a male on Wilson Road. Paton took Defendant’s purse and placed her in a room. Paton then handcuffed the hand Defendant used to shoot Gross to a bench, in order to later perform a gunshot residue test. Paton then advised Defendant, word for word from a card, of her Miranda rights. Defendant indicated that she understood her rights. However, when Paton asked Defendant if she would “knowingly waive these rights,” she did not say anything. Paton then secured the gun from Defendant’s purse and asked her how many shots she fired. Defendant said she did not know. Paton asked Defendant what had happened and Defendant told him that she did not want to talk about it “right now.” Paton determined that no live ammunition was in the gun and left everything the way it was, closed it back up, and secured the gun. Paton did not ask Defendant any further questions. Corporal David Ruel was assigned to investigate the homicide. After giving Defendant some food, he read her Miranda rights, and she signed the form. Defendant did not request an attorney and appeared to be calm, intelligent, and articulate. Defendant then recounted the events leading up to the shooting of Gross. When she had finished, Ruel asked Defendant if she would provide a written or taped statement. Defendant declined to do so and requested a lawyer. Ruel then stopped all questioning of Defendant. Defendant was charged with first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree assault, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Defendant filed a motion to suppress her statements made to Paton. After a hearing, the trial court denied to suppress Defendant’s statements. Defendant was convicted and she appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether an officer faced with an ambiguous response to an initial advisement of Miranda rights at the pre-waiver stage, is limited to posing questions designed to clarify the suspect’s ambiguous response for Miranda purposes.

    Held.

    Yes. The trial court’s ruling is affirmed. For Miranda purposes, an officer faced with an ambiguous response to an initial advisement of Miranda rights at the pre-waiver stage, is limited to posing questions designed to clarify the suspect’s ambiguous response.

    Discussion.

    Defendant argues that the trial court erred in finding that she did not invoke her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when Paton asked her if she was willing to waive her rights. Additionally, Defendant claims that because of her silence, all questioning thereafter was in violation of her rights, including Paton’s question about what had happened and her conversation with Ruel. However, a suspect’s “mere failure to answer a waiver question” does not constitute an invocation of the right to remain silent. In fact, the State argues that by going to the police station and announcing that she had shot someone, Defendant voluntarily indicated her willingness to accept responsibility for the crime. In Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452 (1994), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a suspect is required to provide an express request to have an attorney from law enforcement so that officers do not have “to make difficult judgment calls about whether the suspect in fact wants a lawyer . . . .” Id. at 461. The State also argues that Defendant’s comment that she did not want to talk about it “right now,” did not mean that she was invoking her right to remain silent henceforth. In support of its claim, the State argues that a Davis-like standard applies to one’s right to remain silent whereby a suspect must unambiguously state that they are not going to talk. Conversely, Defendant points out there are at least six jurisdictions that have held that a Davis-like standard is not appropriate to invocations of silence. However, neither party has discussed whether the rationale of Davis applies to an ambiguous invocation made prior to a waiver of rights. Here, Defendant allegedly invoked her right to remain silent by stating that she did not want to talk about it “right now,” prior to a waiver of rights performed by Ruel. The Davis court was faced with a situation in which the defendant had waived his Miranda rights, was then questioned by officers, and then changed his mind about remaining silent during the interrogation. Thus, the Supreme Court held that “after a knowing and voluntary waiver of the Miranda rights, law enforcement officers may continue questioning until and unless the suspect clearly requests an attorney.” Conversely, Defendant’s silence preceded a waiver of her rights. The court adopts the rule announced in State v. Leyva, 951 P.2d 738 (Utah 1997), where the state’s supreme court held that an officer faced with an ambiguous response to an initial advisement of Miranda rights at the pre-waiver stage, is limited to posing questions designed to clarify the suspect’s ambiguous response. Defendant also correctly argues that her silence should be taken as an invocation of her right to remain silent. Paton should not have then asked her what had happened. Nevertheless, it was harmless error.


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