In 2010, James Hutto, a resident of Alabama, contacted his ex-girlfriend and agreed to meet at a hotel in Clinton, Mississippi, for the weekend. His car broke down so after she left, he walked from the hotel to the Baptist Healthplex and befriended 81 year old Ethel Simpson. Simpson drove Hutto back to his hotel in her silver Mercedes, left, and then came back to socialize.
They went to a casino in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and then Hutto was seen back at his hotel alone with the Mercedes. He then left the hotel in different clothing and went back to Alabama. Simpson’s body was found on a hog farm in Edwards, Mississippi, and Hutto was arrested in Alabama in possession of the Mercedes.
Hutto was interviewed four separate times. The first interview took place by Lee County, Alabama, investigators after his arrest. He was Mirandized, waived, and admitted going to the casino with Simpson and having her car but said another man killed her. At the conclusion of the interview, he invoked counsel.
Thirty minutes later, Birmingham police officers came to interview him about the death of Hutto’s aunt, a different crime (second interview). Birmingham officers said they were unaware that he already had invoked counsel. He signed a Miranda form and said in part that his aunt wouldn’t let him stay at her house with a stolen car and than an old lady had tried to mess with him in Mississippi.
A few days later, Hutto requested that Lee County Investigators who conducted the first interview come back to talk to him (third interview). The same Lee County, Alabama, officers came, Mirandized him, noted that he called them, and then took a statement after he waived Miranda.
The following day, Hutto requested that Birmingham P.D. come back to talk to him (fourth interview). The same Birmingham P.D. officers came, Mirandized him, noted that he called them, and then took a statement after he waived Miranda.
He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. On appeal, he argued in the first interview promises were made to him. He also argued an Edwards violation occurred. MSC found no promises were made to him but did note an Edwards violation. In spite of the violation, they cited harmless error and affirmed.
A. Promises made in first interview
We said in Jones that long before Miranda warnings were mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court, it was well settled in Mississippi jurisprudence that a confession [or statements] given after promises of leniency was incompetent as evidence. We note that the Alabama police officers who interrogated Hutto testified at a suppression hearing that they never offered rewards or promises to Hutto for his cooperation.
Hutto points to a portion of the first interrogation in which an unidentified officer told Hutto that he should cooperate with law enforcement officials. We note, however, that the unidentified officer did not promise Hutto that he would be given leniency or any type of reward for doing so. This issue fails.
B. Edwards violation for second interview
When an accused has invoked his right to have counsel present during custodial interrogation, a valid waiver of that right cannot be established by proving that the accused responded to further police initiated interrogation, even if he has been advised or re-advised of his rights.
Furthermore, when an accused has expressed a desire to deal with the police only through counsel, further interrogation is absolutely barred until counsel has been made available to him, unless the accused himself initiates further communication.
The United States Supreme Court in Arizona v Roberson, 486 U.S. 675 (1988), said that it is irrelevant 1) whether a law enforcement official conducting a second interrogation knew that the suspect had invoked his Fifth Amendment right to counsel in a prior interrogation and 2) whether the re-interrogation concerns the same offense or a different offense.
We find that Hutto’s statements given in the second interrogation were taken in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights. Hutto clearly and unequivocally asked for counsel at the end of his first interrogation; therefore, it is immaterial that Officers John Tanks and Marcel Walker, who conducted the second interrogation, were unaware that Hutto had invoked his rights in the prior interrogation.
C. Third and Fourth Interview
When an accused has expressed a desire to deal with the police only through counsel, further interrogation is absolutely barred until counsel has been made available to him, unless the accused himself initiates further communication. The term initiate requires more than the inquiry of simply who talks first.
The suspect must show a willingness and a desire to talk generally about his case, and such a willingness must not be influenced by law enforcement officials. In the third interrogation, Kwesi Drake clearly said to Hutto: “I know you said you wanted to talk to somebody, but I still have to read you your rights.” After his rights had been read, Hutto confirmed that no threats, promises, or rewards had been offered to him “whatsoever,” and that he did “want to answer questions and make some statements.”
At the beginning of the fourth interrogation, Tanks clearly stated to Hutto: “you called us over here, what do you need to tell us? But before we begin, I need to read you your rights. Tanks proceeded to read Hutto his rights, and Hutto waived his rights.
While an Edwards violations can be tough as a law enforcement officer when you don’t know the person has invoked at a different time with different officers, there are some reasonable steps you can take to mitigate the issue.
For example, in this case, if you are going to a different police department to inquire about a crime shortly after they have been arrested, it is reasonable to ask the jailers if the subject has spoken to any police officers before them. If yes, you should reach out to them to find out if he invoked counsel. Even if he didn’t invoke, it will provide you good intelligence for your interview with him.