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A detention that is not brief can turn into a warrantless arrest

Facts

In 1998, Michael Wilkerson was found dead in a field in Washington County, Mississippi. He had sustained numerous stabs and cuts from a knife, including a cut to the throat. Police discovered blood in a palm print found in the mud indicating that the person who killed Wilkerson had injured his right hand.

By that same evening Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) had learned that a man named Jason worked for Wilkerson and had been living with him for about a week before the day of the murder. They learned that on that day, Jason had told co-workers he was going home to West Virginia to live with his mother. Deputies were told that David Shamoun had given Jason a ride to the bus station.

Shamoun was interviewed, and he told WCSO that someone named Jason had been living with Wilkerson. He confirmed that he drove Jason to the bus station, and he gave WCSO a description of Jason. However, Shamoun became nervous, giving several different versions of when and how he picked Jason up, and stated, “You don’t understand how deep in this I am, and I really don’t want to make any other statements until I … talk to an attorney.” Questioning ceased, and Shamoun was allowed to leave.

Officers learned that someone matching Jason Jones‘s description boarded a bus bound for West Virginia, with a stop in Memphis, Tennessee. WCSO telephoned Memphis Police, gave them the suspect’s first name and Shamoun’s description of him, and requested they detain him when the bus stopped there. WCSO Officer Doyle Barrett also told Memphis police about the suspect’s possible injury to his right hand.

Memphis police detained Jones, who did have an obvious injury to his right hand, at the bus station. They then informed WCSO of his detention, gave them his full name, and requested an arrest warrant in order to hold Jones until WCSO officers could arrive from Mississippi.

WCSO secured an arrest warrant late the night of the murder, which they faxed to Memphis police approximately 30 minutes after Jones had been detained for questioning. WCSO officers then left for Memphis to see if Jones would waive extradition and return to Mississippi.

Upon their arrival, WCSO officers interviewed Jones. They noticed that his right hand was bandaged. WCSO officers informed Jones that Wilkerson had been killed. They testified that he showed no emotion. Officer Kelvin McKenzie began advising Jones of his Miranda rights, but Jones interrupted, stating, “I want a lawyer.” McKenzie finished reading Jones his rights, whereupon Jones again requested an attorney. Questioning ceased at that point.

Before Jones was returned to his cell, however, a Memphis officer asked McKenzie what was wrong with Jones’s hand. McKenzie in turn asked Jones, who replied, “I’d rather not discuss that.” Because it was their policy to evaluate all injuries before booking persons to ascertain if they needed medical treatment, Jones was required by the Memphis officer to remove the bandage from his hand, revealing a deep cut which Memphis authorities determined did indeed need medical treatment. Jones said he cut the hand at work earlier in the week. McKenzie took two Polaroid photographs of the wound, and Jones was taken to the hospital.

WSCO Officers returned to Memphis to attempt to again interview Jason Jones and ascertain if he would waive extradition and voluntarily return to Mississippi. Before reaching Memphis, the officers learned that Jones had waived extradition. Custody of Jones was relinquished to the deputies, and they drove him back to Washington County, Mississippi. Sometime along the trip, Jones was again advised of his Miranda rights, and he again requested an attorney.

Officer David Sessums testified they were careful not to discuss the case with Jones during the trip from Memphis, because he had previously requested an attorney two times. Conversely, Jones testified the officers questioned him about the case and told him they could not help him unless he helped himself. Jones thereafter requested and did speak with the District Attorney. The District Attorney denied making any promise of leniency to Jones.

After his conversation with the District Attorney, Jones, who previously had made no statement or confession, stated he wished to tell WCSO everything about the case. Officer Doyle Barrett testified that after the meeting with the District Attorney, Jones was completely and totally cooperative. Jones was again informed of his rights, waived them in writing, and then made the first of two statements.

He confessed to planning Wilkerson’s murder with Shamoun and then personally killing Wilkerson in Shamoun’s presence. He confessed to cutting Wilkerson’s throat inside the car, then following him into the field and stabbing him numerous other times. Jones alleged in his statement that all of his actions were done at the bidding of Shamoun, who Jones believed had ties to the mob, and that he was afraid Shamoun would kill him if he did not participate.

The next day, after again waiving his rights in writing, Jones made another statement; adding the date Shamoun asked him to kill Wilkerson, the amount Shamoun was to pay him ($1,500 up front and another $2,000 after the investigation was over), and that Shamoun gave him money to buy the murder weapon (a filet knife purchased at Wal-Mart). Jones also gave audio and video statements, directed officers to the location of physical evidence used against him, and consented to having blood drawn for analysis.

In addition, a letter to another inmate, in which Jones confessed to killing Wilkerson, was intercepted by the Arizona Department of Corrections and returned to WCSO. Jones testified that he only confessed and cooperated with the investigation because the District Attorney and WCSO gave him the impression that his charge would be reduced from murder to manslaughter if he cooperated.

He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life. On appeal, he argued 1) there was no probable cause for his arrest and 2) his statements should have been suppressed. MSC affirmed.

Analysis

A. Arrest

We said in Estes v. State, 533 So.2d 437 (Miss. 1988), that a person may be detained short of an actual arrest for investigatory purposes. The limited exception to the warrant and probable cause requirements carved out in Estes applies only to brief detentions. Jones’s detention in Memphis necessarily required those authorities to hold him for several hours until the WCSO could arrive from Mississippi to question him, thereby exceeding the brief detention contemplated by Estes.

Therefore, Jones was placed under arrest at the bus station and was not merely subjected to a non custodial, investigatory detention. We said in Caldwell v. State, 443 So.2d 806 (Miss. 1983), that to effect arrest for a felony, either with or without a warrant, a police officer must have reasonable cause to believe a felony has been committed, and reasonable cause to believe that the person proposed to be arrested is the one who committed it.

WCSO had sufficient probable cause to believe that Jones had been involved in the murder of Wilkerson. Jones lived with and worked for Wilkerson. He had made plans days before the murder to leave the State on the day of the murder. He did in fact leave the State just hours after the murder. WCSO reasonably suspected from their investigation that two people had been involved in Wilkerson’s murder, and Shamoun, who admitted driving Jones to the bus station, gave several different versions of his interaction with Jones on the day of the murder and made a statement strongly suggesting that he had been involved in some way with Wilkerson’s death. The investigation also suggested that the person who killed Wilkerson injured his right hand during the commission of the murder, and Memphis police confirmed that Jones did in fact have an injured hand when arrested at the bus station.

Jones contends that because Memphis police had no personal knowledge of his participation in the crime, they possessed no probable cause to arrest him. However, the Memphis police could reasonably rely on information relayed to them by WCSO in making the arrest of Jones.

B. Statements to law enforcement

Jones invoked his right to counsel during the initial interview and questioning ceased. Although questions were asked regarding Jones’s injured hand, these questions were necessary to determine whether medical treatment was needed, a duty being laid upon the prison’s jailer to provide for such care. Moreover, the answer given by Jones (that he had injured his hand at work) was not an incriminating statement, nor was it a confession.

No confession or information was gathered during the trip from Memphis to Washington County. Therefore, keeping in mind that the trial court found Jones’s accusations not to be credible, even if the officers had questioned Jones, this violation of his rights was harmless.

While it is true that questioning of an accused who is in custody must cease at the point he invokes his privilege against self-incrimination or his right to counsel, it is equally true that any such invocation by him does not prohibit him from later initiating contact and discussing the crime of which he is accused.

The officers testified that Jones initiated a conversation about the crime. Jones says the deputies did. The circuit court found the testimony in favor of admission of the confession the Jones ultimately gave, and it issued a detailed, written finding of fact and conclusion of law, applying the legal analyses applicable to the Jones’s claim, and specifically stating why it did not find the Jones’s testimony worthy of belief.

C. Statements to District Attorney

We said in Dunn v. State, 547 So.2d 42 (Miss. 1989), that long before Miranda warnings were mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court, it was well settled in Mississippi jurisprudence that a confession given after promises of leniency was incompetent as evidence.

In each of the cases cited by Jones wherein a confession was rendered inadmissible due to promises of leniency, it was uncontradicted that the statement was made. In this case, Jones and the authorities’ recollection of the events leading up to his confession was in dispute, and was decided in favor of the authorities’ version by the trial court after an extensive hearing.

D. Rule 6.03

Jones was arrested in Memphis on January 10, was returned to Mississippi on January 12 at approximately 4:00 p.m., and was given an initial appearance in Mississippi on January 15, 1998; a period clearly exceeding the period mandated by Rule 6.03. Upon his return to Mississippi on the 12th, Jones confessed to the murder. Between this confession and his initial appearance on the 15th, Jones made other incriminating statements and led police to substantial physical evidence used against him.

Jones cites Abram v. State, 606 So.2d 1015 (Miss. 1992), where this court found reversible error in part due to failure to provide an initial appearance according to Rule 6.03 (then Rule 1.04). In Abram, the confession in question was found to be coerced, and this court found the confession to have devastating consequences for the defense because the State would not have obtained an uncounseled confession if the accused had been provided a timely initial appearance and access to counsel. Under these circumstances, where the defendant’s conviction relied solely upon his confession, this court held it to be reversible error for the State to fail to provide an initial appearance where a judge was available at all times.

It is well established that the failure to provide an initial appearance for an accused within the time provided is not, of itself, a reason to suppress a confession. In Veal v. State, 585 So.2d 693 (Miss. 1991), this court found that a violation of Rule 6.03 alone will not result in the suppression of evidence or reversible error where the defendant was informed of his rights and made a knowing and voluntary waiver.

The WCSO should not be punished for failing to provide Jones an initial appearance while he was under the custody of Memphis police. The 48 hour period should have begun at the point when Jones was under the control of the WCSO. Applying this reasoning, Jones’s initial appearance would have been required no later than four o’clock p.m. on January 14, 48 hours after being taken into custody by WCSO.

A timely initial appearance in Mississippi might have resulted in less evidence being gathered, but it would not have resulted in suppression of the evidence against Jones to the extent where there is any reasonable probability that the verdict would have changed.

Moreover, exclusion of Jones’s confession on this ground will not further the deterrent purpose of the exclusionary rule because WCSO has no control over what occurred in Memphis.

Thoughts

There is now a Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure (MRCP) that has replaced the Uniform Rules of Circuit and County Court. Sections 5.1 and 5.2 of MRCP provide the rules on getting a defendant to an initial appearance. Like 6.03, a violation of 5.1 or 5.2 will not automatically render a confession inadmissible. You can see the MRCP here.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/images/OPINIONS/CO7537.PDF