In 2011, Mickey Johnson, his fianceé Chiquita Clay, and Gamilla Truss were in Johnson’s home when law enforcement officers arrived to execute a search warrant. During the search, officers located a plastic bottle containing crack cocaine. Following the search, the officers arrested Johnson and transported him and Clay – whom they did not arrest – to the Leake County Jail.
After arrival at the jail, Officer Clay McCombs and Chief Deputy Mike Williams presented Johnson with a form Miranda warning and waiver, which he signed. Thereafter, McCombs wrote out a statement which Johnson signed, stating:
“I, Mickey Johnson, am giving this statement to Clay McCombs, who is writing it for me. Today I was at my house when I heard officer was at my house. I had some crack cocaine that I put in a white bottle. I put the white bottle in some clothes in the closet with women’s clothes. It was my crack cocaine and Chekita Clay had nothing to do with it.”
He was convicted of possession of cocaine and sentenced to 20 years. On appeal he argued his confession was coerced by a threat to arrest his fiancee and that the Miranda rights warning was defective. MSC affirmed.
A. Coercion by threat to arrest girlfriend
A defendant’s confession may be allowed into evidence over objection only where the trial judge finds the confession was intelligently, knowingly, and voluntarily made, rather than bargained for with promises, threats, or inducements by law enforcement officers.
The State called both McCombs and Williams, and both refuted Johnson’s testimony by testifying that neither promises nor threats were made to induce Johnson’s confession. McCombs testified that Johnson had asked whether Clay would be charged, and he had responded that, if Johnson admitted the cocaine was his, there would be no reason to charge Clay.
We have held that the State may meet its burden by producing testimony of an officer, or other persons having knowledge of the facts, that the confession was voluntarily made without threats, coercion, or offer of reward. According to the officers, Johnson initiated the subject of whether Clay would be charged, and McCombs’s factual response to Johnson’s question does not, as a matter of law, rise to the level of a threat or coercion.
Both interviewing officers testified that Johnson was not promised anything in exchange for his confession, and the only evidence to refute this testimony was Johnson’s version of the discussion.
In Glasper, we addressed similar conflicting testimony at a suppression hearing in which the defendant argued his confession was involuntarily given because law enforcement officers induced the confession with repeated promises of leniency. We said that we afford the appropriate deference to the trial judge since he was the ultimate fact finder based on disputed testimony offered at the suppression hearing. And the trial judge, siting as the fact finder, had the sole authority to weigh the credibility of the witnesses and decide in the state’s favor.
Johnson was informed that he had “the right to have an attorney present during interrogation,” but he was not specifically informed that he had the right to consult with counsel. The trial judge found that informing a defendant of his right to have an attorney present during questioning carries with it the understanding that he may consult with that attorney. We agree.
In and since Miranda, the United States Supreme Court has rejected a rigid requirement of exact language when giving Miranda warnings In Duckworth v. Eagan, 492 US 195 (1989), the U.S. Supreme Court stated that we have never insisted that Miranda warnings be given in the exact form described in that decision and that the inquiry is simply whether the warnings reasonably convey to a suspect his rights as required by Miranda.
Johnson was clearly informed that he had the right to have an attorney present during interrogation, and that if he desired an attorney, but could not afford one, one would be appointed. This adequately informed Johnson of his right to counsel.