In 2017, at their residence in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Jonicqua Moffett and her fiancé, Cordaeil Miller, got into an argument that lasted most of the day. That argument ultimately ended when Moffett stabbed Miller one time in the heart with a knife, resulting in his death. When the police arrived, Miller was lying next to a vehicle with the driver’s side door still open. The police found a knife with a blade length of approximately seven inches near the vehicle.
Moffett initially told the police on scene that she and Miller were arguing and that he left. She claimed she went inside the residence and later returned outside to find Miller “leaning” against the home with a stab wound. Moffett told the police that she yelled at family members inside the home to come help.
Later at the police station during a recorded interview, Moffett maintained the same story, and the police told Moffett that they had eyewitnesses to the incident. At that point, Moffett changed her story and told the police that she and Miller had been arguing all day and that she stabbed him to protect herself. She explained that Miller was verbally abusive, was intoxicated, and had punched her prior to the stabbing.
Moffett stated that she retrieved the knife from the kitchen to protect herself before returning outside and beginning the argument again when the stabbing ultimately occurred. When Miller tried to get into the vehicle to drive away, Moffett claimed she attempted to stop him, and he turned around and struck her in the mouth with his elbow. Moffett stated that Miller bear-hugged her and that is when he was “accidentally” stabbed.
At trial Investigator Dale Bounds of the Hattiesburg Police Department testified that Moffett continued to tell the same story that she had originally told the first responding officers. After he told her he had witnesses to them fussing and fighting all day long, she admitted to stabbing Mr. Miller and gave a written statement.
First, she claimed that she was told “explicit lies” that witnesses saw her stab Miller. (She does not make this argument on appeal. However, it is worth noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that law enforcement does not have to be completely honest when interrogating a suspect. See Illinois v. Perkins, 496 U.S. 292 (1990) – ploys to mislead a suspect or lull him into a false sense of security are permissible during police questioning, as long as they do not rise to the level of compulsion or coercion).
Second, she claimed that after she expressed concern for her children, Investigator Bounds said, You’re not going to lose your kids. One week before trial, the court held a hearing on the motion. Investigator Bounds testified and provided context for his statement. When asked why he made that statement to Moffett, he responded:
I mean, just because you get arrested and possibly go to jail, that doesn’t mean you are going to lose your children. I mean, even if you do go to prison, you can have visitation with your children. So you are not going to lose your children. Your children are going to be your children regardless.
Moffett’s sole argument on appeal is that Investigator Bounds’ statements regarding her children resulted in her involuntary confession. In her own words, she claims that Investigator Bounds crossed over the line of imploring her to simply tell the truth in stating to her, without any knowledge or information, that she would not lose her children.
In Johnson, MSC said that 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.
Further, in Burford, MSC said that the trial court must determine from the totality of the circumstances whether the confession was the product of the accused’s free and rational choice. If a confession is the result of threat, inducements or promises—however slight—it is not voluntary. The test in such cases is whether the inducement is of a nature calculated under the circumstances to induce a confession irrespective of its truth or falsity.
MSC has held in Harden that a mere exhortation to tell the truth is not an improper inducement that will result in an inadmissible confession. On the contrary, the MSC has condemned the practice whereby law enforcement interrogators, or related third parties, convey to suspects the impression, however slight, that cooperation by the suspect might be of some benefit. See Abram v. State, 606 So. 2d 1015 (Miss. 1992), finding his confession involuntary because he “was encouraged to do right by God,” “was given hope of leniency, and was confronted with the legal and religious consequences of his refusal to cooperate.”
In Burford, the MSC held that the defendant’s trial attorney was deficient for not filing a motion to suppress the defendant’s confession despite strong evidence that it was induced by threats and promises. Specifically, the officers told the defendant that if she did not cooperate, she would remain in jail, she would not be released on bond, and her children would be taken away. One of the officers also told the defendant she would get a lower bond if she were honest. Those statements ultimately led the defendant to confess as an accomplice to burglary in both a videoed statement and written statement. The video showed that after she confessed, one of the officers called the courthouse to obtain a bond for her.
Burford is materially distinguishable from the present case. Here, Investigator Bounds simply responded to Moffett’s expressed concern that she did not want to lose her children. At the suppression hearing, he further explained that in his response, he meant that she was not going to lose her children in a literal sense if she got arrested or went to jail.
Based on Investigator Bounds’ response to Moffett’s expressed concern, it is hard to comprehend how the truth can be coercive in this specific case. If courts were to hold it impermissible coercion by law enforcement when stating a known truth to a defendant in response to a concern expressed by the defendant, then that would signal the end to almost any type of police interrogation. The trial court listened to the testimony produced at the suppression hearing, including Investigator Bounds’ testimony. The court judged the credibility of Investigator Bounds and never heard a contrary version of facts.
After review, we cannot find that the trial court applied an incorrect legal standard, committed manifest error, or made a decision against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s denial of Moffett’s motion to suppress her confession and its admission of the confession into evidence.