confession of 15 year old was voluntary


C.B. testified that in June 2014, Christopher Smith sexually assaulted her. At the time of the assault, C.B. was six years old, and Smith was fifteen years old. C.B. immediately reported the incident to her mother, identifying Smith as the perpetrator. C.B.’s mother took her to a hospital in Amory, Mississippi, where C.B. was examined by nurse Kathy Franks, a sexual assault nurse examiner. Franks testified that she observed signs of trauma to C.B.’s pelvic area. Franks also performed a rape-kit examination on C.B. Investigators with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office sent the rape kit to the Mississippi Forensics Laboratory for testing. Test results revealed the presence of seminal fluid in C.B.’s underwear; however, the sample from the rape kit was too small to be tested for the presence of DNA.

John Michael Lay, an investigator with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, arrived at the hospital and interviewed C.B., C.B.’s mother, and Franks. Based on C.B.’s identification of Smith as the person who assaulted her, Smith was arrested and transported to the sheriff’s office.

After Smith signed a waiver of his Miranda rights, Investigator Lay and Investigator Brandon Davis interrogated him. Smith initially denied any inappropriate contact with C.B. However, Smith eventually admitted to the investigators that he sexually penetrated C.B. Investigators asked Smith to draw a picture of his penis to show how far he penetrated C.B. Investigators also asked Smith to write a letter to his parents apologizing for putting them into this situation.

Smith filed a motion to suppress his confession, drawing, and letter to his parents. After a hearing, the trial court denied the motion. The jury returned a verdict finding Smith guilty of sexual battery of a minor under the age of fourteen years old and he was sentenced to forty years in MDOC. On appeal, Smith argues his confession should have been suppressed. MCOA affirmed.


Smith claims that his confession to investigators during custodial interrogation was coerced and resulted from offers of leniency, and therefore it was not freely, voluntarily, and knowingly made. Specifically, Smith asserts that the investigators induced him into making an involuntary statement where he admitted to sexually penetrating C.B. in order to avoid harsh treatment by the courts and prison inmates. Smith maintains that the investigators repeatedly told Smith that they would help him if he told the truth. As a result, Smith asserts that he is entitled to a reversal of his conviction and a new trial.

In cases like the one before us where a defendant claims that the police have induced a confession through coercion, the trial court is required to hold a hearing to determine the voluntariness of that confession. The State must show that the confession was voluntarily made without any threats, coercion or offer of reward. When the defendant is a minor, a trial court must also evaluate the circumstances surrounding the interrogation, including the juvenile’s age, experience, education, background, and intelligence, and also whether he has the capacity to understand the warnings given him, the nature of his Fifth Amendment rights, and the consequences of waiving those rights. See MSC Jennings.

The trial court held a hearing on the motion outside the jury’s presence and ultimately determined that based on the totality of the circumstances, including Smith’s age, intelligence, and the circumstances related to the interrogation or the questioning by the officers involved, Smith’s confession, letter, and drawing were admissible. The trial court explained that due to the nature of the crime, Smith’s age has no special bearing on his ability to be questioned without a parent and voluntarily waive his rights. The trial court also referenced Dr. Lott’s evaluation of Smith and his determination that Smith was competent to stand trial.

The record reflects that based on C.B.’s statement to Investigator Lay, Smith was arrested and transported to the sheriff’s department. The transcript from Smith’s interview reflects that Investigator Lay and Investigator Davis advised Smith of his Miranda rights. The investigators also read the Miranda waiver form to Smith, making sure he understood each individual right. After Smith signed the Miranda waiver, the investigators began interrogating him.

Smith argues that his age is a crucial factor in determining whether his confession was voluntary. The record reflects that at the time of the incident and his interrogation, Smith was fifteen years old. Smith did not have a parent present during his interrogation, and he never requested that a parent be present. Regarding Smith’s age, MSC has held that minors can be treated as adults in such circumstances and are allowed to waive their rights and confess to a crime. See MSC Clemons. Therefore, a juvenile’s age is seldom per se conclusive that a confession was not freely and voluntarily given.

Additionally, because the circuit court has original jurisdiction over the crime of sexual battery of a minor under the age of fourteen years old, Smith was not entitled to have a parent present during his interrogation. See Miss. Atty. Gen. Op., 2001-0240.

The interrogation transcript reflects that Smith initially denied any physical contact with C.B. The investigators urged Smith to tell the truth and stop lying. Investigator Lay asked Smith if he was aware that a conviction for sexual battery could result in Smith going to jail for the rest of his life, and Smith responded, “I’m not worried about it, cause I know I didn’t touch her at all.” Investigator Davis reiterated that Smith could be sentenced to life in prison if he was found guilty, asking Smith: You know what prison’s like? . . . Would you like to take a shower with another man standing there looking at you? Or use the bathroom? Take a crap with another man standing there. Or sleep in the bed right beside one? Because that’s the kind of life that you looking at living. All because you want to sit here, you want to act bad, you want to act tough.

Smith continued to deny having any physical contact with C.B. Investigator Davis told Smith: “We’re here trying to get you some help. Ok. And lying to us is not gonna get you any help. Lying to us and stuff will get you in deeper trouble. . . . I want you to understand that.” Investigator Davis also stated that he could inform the trial judge that Smith was helpful to the investigators and therefore needed help in return: “He helped us out on this,” so “let’s help him.” Or Investigator Davis could tell the judge that Smith was not helpful.

Finally, Investigator Davis warned Smith that once the investigators received the DNA results from Smith’s buccal swab and the rape kit, it would be too late for the investigators to help Smith or talk to the judge. Smith eventually confessed to having some physical contact with C.B., though he claimed that the contact was accidental on his part and that C.B. kept messing with him sexually.

Investigator Davis then gave Smith a piece of paper and a pen and instructed him to “draw a private picture . . . of your privates and just tell us just how much maybe touched her with it.” Investigator Davis stated that he needed to be able to explain how Smith’s seminal fluid got on C.B.’s clothes and body. Smith then admitted that he had told investigators only half of the truth. Investigator Lay responded, “I want the whole truth, [Smith]. I don’t want half the truth. I need the whole truth. We can’t help you if you can’t tell us the truth. Can you tell us the truth?” In response, Smith told the investigators that his penis touched C.B.’s vagina. Smith again claimed that the contact was accidental, explaining that while C.B. was “messing” with him, her dress came up and Smith’s pants fell down. Smith then drew a picture for the investigators to illustrate his penis penetrating C.B.’s vagina.

We recognize that for a confession to be admissible, it must have been given voluntarily and not given because of promises, threats or inducements. If a confession is the result of threat, inducements or promises—however slight—it is not voluntary and therefore not admissible. See MSC Manix.

In MSC Layne v. State, 542 So. 2d 237 (Miss. 1989), the defendant argued that the trial court erred when it denied the defendant’s motion to suppress his written statement to a police officer. The defendant asserted that he provided the statement as a result of the officer’s promises of leniency—namely, the officer’s statement that if the defendant “were to be cooperative with the investigation, the district attorney would be informed of this fact.” Although MSC found the officer’s statement “troublesome,” the court recognized that other jurisdictions, when addressing similar cases, have held that a statement like the one made to the defendant, when accompanied by no other coercive psychological tactics, does not constitute an implied promise of leniency or advantage. Utilizing this standard, MSC ultimately affirmed the trial court’s ruling after finding that the statements made to the defendant by the police were not accompanied by any further promise of benefit or advantage, and there were no other indications that the interrogating officers employed any additional persuasive interviewing techniques. MSC further held that the determining factor in its decision to affirm the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress his statement is the fact that the defendant offered no evidence—through his own testimony or otherwise—that the officers’ promise was the reason he confessed.

In the more recent case of Hamer, we (MCOA) addressed a defendant’s claim that his confession was involuntary because it was induced by a federal agent’s statements that the defendant was facing the death penalty and “was currently at the wrong end of the scale.” We found that while law enforcement did mention the death penalty, made questionable statements, and accompanied those statements with a best case-worse case scenario scale, the defendant did not confess until after hearing all the evidence the police had against him. This Court explained that investigators misrepresenting evidence in their possession to a defendant is a factor that should be viewed in the totality of the circumstances when reviewing the voluntariness of a confession. This Court ultimately found that the trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress his confession.

In the case before us, the transcript reflects that when the investigators warned Smith that he could go to jail for the rest of his life, Smith continued to deny having any physical contact with C.B. Smith only admitted to having physical sexual contact with C.B. after Investigator Davis told Smith that if his DNA matched the samples from the rape kit, it would be too late for the investigators to help him. Even though Smith eventually admitted to some physical sexual contact with C.B., he denied any responsibility for the crime and claimed that the contact was an accident. After reviewing the transcript from Smith’s interrogation, we find that the investigators’ statements regarding prison did not induce Smith to confess; rather, Smith’s incriminatory statement was in response to his belief as to the proof presented by the investigators.

Additionally, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has held that discussions about potential prison sentences, without more, do not generally amount to coercion. See Anderson.

As for the investigators’ statements that they would “help” Smith and tell the trial judge that Smith cooperated with the investigation, this Court has held that although such statements are “discouraged,” they are “not necessarily fatal to a suspect’s otherwise voluntary statement.” See Mullins. This Court has explained that proving that a confession was not freely and voluntarily given requires more: suspects must demonstrate that the promise by law enforcement was the ‘proximate cause’ of the statement in issue.”  Furthermore, we find that Smith offered no evidence—through his own testimony or otherwise—that the officers’ ‘promise’ was the reason he confessed.

After our review, and after considering the totality of the circumstances, we find no manifest error in the trial court’s finding that Smith’s confession was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. As a result, we find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting Smith’s statement into evidence.