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“I won’t tell you anything until I talk to a lawyer” was ambiguous invocation in this case (Saddler has clarified this)

Facts

In 2004, police in Kansas obtained two search warrants based on a report that Lisa Jo Chamberlin and her boyfriend, Roger Gillett, were in possession of a stolen vehicle and were manufacturing methamphetamine. One warrant was for the location where they were residing and one was for a farm owned by Gillett.

They executed the first warrant at the home and found methamphetamine and other drug paraphernalia. Chamberlain was arrested. They then executed the second warrant at the farm and found two dismembered bodies inside of freezers. The bodies were identified as Linda Heintzelman and Vernon Hullett.

Chamberlain and Gillett were living in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, with Gillett’s cousin, Hullett, and his girlfriend, Heintzelman. There was an automobile accident wherein Gillett struck Hullett’s car. They were supposed to split an insurance claim but Hullett did not file so they killed and dismembered both of them and brought the bodies to Kansas.

Chamberlain gave five interviews to police:

First Interview

The bodies had not yet been discovered so this was only concerning the methamphetamine. Approximately one minute into preliminary identification questions, Chamberlain said,  “I won’t tell you anything until I talk to a lawyer.” She also asked, “Is this where I’m supposed to ask for a lawyer,” and later “Don’t you think I need a lawyer?”

The officer immediately asked questions to clarify whether Chamberlin had invoked her right to counsel. Subsequently, Chamberlin clearly said, “I’ll talk.” This first interview lasted about six minutes. The officer testified that after he read Chamberlin her Miranda rights, she checked on a Miranda form that she did not want to speak with him. The interview then ended at 5:20 p.m.

Second Interview

This interview started the next day at 9:43 a.m. After Mirandizing Chamberlain, she signed and initialed a waiver. She described the bodies and spoke of her help in cleaning the house and loading the bodies in the freezer. This interview ended at 10:39 a.m.

Third Interview

At 1:24 p.m. on the same day as the second interview, officers reminded her of the Miranda form she filled out earlier that day and she confirmed she understood. She was very emotional and did not provide any details of the murders. This interview ended at 1:39 p.m.

Fourth Interview

At 2:46 p.m. on same say as interview #2 and #3, officers reviewed with Chamberlin her Miranda rights and she acknowledged that she understood her rights and said that she wanted to speak. The report indicates that Chamberlin described the details of the murders from start to finish, including how she helped tape Heintzelman’s hands behind her back so she would not struggle with Chamberlin and Gillett as they began suffocating her with a plastic bag, a process which Gillett completed.

Chamberlin told police that she would notify him if she recalled anything else.

Fifth Interview

The following day, Chamberlain asked to speak to police. She was Mirandized and signed a waiver. Chamberlin then gave a detailed account from the day of the murders, including her involvement, through her arrest in Kansas.

Chamberlain was convicted and sentenced to death. On appeal, she argued that she invoked counsel on interview #1 so all other statements should be suppressed. MSC affirmed.

Analysis

A. Ambiguous request for counsel was clarified and she requested silence and not counsel

If the individual states that he wants an attorney, the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present. If the defendant invoked this right, he is not subject to further interrogation by the authorities until counsel has been made available to him, unless the accused himself initiates further communication, exchanges, or conversations with the police. See U.S. Supreme Court case Edwards v Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981).

A defendant must articulate his desire to have counsel present sufficiently clearly that a reasonable police officer in the circumstances would understand the statement to be a request for an attorney.

This court previously has held in Holland v State, 587 So. 2d 848 (Miss. 1991), that if an officer understands only that the suspect might be invoking the right to counsel, an officer must cease interrogation, except for inquiries made to clarify the defendant’s request. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to require such a procedure but noted in Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452 (1994) that where the officers followed the same procedure as adopted by this Court, such a procedure is “good police practice for the interviewing officers.” (Davis holds that the right to counsel can only be legally asserted by an unambiguous or unequivocal request for counsel.)

A review of the video recording of the first interrogation shows that the officer was in the midst of asking identification questions when Chamberlin, after spelling her last name, blurted out the unintelligible statement regarding an attorney. He then ceased his series of identifying questions and asked Chamberlin a number of questions, pertaining only to whether she wanted an attorney. Eventually, Chamberlin said, “I’ll talk.”

This court agrees with the trial court that her questions concerning an attorney were ambiguous as a matter of law and that investigators took all appropriate precautions to determine the nature and extent of the ambiguity, and that the defendant voluntarily and without coercion agreed to proceed and further answer questions.

When the officer asked Chamberlin “are you willing to answer questions now,” Chamberlin shook her head “no,” and he ceased asking questions. Chamberlin’s indication that she did not want to answer questions did not constitute an unambiguous request for counsel. Thus, at the end of the first interrogation, she successfully invoked her right to silence but not her right to counsel.

B. Officers waited a reasonable amount of time after right of silence invoked before starting second interview

Invocation of the right to silence concerns whether an officer scrupulously honors a defendant’s right to cease questioning for a reasonable time, after which questioning may resume if the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waives this right. See Neal v. State, 451 So. 2d 743 (Miss. 1984).

The officer’s initiation of the second interrogation did not violate Chamberlin’s Miranda rights when it was undisputed that a significant period of time had passed from the first interrogation (about sixteen hours). New Miranda warnings were administered and a waiver signed; and the interrogation was restricted to the murders, which had not been a subject of the first interrogation.

C. Third Interview

Similarly, the initiation of the third interrogation by the KBI officers was proper. The concern with the third interrogation is not whether a statement made therein was admissible (she was too emotional to provide any information) but, rather, the effect of Chamberlin’s invocation of her right to silence on the statements obtained in the fourth and fifth interviews.

D. Fourth Interview

Chamberlin waived her Miranda rights at the beginning of the third interview. She then revoked that waiver by stating that she was unable to continue. Accordingly, police stopped the interview. Later that afternoon, a Miranda warning was re-administered, and she re-waived her rights.

Due to the undisputed evidence that she knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived her rights at the beginning of the fourth interrogation, the initiation of the fourth interrogation by the KBI officers was proper, and her subsequent inculpatory statements were admissible in evidence against her.

The trial court found that Chamberlin’s rights were sufficiently safeguarded during this colloquy and that all statements made therein were made after intelligently, knowingly, and voluntarily waiving her rights. This court agrees.

E. Fifth Interview

Chamberlin initiated the final interview by sending a message through the jailer that she wished to speak to the authorities again. The record supports the trial court findings that Chamberlin’s Miranda rights were not in question when she initiated the communication with police.

See Edwards, 451 U.S. at 485 (an accused is subject to further interrogation when the accused “initiates further communication, exchanges, or conversations with the police”). Clearly, Chamberlin’s statement made during the fifth interview was admissible.

Thoughts

MSC has since decided Saddler wherein they said that it is still good police practice to ask clarifying questions when the subject makes ambiguous requests to remain silent and/or to obtain an attorney. However, they have said they will now follow U.S. Supreme Court case Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452 (1994), which holds that the right to counsel can only be legally asserted by an unambiguous or unequivocal request for counsel.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/Images/Opinions/CO49537.pdf