In 2010, Chris Baxter failed to appear for a sentencing so a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Deputy Bobby Daffin was aware of the warrant and knew about Baxter and his girlfriend, Brandy Williams, from prior dealings. When Daffin saw Williams driving her father’s truck, he observed an arm of a passenger who appeared to be leaning back to hide.
Daffin had seen Baxter driving that truck before and he knew that Baxter was usually with Williams. Daffin made a u turn and started to follow the truck which sped away. Daffin then activated his lights and a 17 mile chase ensued with speeds reaching 100 miles per hour.
Sheriff Gary Welford and others set up a roadblock and the truck hit and killed Welford before continuing to flee. The truck was found in a creek and Baxter and Williams were found the next day. No police officer could positively identify who was driving the truck when it struck Welford.
Baxter was Mirandized, waived, and said he was the driver of the truck for the entire time. When told there was security camera footage for some of the pursuit, he said he switched places and was the one that struck Welford. All but one witness said a female was driving the truck during the chase.
He was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to life. On appeal, he argued Daffin lacked reasonable suspicion for the stop and his confession should have been suppressed for multiple reasons. MCOA affirmed.
A. Reasonable suspicion for stop
In Jack, we said for an officer to have legal authority for an investigative stop, he need not have probable cause to make an arrest. He need only have a reasonable suspicion that the accused is involved in a felony.
Daffin was aware that Baxter had an outstanding warrant for his arrest, and he knew that Baxter and Williams were often together. When he saw the arm of a passenger in the truck, he suspected it was Baxter and attempted to investigate further. Thus, Deputy Daffin’s initial attempt to conduct an investigatory stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment.
Further, in Dies, the MSC said that once a suspect flees from the police when he has been detained on reasonable suspicion, the officers acquire probable cause to effectuate an arrest. Because Daffin had reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop, he also obtained probable cause for an arrest once Williams fled. Thus, the evidence obtained as a result of Daffin’s pursuit was admissible, as it was not fruit of the poisonous tree.
B. His low I.Q. in relation to statement
Two doctors concluded that Baxter was intellectually disabled for purposes of receiving the death penalty. However, in McGowan, the MSC there is no per se rule that mental retardation renders a confession involuntary and inadmissible. Instead, the mental abilities of an accused are a factor—but only one factor—to be considered.
In determining whether the confession was intelligently and voluntarily made, the trial court must consider all of the facts and circumstances of the particular confession and the interrogation leading up to it.
The trial court considered Dr. O’Brien’s and Dr. Lott’s assessments of Baxter, as well as Baxter’s I.Q. The trial court also considered that Baxter was familiar with the criminal justice system, as Baxter had at least four felony convictions and multiple other encounters with law enforcement. For each of his prior convictions, Baxter was found to have knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights.
In his statement to police, Baxter identified multiple sheriff’s deputies by name, stated that he was able to recognize each one’s face, and knew which patrol vehicle each drove. The fact that Baxter’s statement was contradictory at times does not render the statement inadmissible.
Further, the trial court found no evidence that Baxter was threatened, coerced, or offered rewards to induce the confession. We find the trial court correctly considered the totality of the circumstances in finding Baxter’s confession admissible.
C. Physical Discomfort, Physical Abuse by Law Enforcement, and Drug Use
During the interview, he was asked if he was high. He responded, “I need some more.” The officer then stated, “You need some more so that means you’re not high right now. Ok so that means you understand what you’re saying right? Chris?” Baxter responded, “Yeah.” At no point during the interview did Baxter ask for food or water.
In his findings, the trial judge noted that Baxter admitted during his statement that he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Also, the trial judge watched the interrogation video and did not find that Baxter appeared to be intoxicated. There is no evidence that Baxter’s methamphetamine use several days prior rendered him incapable of knowingly and voluntarily waiving his Miranda rights.
Baxter was able to understand and respond to officers’ questions, and he remembered many details from the high speed chase. Likewise, the trial judge found no evidence that law enforcement threatened or coerced Baxter into making a statement. It appeared from the video that officers attempted to make Baxter as comfortable as possible. And while a physical altercation occurred prior to his interview, the altercation was a result of Baxter’s refusal to allow the officers to handcuff him.