In 2016, Captain Chris Selman of Forrest County S.O. was monitoring traffic from a marked vehicle in the parking lot of a shopping center in Hattiesburg when Melissa Cruz approached him and said she had just killed her boyfriend. Cruz was not emotional or upset. Selman noticed the hood of her car was caved in and he had just heard on the police radio that a man had been found dead on old Highway 49.
Selman handcuffed and Mirandized her. Later that evening, Deputy John Tryner and Investigator David Bassett Mirandized her again and she waived and formally confessed to killing her boyfriend, Larry Phillips, by running over him with her car.
They had an argument at the bar and both of them left together. They argued again in the car and she then left him on the side of the road and returned to the bar and had one half of a beer. She then left the bar, saw him walking, and ran him over. Again, she was calm and unemotional. Her blood alcohol content that night was determined to be .129%.
She was convicted of first degree felony murder and sentenced to life. On appeal, she argued her confession should have been suppressed since she was intoxicated when the statement was made. MCOA affirmed.
Selman testified that when Cruz approached him in the parking lot and told him that she had killed her boyfriend, she was steady on her feet and did not trip or stumble. He also stated that her driving was normal—she was not driving too fast or too slow. Selman did not smell any alcohol coming from her person, nor did he notice slurred speech. In his opinion, Cruz seemed calm and collected.
Tryner and Bassett also testified that Cruz was calm throughout their encounter. Neither officer noticed any reason to suspect that Cruz was incapable of understanding her Miranda rights. Her conversation with them seemed normal. They testified that Cruz did not have any difficulty reading the waiver form or understanding her rights as they were read to her.
Tryner testified that on other occasions, he had decided not to interview a suspect because he thought that the suspect have might been intoxicated. But he went ahead with Cruz’s interview because she was seemingly normal and compliant.
A bar employee testified that Cruz was drinking beer at the Rusty Bucket before Phillips was
killed. According to her, Cruz arrived at the Rusty Bucket around 6:30 or 7 p.m. Rose estimated that Cruz had five to seven beers while she was there. Rose testified that Cruz seemed “okay” and was not slurring her words or falling off her chair. She stated that Cruz was “upset” and “flustered” when she came back to the bar after her fight with Phillips.
A waiver of Miranda rights must be made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently. A waiver is voluntary if it is the product of a free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation, coercion or deception. A waiver is knowing and intelligent if it is made with a full awareness of both the nature of the right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon it. In Baggett, MSC said that intoxication does not automatically render a confession involuntary. The admissibility of the confession depends on the degree of intoxication.
Three law enforcement officers testified that nothing about Cruz’s demeanor or appearance indicated that she was intoxicated or impaired, let alone to the point that she could not voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waive her rights. Her speech was not slurred, and she did not smell of alcohol. She was calm and conversational during all of her interactions with law enforcement. She listened as Tryner read her rights aloud, and she initialed next to each right and signed the waiver form without difficulty.
In addition, as the trial judge noted, Cruz’s written statement was organized, cogent, detailed, and legible. Cruz’s only witness at the suppression hearing, the bar employee, estimated that Cruz drank five to seven beers while she was at the Rusty Bucket. However, even she could not say that she thought Cruz was drunk.
In addition, although we do not know precisely when Cruz finally left the Rusty Bucket, it was at least two hours before she signed her Miranda waiver and gave her oral and written statements. Given the totality of the evidence presented to the trial judge, we cannot say that he manifestly erred by finding that Cruz’s Miranda waiver and statements were voluntary, knowing, and intelligent.