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Officers made questionable statements but confession was not suppressed

Facts

In 2017, Kadarius Hamer was arrested with three other people for two counts of murder and interviewed by Tippah County Investigator Jeremy Rainer and FBI Agent Lawson (the victim was facing federal charges for purchasing narcotics from Hamer’s father).

Agent Lawson drew a linear scale on a piece of paper with potential outcomes for the charges. On one side was the death penalty and on the other side was very little jail time or better. Hamer was read his Miranda rights twice and hesitated before signing. Lawson told Hamer that the first person to talk would get the lightest sentence and the others would be looking at the death penalty.

As Hamer denied involvement, Rainey reminded him that he could die in prison if he did not tell the truth. He was also told if he cooperated he would be allowed a visit with his girlfriend. Hamer eventually confessed to his role in the murders. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life. On appeal, Hamer argued his confession was involuntary. MCOA affirmed.

Analysis

A.  Waiver of rights

When determining whether a defendant waived his Miranda rights intelligently, knowingly, and voluntarily, the circuit judge must consider the totality of the circumstances. The totality of the circumstances includes the defendant’s experience and familiarity with the criminal justice system, intellectual capacity, educational background, degree of literacy, emotional state, and any mental disease or other defect.

The circuit judge heard testimony that Hamer was in the national guard, attended Mississippi State University, had no criminal history, communicated with ease, and did not demonstrate a lack of understanding during his interactions with law enforcement.

MSC in Brown said that if an accused is fully aware of both “the nature of the right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon it,” a wavier is knowingly and intelligently made. Waiver is considered voluntary if it is the result of a free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation, coercion, or deception.

The record reflects that Hamer was read his Miranda rights twice by Agent Lawson. Investigators then asked Hamer to read the rights and waiver himself to make sure that he clearly understood them. By signing the waiver, Hamer voluntarily waived those rights, and he represented that the investigators had not promised him anything or coerced or threatened him.

Hamer asserts that his confession was involuntary because it was induced by Agent Lawson’s statements that he was facing the death penalty and was currently at the wrong end of the scale. He also claims that he waived his Fifth Amendment rights after those statements and eventually confessed his involvement in the double murder.

While law enforcement did mention the death penalty, made questionable statements, and accompanied those statements with a “best case-worse case scenario scale,” Hamer did not confess until after hearing all the evidence the police had against him.

B.  LEO misrepresentations

Investigators misrepresenting evidence in their possession to a defendant is a factor to be considered when reviewing the voluntariness of the confession. That factor should be viewed in the totality of the circumstances. Upon considering the totality of the circumstances, a confession is voluntary if the accused freely and rationally decided to give the statement.

Lawson and Scott misrepresented several matters to Hamer, including having video of him at the gas station and at Koster’s home. Once informed of these video recordings, Hamer, who initially denied all allegations, admitted to being at both places.

The investigators used techniques that have been sanctioned as constitutionally acceptable by both the United States Supreme Court and the Mississippi Supreme Court (MSC). In Howell, MSC reiterated the U.S. Supreme Court ruling validating certain ploys to mislead a suspect or lull him into a false sense of security. They are permissible during police questioning as long as they do not rise to the level of compulsion or coercion.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/Images%5COpinions%5CCO151509.pdf