In 2013, police in Greenville, Mississippi, arrested Clifton Dean and another man for the murder of Fredrick Williams. While Dean was being transported to the municipal courthouse for a preliminary hearing, he asked police Investigator Jeremey Arendale if he could talk to him about what happened that night. After Arendale assured Dean that he was not recording the conversation, Dean admitted to shooting Williams. This was not a formal statement.
Dean then saw Sergeant Marcus Turner and asked to speak to him. Turner took Dean into a separate room where Dean said he did not want an attorney and proceeded to tell Turner that he shot Williams. Turner did not record the conversation because he did not know Dean was going to confess. Turner encouraged Dean to go to Arendale and provide a formal statement and Dean agreed.
Arendale advised Dean of his Miranda rights and Dean waived them and said he would provide a statement in writing if it was not recorded. Arendale gave him paper and left the room and when he returned Dean said he had changed his mind and did not want to provide a statement. As they were walking out of the interview room, Arendale saw Dean flip a balled up piece of paper that he was hiding behind his back into a trash can. Arendale acted like he did not see the paper, but he later retrieved the paper from the garbage.
Dean had scribbled out his writing to make it illegible and had ripped the paper into pieces. Arendale retrieved the paper and sent it to the crime lab where they were able to use software to determine the content on the paper (a confession). Clifton Dean was convicted of manslaughter with a firearm enhancement and sentenced to 25 years. On appeal, Dean argued his statement should have been suppressed since he threw it away. MCOA affirmed.
Miranda warnings are given 1) when a subject is in custody and 2) when police are interrogating the subject. It is clear that Dean was in custody. Thus, the only question is whether Dean was interrogated.
In Alexander, we said that interrogation is defined as questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way. The initiation of questioning of the suspect who is in custody by law enforcement officers triggers the need for Miranda; therefore, if a suspect in custody initiates the conversation, that statement may be admissible as freely and voluntarily given even without prior Miranda warnings. Voluntary statements are not barred by the Fifth Amendment and their admissibility is not affected by the Miranda decision.
Neither Arendale nor Turner initiated any questioning, and Arendale merely provided Dean with the requested materials to write his statement and left the room without questioning or attempting to elicit a statement from Dean. Nor did the officers attempt to prevent him from exiting the room with the written statement in hand.
After voluntarily confessing to both Arendale and Turner, Dean agreed to give a statement and signed a Miranda waiver of rights form. There was no evidence that his desire to provide the statement was a result of any coercion, promises, or threats. Although Dean attempted to destroy the statement, the fact remains that he tossed it into a trash can accessible to the police. Had he, instead, retained the statement’s fragments, we might agree that he never voluntarily relinquished the words he had written to the police.
Finally, even if we were to find that it was error for the trial court to admit Dean’s written statement, it would constitute harmless error since Dean voluntarily confessed to both Arendale and Turner that he had shot Williams, and they testified to this effect.