In 2011, William Stallings went to stay overnight with Michael Love, a friend, and Love’s mother, Shirley, in Lowndes County. At 3 a.m., Love heard loud banging and thought it was his siblings returning but the door was wide open. He then heard a gunshot and ran into the woods.
Shirley heard a loud boom and saw several men in her house. They rummaged through her room and then left. Shortly thereafter, she heard another gunshot and remained on the ground until Love got back. Shirley and Michael Love then discovered that Stallings was dead with a gunshot wound to the head.
Investigation led to several suspects including Joshua Taylor, who was Mirandized and interviewed by Investigator Eli Perrigan, Lowndes County S.O. Taylor admitted he went with friends from Alabama to Mississippi that night but denied any involvement in the incident.
Perrigan went back to Taylor on the same day and Mirandized him again. Taylor waived his rights and on two occasions during the interview, he said he did not want to talk about the incident anymore but he never indicated that he wanted an attorney. Police continued the interrogation and he confessed to shooting Stallings.
He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life. On appeal, he argued that his second statement should have been suppressed because he invoked his right to silence twice. MCOA affirmed.
The circuit court considered the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the Miranda waiver was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. In Roberts, MSC said that the totality of the circumstances includes consideration of the defendant’s experience with the police and familiarity with warnings; intelligence, including I.Q.; age; education; vocabulary and ability to read and write in the language in which the warnings were given; intoxication; emotional state; mental disease, disorder or retardation.
The relevant portion of Taylor’s interview is when he makes the statement, “Man, I don’t even want to talk about it no more, alright. I don’t want to talk about it no more.” Taylor argues that this statement constitutes an invocation of his right to remain silent. Taylor continued to speak with the officers present, despite his remarks, which the officers did not interpret to be an invocation of the right to silence.
Taylor relies on Jones vs. State, 461 So. 2d 686 (Miss. 1984). In Jones, the defendant, a mildly mentally retarded individual, argued that his statement, “I prefer not to speak on that,” constituted an invocation of his right to silence. MSC ruled that based on Jones’s mental abilities, that statement was sufficient to invoke his right to remain silent and ruled that officers had violated that right by continuing to question him. MSC determined that Jones’s mental retardation was the central factor in the voluntariness of his confession.
In the case at hand, however, Taylor’s listed I.Q. falls outside of the range for mental retardation. Therefore, Taylor has no such basis to rely upon. Additionally, the circuit court established that Taylor functioned at an average intellectual capacity.
The circuit court judge also praised Taylor’s writing ability with the documents he prepared and filed himself, stating that they appeared to be prepared by somebody who can educate himself and has educated himself. Taylor’s action gave the officers no obvious indication that he wished to invoke his rights and he continued to speak with the officers.
Where the investigating officers are unsure whether a suspect’s rights have been invoked, we agree that the best practice is for the officers to stop questioning on any other subject and clarify with the suspect whether or not he intends to invoke his constitutional right. While that practice did not occur here, there was sufficient evidence to support a finding that the officers proceeded with the interview believing that Taylor had not invoked his right to remain silent.
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.