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Subject claimed he only talked because police threatened to arrest his girlfriend

Facts

In 2015, Fred Hill drove up to the home of the parents of Timothy Green and honked the horn. When the parents came outside, he told them he was going to kill Green. Hill then drove home and the father of Green followed him to find out what was wrong.

Hill told the dad that Green was trying to steal his girlfriend, Keirra Magee. The father went home and later that night Hill returned. The parents saw Hill running by their house and then heard two gunshots before they saw him leave with a rifle. Green’s body was discovered near their house. A neighbor also witnessed Hill with the rifle as he exited his car.

Gun shot residue was found on the steering wheel of the car that Hill was driving, which belonged to his girlfriend, Magee. Police say they obtained consent to search car; Magee disagreed. Hill was first interviewed by Deputy Johnny Hall and Investigator Damian Gatlin, and he denied involvement in Green’s death.

Hall testified that after he had walked Hill to the booking area, Hill confessed to the crime, but recanted a few minutes later. Hill was also interviewed by Investigator Byron Catchings who stated that he was trying to determine if Magee was involved in Green’s murder. Catchings stated that Hill said he shot Green, but Magee was not involved and was not with Hill when he disposed of the gun.

Hill testified that while he was in custody, the deputies threatened to arrest Magee for Green’s murder. They also handcuffed Magee and led her past Hill while he was in a holding area in order to provoke him into confessing to Green’s murder. Hill was convicted of murder and sentenced to life. On appeal, he argued 1) the police threatened to arrest his girlfriend to get him to confess and 2) the car was illegally searched. MCOA affirmed.

Analysis

A.  Threats to arrest girlfriend

On cross examination, Hall was asked whether he informed Hill that Magee would be arrested unless he cooperated. Hall responded that he told Hill that Magee could in fact be arrested, but not to coerce Hill into confessing. Hall stated that Magee was being questioned about her role in Green’s murder, but it was ultimately determined that she was not a suspect. Hall also denied handcuffing Magee and marching her in front of Hill and stated that she was never in the same area of the police station as Hill.

Catchings testified he had information at the time indicating that Magee was in the car with Hill immediately after the shooting; thus, it was possible that Magee was involved in Green’s murder. Catchings further stated that Hill’s incriminating statements to him were voluntary and no threats or promises were made to coerce him into confessing. Magee testified that she was handcuffed and walked past Hill. Once Hill saw Magee, she heard him say, “no, no, you are not going to jail.”

The Mississippi Supreme Court has held in Armstead that threats to arrest a defendant’s family member do not render a confession involuntary so long as probable cause exists to arrest such persons. At the time Hill was interviewed, the police had information that the car used in the crime was registered to Magee, and Magee might have been in the car with Hill immediately after the shooting. We find no error based on the totality of circumstances.

B.  Search of Magee’s Car

Consent to search is recognized as an exception to the requirements of a warrant and probable cause. Whether a person voluntarily consents to a search is a question of fact to be determined by the totality of the circumstances.

The State argued that Hill did not have standing to object since he did not own the car. They referenced Walker, which held that a passenger who does not own the car being searched cannot complain about the legality of the search.

However, in Powell, this court found that a defendant did have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his girlfriend’s car; thus, the defendant had standing to challenge the search of the car. In Powell, there was evidence that: the car was the defendant’s principal and usual mode of transportation; the defendant had the implicit right to exclude others from using the car; and the defendant had a possessory interest in the car.

We note that, unlike Powell, Hill did not offer any testimony showing that he had a possessory interest in Magee’s car or that the car was his principal and usual mode of transportation. Even if Hill had standing, the trial court found that, based on the totality of the circumstances, the testimony of Catchings and Deputy John Whitaker that Magee consented to the search was credible.

Catchings testified that Magee told him that Hill was driving her car the night of April 1, 2015. Catchings then asked Magee for permission to search her car, which Magee had driven to the police station. Magee consented and the gunshot-residue test was conducted on samples taken from the car.

Catchings admitted that the consent to search form had been misplaced, but that Magee had verbally consented to the search. Whitaker testified that he was present when Magee verbally consented to the search and signed the form. From the totality of the circumstances, we find the trial court did not err in denying Hill’s motion to suppress.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/Images/Opinions/CO124000.pdf