Religious references by officers do not automatically render a confession involuntary

Facts

From approximately March 2005 to October 2012, Larry Singleton engaged in a sexual relationship with Daniel Doe, a child who lived next door to Singleton. Eventually, Daniel contacted the police regarding the acts perpetrated by Singleton.

Police arranged for Daniels to call Singleton and during that call, Singleton confirmed some of the abuse, gave Daniel advice about sex, and commented on the changes in Daniel’s body from when he was a child. Singleton also admitted he erased all of the pictures he took of Daniel years earlier.

Singleton was arrested, Mirandized, and waived. Singleton denied all allegations against him until the investigators played the recorded phone conversation between Singleton and Daniel. After hearing the recording, Singleton eventually admitted the allegations made against him.

He was convicted of gratification of lust, sexual battery of a child under fourteen years of age, sexual battery of a child at least fourteen but under sixteen years of age, and possession of child pornography and sentenced to 30 years. On appeal, he argued 1) the officer made a religious reference which coerced him into confessing and 2)  he was only on half of his medication when he confessed. MCOA affirms.

Analysis

A. Religious reference by officer

Singleton primarily contends that Investigator Bill Ellis coerced Singleton into confessing when he made the remark that it was time for Singleton to come to Jesus. Singleton, a preacher for approximately 54 years, argues that Ellis took advantage of his religious beliefs by using Jesus to elicit a confession.

In Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157 (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination is not concerned with moral and psychological pressures to confess emanating from sources other than official coercion.

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court in Berghuis found that the use of religious references does not automatically render a confession involuntary. In Harden, the MSC held that a brief religious conversation with the subject that was a mere exhortation to tell the truth is not an improper inducement that will result in an inadmissible confession.

Ellis testified his use of the phrase was merely to get Singleton to tell the truth in light of the incriminating evidence. While Singleton stated he found the remark offensive, Ellis testified he did not use any threatening or intimidating language or tone that would constitute coercion. This inducement to tell the truth without more does not rise to the level of coercion.

B.  Not on all medications at time of confession

Courts have held that the mental condition of the defendant does not per se render a confession involuntary, but mental state must be considered within the totality of the circumstances. In Kircher, the MSC affirmed the trial court’s finding that a defendant’s confession while in the hospital and medicated was voluntary. Intoxication or sickness does not automatically render a confession involuntary.

The investigators testified to Singleton’s educational background, literacy level, emotional/mental state, and criminal history, which showed his familiarity with the justice system. Singleton received a bachelor’s degree from a university, worked as a test grader at a school prior to his arrest, appeared relaxed and not emotionally strained, and had a previous unrelated arrest.

Singleton did not appear confused or in any altered mental state during the entirety of the interrogation. Both officers stated Singleton gave detailed descriptions of certain geographic areas and freely spoke during the majority of the interrogation. At no time did Singleton ask the interrogation to stop due to illness or ask for medical assistance.

Singleton fails to demonstrate how his lack of medication led to an intoxicated or sickened state that adversely affected the voluntariness of his confession. Singleton merely claims the unmedicated state compromised the voluntariness of his confession, even though other portions of the interrogation occurred without incident.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/images/Opinions/CO98268.pdf