Neil Kircher was a voluntarily admitted patient at COPAC, an inpatient drug and alcohol treatment center located in Rankin County. In 1995, Kircher, along with other COPAC members, was taken to the Jitney Jungle grocery store on Spillway Road in Rankin County. While at the Jitney Jungle, Kircher noticed a vehicle in the parking lot with the keys still in the ignition. Kircher entered the Jitney Jungle to purchase groceries. After purchasing groceries with other residents, Kircher went back into the store alone and stole a butcher knife. He then stole a Ford truck from the parking lot which had the keys left in the ignition.
Bob McCrary, shop foreman with the Rankin County Sheriffs Department, was in pursuit of Kircher shortly after being notified of the stolen vehicle. After a short chase, Kircher stopped the stolen Ford truck. Kircher sped off again, but could not out run McCrary, and Kircher stopped again on the roadside. McCrary also stopped his vehicle and remained in radio contact with other officers. Shortly thereafter, McCrary was stabbed by Kircher with a butcher knife. McCrary radioed the other officers informing them that he had been stabbed (he later died).
Kircher then drove to another area of Rankin County where he stopped near a church. Kircher exited the stolen vehicle and ran into a cotton field. While in the cotton field, Kircher stabbed himself twice; once in the chest and once in the abdomen. Additional Rankin County officers, as well as other law enforcement deputies, immediately appeared on the scene, arrested Kircher and called for an ambulance.
Chief Investigator Ronnie Pennington, with the Rankin County Sheriffs Department, arrived on the scene. Pennington asked the other deputies if any kind of weapon had been found, whereupon Kircher simply responded to the question volunteering that the weapon was in the yard. Pennington saw an unidentified object in the direction that Kircher had related the weapon was located. Pennington immediately went to that area to which Kircher had directed him and found a bloody shirt and a butcher knife. These items were sent to the crime lab for analysis. The butcher knife was similar to a knife that was sold in Jitney Jungle. The ambulance arrived and transported Kircher to the hospital.
Upon arriving at the emergency room, Kircher was treated and prepared for surgery. It appears from the record that Kircher was in the emergency room for at least one and a half hours. A blood sample from Kircher was secured.
Pennington had immediately followed the ambulance to the emergency room. Pennington asked the physician, Dr. Stephen Chouteau, “if he [Kircher] was in any kind of shape for me to talk with him.” Dr. Chouteau replied, “Sure.”
Dr. Chouteau testified that at the time he authorized Pennington to speak with Kircher, Kircher was stable, alert, and oriented, and that Kircher was not in shock. Dr. Chouteau testified that upon admission, Kircher’s blood pressure was 100/60, but that later, while Kircher was still in the emergency room, his blood pressure was 135/70. Dr. Chouteau, when asked how much blood was given to Kircher, stated, “I believe he got one unit or one started. And after one was given he— may have actually started on two.”
Dr. Chouteau opined that, [Kircher] “stabilized fairly quickly in the emergency room.” In fact, Kircher, did not require anymore blood transfusions postoperative. When asked about when Kircher was administered morphine sulfate, Dr. Chouteau stated, “I did not, not in the emergency room. I saw there was a notation for morphine in one of the ICU notes.” Dr. Chouteau opined that Kircher had the capability to understand questions or statements read to him and questions asked of him at that time. Hospital records reflect that there was no internal damage to any of Kircher’s vital organs.
Marianne Rainer, a registered nurse, who attended Kircher in the emergency room, testified that during the approximate one and one-half hours that Kircher was in the emergency room, she had “one on one” contact with him. She stated that Kircher was “a very nice young man, very composed, quiet, cooperative, very polite, did not appear to be upset, and that he reacted and answered all questions readily with pertinent answers.” She opined that Kircher was “not in distress, was not hypertensive and was not in shock.” She also corroborated that she heard Officer Pennington advise Kircher of his Miranda rights.
Pennington introduced himself and the three other officers. Pennington then asked Kircher if he was willing to talk about the things that happened earlier that day. Kircher answered affirmatively, to which Pennington responded by saying, “Well, before you do, let me advise you of your rights.” Pennington testified that he asked Kircher if he understood the rights read to him. Kircher responded that he understood the rights as read to him. Kircher answered Pennington’s questions regarding the events of earlier that day. The testimony of Pennington regarding the communications with Kircher was corroborated by the testimony of the other three officers present at the confession.
After being advised of his rights, Kircher admitted that he had stolen a knife, stolen a truck, and had noticed a vehicle following him as he drove along the highway. Kircher tried to outrun the vehicle, but could not do so. Kircher stopped his vehicle once, and the vehicle that was following him also stopped. Kircher “gave it the gas” and again tried to outrun the vehicle which continued to follow him. He was unable to outrun the vehicle and pulled over to the side of the road for a second time.
The truck that was following pulled in behind Kircher’s stolen truck. Pennington then related that Kircher stated “he pulled the knife out and stabbed the subject.” “His [McCrary’s] vehicle was still in gear, and he give it the gas. He [Kircher] said he was holding onto the open window; and as the truck was trying to get away, he stabbed him several more times.” Kircher stated that he did not know the person in the truck was a sheriff’s officer, and he admitted that the person was unarmed. Kircher also admitted that he had stolen the knife from of the Jitney Jungle store shortly before the killing. Pennington stated that the entire conversation with Kircher took only approximately five minutes.
The defense then called Dr. William Owen, who was accepted as an expert in the field of forensic psychiatry. Dr. Owen testified that, in his opinion, Kircher was not capable of freely and voluntarily making a confession to the murder. Contrary to the testimony of the four officers present at the confession, the testimony of Dr. Chouteau, and attending nurse Rainer, Dr. Owen expressed his opinion that Kircher was involuntary drug intoxicated and in shock at the time of the confession.
After the suppression hearing, the trial judge found that the confession was voluntary and denied the motion to suppress.
Kircher was convicted of murder and sentenced to life. On appeal, he argued his statement was involuntary. MSC affirmed.
In O’Halloran, we said that the voluntariness of a waiver, or of a confession, is a factual inquiry that must be determined by the trial judge from the totality of the circumstances.
The test to determine whether a defendant’s rights were intelligently waived is whether the words used by the officers, in view of the age, intelligence and demeanor of the individual being interrogated, implied a clear understanding of all of his rights. The court must then determine objectively whether the words used by the interrogating officers were sufficient to convey the implied warning. See Jenkins v. State, 214 So.2d 470 (Miss. 1968).
Kircher contends that: (1) he did not recall having any rights recited to him; (2) he was in early stages of shock; (3) he had lost one quart of blood and had received several doses of morphine; (4) he had been prepared for surgery; (5) he was suffering from drug intoxication from the wrongfully prescribed anti-depressant medication; (6) he was mentally distraught and voiced to the law enforcement officers his desire to die; (7) he had already attempted suicide by stabbing himself in the abdomen and chest; (8) he was in pain, and during the interrogation lay on the hospital gurney groaning and grimacing; (9) he was presented no waiver of rights form, nor was the waiver process and procedure explained to him at any time during the interrogation; (10) he was eighteen years old and from a foreign state away from friends and family; (11) he was suffering from two personality disorders; (12) he had been losing sleep as a result of the anti-depressant medications prescribed at COPAC; and (13) he had an intravenous drip in his arm.
In Blue v. State, 674 So.2d 1184 (Miss. 1996), this court held that the mental condition of a defendant does not in and of itself render the confession inadmissible, but instead is but one factor to consider among the totality of the circumstances of a confession and interrogation. This court has stated that intoxication or sickness does not automatically render a confession involuntary. The admissibility of a confession depends on the degree of intoxication.
The trial judge had all these factual circumstances before him, albeit conflicting evidence. He applied the correct legal standard, considered the totality of the circumstances, and held that Kircher’s emergency room confession was free and voluntarily, and thus admissible.
A hospital emergency room setting where law enforcement officers seeking to question a defendant who may have been administered drugs is one in which officers should be very cautious because of obvious questions concerning voluntariness that may arise. Prior to questioning a defendant in this situation, officers should always seek the permission of the attending physician, who is in a better posture to know a patient’s condition. The officers here adhered to this word of caution.