Eddie James Woulard lived in a home with his wife, Melody, her mother, Monique Parker Terrell, Monique’s husband, Antwan Terrell, and Melody’s three young children, Raven, Shaquita, and Reshod. On or about November 7, 1999, Woulard was at home along with Monique, Antwan, and the three children. Antwan and Raven were watching television together when Woulard came home. Antwan and Woulard soon began to argue with each other. Raven left the room because she was frightened by the argument. She joined Melody and her siblings in her grandmother’s bedroom.
Raven and the others continued to hear Woulard and Antwan arguing with each other. They then heard a gunshot. Melody went into the room where the two men were and asked Woulard if he shot Antwan. Woulard answered yes and then left the house. The ambulance driver who was called to the house contacted the sheriff’s office to notify the police of the shooting. Officer Martin Milton was in the dispatcher’s office and answered the telephone call.
The ambulance driver informed Officer Milton that he was en route for a possible shooting victim. He gave Officer Milton the address and asked if he would meet him there. Officer Milton agreed and he quickly left to meet the ambulance. He spoke with Melody and from the information she provided him, Officer Milton notified the other on-duty deputies of Woulard’s name, description and a possible destination.
Officer Hill responded to Officer Martin’s call that Woulard may have gone to his sister’s after shooting Antwan. Officer Hill proceeded to that address and saw Woulard in the yard with his sister. Hill testified that Woulard was handing something to his sister. He stepped out of his car and told Woulard that he wanted to talk to him about a shooting. Hill stated that Officer Martin had informed him that Woulard was a suspect in a shooting and was presumed to be armed and dangerous. When Woulard started toward him, Officer Hill stated, “I want the gun.” Woulard answered, “I threw it in the river.”
Woulard was convicted of murder and sentenced to life. On appeal, he argued his statement should have been suppressed. MCOA affirmed.
Woulard claims that this statement should not have been admitted because Officer Hill had not issued him a Miranda warning before asking for the gun. Woulard argues that any conversation between a suspect and a police officer automatically qualifies as an interrogation. He further argues that he was in custody because Officer Hill was looking for him and wanted to question him.
In a non-custodial setting where interrogation is investigatory in nature (general on-the-scene-investigation), Miranda warnings are not required in order that a defendant’s statements be admissible. Even in this setting, statements must be freely and voluntarily given in order to be admissible.
The issue in this case is whether Woulard was in custody when he made the statements and whether they were freely and voluntarily made. The test for whether a person is in custody is whether a reasonable person would feel he was in custody and depends upon the totality of the circumstances. See Hunt.
The factors to be considered include the place and time of the interrogation, the people present, the amount of force or physical restraint used by the officers, the length and form of the questions, whether the defendant comes to the authorities voluntarily, and what the defendant is told about the situation. The key point in determining whether a person is in custody as defined by Miranda is whether the person is deprived of his freedom of action in any significant manner and if he is aware of such a deprivation.
Applying the above cited case law to the case at bar, it is clear that Woulard was not in custody. Officer Hill and Woulard were standing in Woulard’s sister’s front yard. The only people present were Woulard, Hill, and the sister. Officer Hill had not arrested Woulard, he had not been placed in handcuffs, and he was not even in close physical proximity to Officer Hill; in short, his freedom of action was not significantly restrained.
The circumstances in this case are similar to those presented in Hopkins. In Hopkins, the court stated, before he made the statements, Hopkins was not handcuffed or told he was under arrest by Sergeant Williamson or any other law enforcement officer present at the scene. Under these non-coercive conditions, we hold that Hopkins was not in custody for Miranda purposes.
Also, in Norman v. State, 302 So. 2d 254 (Miss. 1974), the court approved on the scene questions asked by an officer during the investigation of a shooting as actions taken in the interest of security. Officer Hill told Woulard that he wanted the gun as part of his on the scene investigation of the shooting and in the interest of safety. Hill had prior knowledge that Woulard was suspected in a shooting. Officer Hill’s statement was an action taken in furtherance of security and did not amount to custodial interrogation.