At eight years old, Stacy began living with her father after her mother passed away. Stacy’s father and Donald Jolly were friends and neighbors. Over the years, Stacy and her siblings spent time with Jolly, riding four wheelers around their homes and hunting in nearby communities. Stacy made allegations to family members that Jolly had been inappropriately touching her, and was interviewed by Beth Reynolds, a forensic interviewer at the Wesley House Community Center in Meridian.
Officer Gordon Atkins, an investigator for the Neshoba County Sheriff’s Department, was present during Stacy’s interview at the Wesley House. After witnessing the interview, Atkins and other officers went to Jolly’s home to locate him for questioning regarding Stacy’s allegations. When Jolly was located, Atkins and Officer Brad Stuart detained and transported him to the Neshoba County Sheriff’s Department.
When they arrived at the sheriff’s department, Jolly was placed in Atkins’s office. According to Jolly, Sheriff Eric Clark came and spoke with him for a moment after he arrived, but his official interrogation was conducted by Atkins and Stuart. Before the questioning began, Atkins read Jolly a Miranda warning and waiver form. Jolly signed the waiver form and, thereafter, hand-wrote and signed a statement in which he admitted to having sex with Stacy.
At the motion hearing, Jolly was asked whether Atkins went over the waiver form with him, and he stated that Atkins had not. During the interrogation, Jolly gave both an oral and written statement to Atkins and Stuart. Although he did write and sign the statement, according to Jolly, Atkins allegedly told him what to write.
Jolly Direct Examination
Q. Who gave you the words and the language to write down on those two pieces of paper?
A. Mr. Gordon told me what to say. He told me when he said that you had sex with you but you did not force her. I said I didn’t – I ain’t even writing that because I ain’t had sex with nobody. He told me – he said, “If you want a bond, you know, you will.”
Atkins and Stuart both testified during the suppression hearing. Both officers countered Jolly’s testimony, stating that Jolly was fully advised of his Miranda rights and that he voluntarily gave his oral and written statements. Further, both officers denied promising Jolly a bond in exchange for his confession.
Jolly’s written statement contained several misspelled words, and some were scratched through and marked with his initials. In the statement, Jolly stated that he and Stacy had sex fifty to sixty times or more, but he never forced her. Jolly identified specific places where he and Stacy engaged in sexual intercourse, including the shooting house in Mt. Zion, the fields by his house, and in the chicken house. He further stated that he and Stacy were like boy-girl friends in a way. Jolly was forty-seven years old at the time he wrote his statement.
However, at the suppression hearing, Jolly stated that he never had sexual intercourse with Stacy. Jolly argued that he only wrote and signed the statement because Atkins promised him that he would receive a bond. Jolly also testified that on the day of the interrogation, he had been up for a couple days and was on “crystal.”
However, Jolly admitted that he did not tell the officers this information because he did not want his boss and family members to know of his drug use. Atkins and Stuart testified that Jolly did not appear to be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol while being questioned. Based on their observations, Jolly fully understood his rights and that he was waiving those rights by signing the waiver. Stuart testified that neither he nor Atkins threatened or offered Jolly any type of reward for his statement.
The circuit court held that Jolly’s confession was admissible.
Jolly was convicted of statutory rape and sentenced to life. On appeal, he argued the statement should have been suppressed. MCOA affirmed.
In Roberts, MSC has stated that a defendant’s education, vocabulary and ability to read and write in the language in which the warnings were given may be considered when examining the totality of circumstances. In Moore, MSC held that a defendant’s mental ability is also a factor to be considered when evaluating the totality of the circumstances.
In this case, Jolly argues that his statement should have been suppressed for two reasons. First, he contends that his confession should have been suppressed because he lacked the capacity to understand that he had the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, or any of the other accompanying rights. Jolly also asserts that his lack of capacity resulted from his limited ability to read and write, due to having minimal education and poor eyesight. Second, Jolly argues that his statement should have been suppressed because he wrote and signed the waiver in exchange for Atkins’s promise that he would receive a bond.
A. Limited Capacity and Understanding
The inability to understand what is being asked during an interrogation does not necessarily bar the admission of a confession. Even when faced with a defendant whose primary language was not English, MSC found that he had been properly advised of his Miranda rights. See Chim.
In Brown, Brown argued that the trial court had not sufficiently considered his learning disability in determining whether his waiver of his Miranda rights was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. MSC found that Brown’s learning disability did not rise to the level of mental disability required to have interfered with his ability to waive his rights. They cited McGowan for the holding that the defendant knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights even though he was only 17, had a low I.Q., and read at a fourth-or-fifth grade level.
Both Brown and McGowan waived their rights by signing a standard waiver form after the form had been read to them by interrogating officers. The court found that Brown possessed the capacity to waive his rights and that such waiver was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary despite his learning disability.
Here, Jolly presented even less evidence of limited capacity than did Brown or McGowan. He argues that he did not understand his rights or the waiver of them due to his minimal education and poor eyesight. However, both officers testified that Jolly was given his rights and that he fully understood them. That Jolly’s confession contained misspellings and grammatical errors only established his limited education, not a lack of understanding.
Jolly never alleged that he had a mental disability or a low IQ. Even if Jolly had alleged that he had a mental disability, the mental abilities of an accused are but one factor to be considered in determining whether the confession was knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily made. See Moore.
Considering the totality of circumstances, the circuit court was acting within its discretion in finding that Jolly’s minimal education did not prove a lack of the capacity to voluntarily waive his rights. After reviewing the record, we find no merit to Jolly’s argument that his minimal education should have barred the admission of his statement.
B. Threats and Coercion
Threats or coercion may prohibit the admissibility of a statement, but there must be proof in the record to support such an argument. In Johnson, the defendant argued that his statement to law enforcement should have been suppressed because it was coerced by a promise not to pursue charges against his fiancée. Both officers testified that neither promises nor threats were made to induce Johnson’s confession.
Officer McCombs testified that Johnson had asked whether his fiancée would be charged, and he had responded that, if Johnson admitted the cocaine was his, there would be no reason to charge her. MSC held that the trial judge did not commit manifest error by finding that Johnson voluntarily gave his confession.
Jolly argues that he only signed the waiver and statement because Atkins promised him a bond. Both officers denied promising Jolly any reward in exchange for his statement. The only evidence Jolly presented to refute this was his own testimony concerning what happened during the interrogation. As in Johnson, the court was tasked with weighing the credibility of the testimony of the officers versus the credibility of Jolly’s testimony.
After hearing all witnesses’ testimony, the circuit court ultimately held that Jolly had been properly read his Miranda rights, properly advised of those rights, and that he freely and voluntarily waived those rights. Both Atkins and Stuart stated that there was no indication from Jolly’s demeanor, words or actions that his waiver was not voluntary, and Jolly offered no evidence to refute the officers’ testimony.