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Telling a subject that a lawyer is not representing him is not interrogation

Facts

In 2000, the victim L.B. completed her work-out at the YMCA in Hattiesburg. As she drove home, she noticed in her rear-view mirror a vehicle with unusual headlights, one bright and one dim, speeding past other motorists. When the vehicle got directly behind her, L.B. slowed so it could pass. The vehicle similarly slowed. L.B. pulled off into a familiar neighborhood. The truck, later identified as Christopher Bryant‘s, did not follow.

L.B. went home, ate, and began a bath. While bathing, L.B. heard the front door of her mobile home being kicked in. Bryant entered. He choked her and held her head under water. Bryant then raped L.B., blindfolded her, and forced her to perform oral sex on him. Bryant repeatedly threatened to kill L.B. if she looked at him. Bryant then put L.B. into a closet and left.

L.B. hastily dressed and went to a neighbor’s house for safety. Her neighbor called police and the two waited for assistance. L.B. was taken to the emergency room and an examination for evidence of rape was conducted. L.B. gave police a physical description of her assailant.

When authorities arrived at Bryant’s residence, they were operating under a valid arrest warrant for an unrelated traffic violation. Bryant’s mother allowed police into the house and escorted them to Bryant’s bedroom. Bryant was placed under arrest and handcuffed. Police informed him that he was also a suspect in the sexual assault case. Bryant was then read an explanation of his constitutional rights. Police obtained consent to search both Bryant’s bedroom and his vehicle, yielding evidence of the clothes and the unusual headlights described by L.B.

As Bryant was escorted to an officer’s car to be taken to the police station, Bryant asked his mother to contact Tracy Klein, his attorney. Investigators heard this exchange. Detective Rusty Keyes told Bryant’s mother to have Klein contact him at the station. Bryant’s mother called Klein, who informed her that he would not represent Bryant on these charges. Klein said that, as a courtesy to the family, he would contact Keyes to find out “what they had on him.”

The parties dispute the number and sequence of phone conversations between Klein and Keyes, but it is clear that at some point Klein informed Keyes that he declined representing Bryant, and that Keyes informed Klein that Bryant had “given it up,” which was explained to mean that he had confessed.

Bryant had been taken to the police station and secured in a room for several minutes while Keyes participated in a detectives’ meeting. Keyes then spoke with Klein before entering the room where Bryant was detained. Keyes testified that he told Bryant that attorney Klein would not represent him. Bryant responded, “Well, there are some things I need to tell you, that I’m responsible for those two rapes of those girls.” Keyes again recited the appropriate warnings, and Bryant confessed to the crimes.

Bryant was convicted of burglary, forcible sexual intercourse, and sexual battery and sentenced to 100 years. On appeal, he argued his statement should have been suppressed for reasons below. MCOA affirmed.

Analysis

A. Did Bryant successfully invoke his right to counsel?

Bryant did not directly inform the police that he was asserting his constitutional right to counsel. Rather, he directed his mother to contact his attorney, Tracy Klein. Here, Keyes admitted overhearing Bryant’s directive; indeed, Keyes told Bryant’s mother to have Klein contact him at the police station. We find that a reasonable person would understand Bryant’s intent to deal with police only through counsel. We therefore find that Bryant successfully invoked his right to counsel.

B. Was Bryant being interrogated when he supplied his confession?

Bryant was in police custody from the time of his arrest in his bedroom. He was advised of his rights. The critical time under review begins at the point of Bryant’s statement to his mother as he was leaving his residence and ending at the point at the police station when he confessed. The record contains no evidence of police questioning during that interval.

Interrogation, as conceptualized in the Miranda opinion, must reflect a measure of compulsion above and beyond that inherent in custody itself. Therefore, the Miranda protections extend to express questioning or its functional equivalent.

Here, a lower court could properly find that Keyes’ statement to Bryant regarding his attorney’s withdrawal did not rise to the level of the equivalent of express questioning. The conduct of the Hattiesburg police did not constitute interrogation of Bryant at the time of his offered confession.

C. Did Bryant knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive his rights?

In Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), the U.S. Supreme Court held that once an accused has asserted his right to deal with police through counsel, he is not subject to further interrogation by the authorities until counsel has been made available to him, unless the accused himself initiates further communication, exchanges, or conversations with the police.

Here again, the question distills to whether informing an accused of the status of his requested counsel constitutes interrogation. It was not. Bryant’s statement that he wanted to talk at that point was at his own initiative. Bryant then executed an express waiver of rights. Bryant’s confession was voluntary.

D. Was Bryant’s confession involuntary due to the influence of narcotics?

Bryant further asserts that his confession was involuntary due to the influence of narcotics. Bryant testified at the suppression hearing that he took some LSD laced with heroin and also smoked some marihuana hours before he was taken into custody. He submits that his testimony of drug usage in addition to his mother’s corroborating his drug habit are sufficient to support a claim of the involuntariness of his confession.

Voluntariness requires a finding that under the totality of the circumstances, the accused’s statement was the result of his free and rational choice. Detective Keyes, a former narcotics officer, testified at both the suppression hearing and at trial that Bryant did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The court deemed Bryant’s confession to be voluntary, a fact-finding that is supported by the evidence.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/Images/Opinions/CO8866.pdf