In 2012, John Franklin and his girlfriend, Amanda, were having relationship issues. They were living together with their children in Forest, Mississippi. One evening, Amanda went to pick up a friend, Scott Smith, and brought him to her house.
Around 1:20 am, Amanda left to take keys to her sister’s home. While she was gone, Scott heard banging coming from the back door near the laundry/utility room. When Amanda arrived home minutes later, Scott told her about the noise. Amanda opened the door to the laundry/utility room and saw flames.
Both Amanda and Scott saw Franklin running from behind the house as they waited for the firemen to arrive. Franklin was arrested, Mirandized, and confessed to Investigator Tom Rigby that he started the fire. He was depressed about the relationship and lost it when he saw her with another guy at the house. Towards the end of the interview, Franklin told Rigby he needed help.
Franklin also called Amanda the next day and told her he started the fire because he didn’t want to see her anymore. Franklin was convicted of arson and sentenced to 18 years. On appeal, he argued his request for help should have resulted in Rigby asking for clarification as to what help he needed. MCOA affirms.
During the suppression hearing, Rigby testified that he read Franklin his Miranda warnings prior to the interview and that Franklin acknowledged he understood them. Franklin signed the waiver. Rigby testified that no threats were made and no promises were given. Rigby testified that Franklin never asked for an attorney and never asked that the questioning stop.
Rigby said Franklin had stated towards the end of the interview that “he needed some kind of . . . health help.” Rigby testified that he took this to mean that Franklin was talking about his “day to day activities.” Rigby stated that he did not think Franklin was asking for an attorney.
Never has this court held that the Mississippi Constitution provides greater protection than the U.S. Constitution to criminal suspects who invoke the right of counsel during custodial interrogations. Mississippi does not require the officer to ask clarifying questions after ambiguous utterances.
The record supports the finding that Franklin was advised of his Miranda rights, that he knowingly and intelligently waived his rights, and that he freely and voluntarily confessed to setting fire to the house. We also agree with the trial court that Franklin’s statement that he needed “help” was insufficient to invoke his right to counsel. The statement could constitute a request for any number of different types of aid. And it was unreasonable in this instance for Franklin to expect Inspector Rigby to discern what sort of help he wanted.