In 2004, Darral Bell and LeCedric Hurst were involved in an altercation at the residence of Edna Spears, a relative of Hurst, with other witnesses present. Bell testified that Hurst struck him with his hand, but Bell did not respond to this attack. Bell left Spears’s residence, driving a white F350 work truck, with one passenger, Kerwin Bland.
Hurst left Spears’s residence driving a four wheeler and traveled onto Perry Road. The two vehicles were traveling in the same direction at the time of the collision. Hurst was killed in the collision.
Officer Anthony Reeves, Amite County S.O., testified that after arriving at the scene of the wreck, he was informed that Bell was the driver of the truck. Once Reeves approached Bell, he was able to determine that he had been drinking by the smell of alcohol on his breath. Reeves testified that he then asked Bell whether he had been drinking, and Bell responded that he had consumed three or four beers.
Bell initially told Reeves that Hurst must have hit a tree. However, Reeves testified that Bell showed him the truck and then told him a second time how the wreck happened. This time, Bell stated that Hurst lost control of the four wheeler when he went to pass him and that his four wheeler went into the mirror and the front side fender of the truck.
Bell was then placed under arrest. Lieutenant Gerald Wall Mirandized Bell, who gave a signed waiver. In the handwritten statement, Bell admitted that he and Hurst had an argument at Spears’s home. Bell subsequently left the home in the work truck.
Bell stated that in order to stop Hurst from getting home, he drove in the middle of the road to prevent Hurst from passing him. Bell stated that he would get over when Hurst tried to pass, until the last time when he turned the wheel too far and lost control of the truck, causing Hurst to hit the front wheel of the truck.
Kerwin Bland, who was a passenger in the truck with Bell, stated that Bell cut Hurst off and then told Bland not to say anything to police.
Bell was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years. On appeal, he argued there was no probable cause for his arrest and his statement was involuntary. MSC affirmed.
In Alexander v. State, 503 So. 2d 235 (Miss. 1987), we said that for probable cause in warrantless arrests, the officer involved is charged to make a practical, commonsense decision whether, given the totality of the circumstances, there is a fair probability that the person proposed to be arrested or searched is involved in substantial criminal activity.
Based on Reeves’s observation of Bell at the scene and his confirmation from Bell that he had been drinking and was the driver of the second vehicle in the accident, we find that there was probable cause for Bell’s arrest. Therefore, this issue is without merit.
B. Statement to police
This court has held that to be subject to custodial interrogation, one must be both in custody and undergoing interrogation. We said in Roberts v. State, 301 So. 2d 859 (Miss. 1974), that a subject is in custody when his right to leave freely has been restricted. We said in Wilson that the accused is subject to interrogation when he is questioned by the police or the functional equivalent.
Voluntariness of a statement is met by the testimony of an officer, or other person having knowledge of the facts, that the confession was voluntarily made without any threats, coercion, or offer of reward.
As to the oral statement made to Reeves, the trial court denied suppression, as there was no evidence that Bell was in any type of custodial interrogation or being held at the time when Reeves was making the initial inquiry at the scene as to what happened.
Wall testified that Bell signed a statement acknowledging his Miranda rights as well as a waiver of those rights prior to writing his voluntary statement. However, Bell testified that he was forced to give his confession to the officers. The State then offered all the officers who were involved in the questioning of Bell. The testimony of Lieutenant Wall and Officer Stoll, who conducted the interview, Chief Deputy Tim Wroten and Sheriff Perkins, who did not participate in the interview but were in and out of the interview room, fails to suggest that any threats or violence were used in obtaining Bell’s voluntary statement.
We said in Morgan that the resolution of conflicting testimony regarding voluntariness is a question of fact to be resolved by the trial judge at the suppression hearing. This court will not reverse a trial court on conflicting testimony as to whether coercion used to obtain a confession.
C. 48 Hour rule
Bell argues that he was improperly held in jail for more than 48 hours without the benefit of an appearance, in which time he was questioned and forced to give a statement without the benefit of an attorney. Bell cites Rule 6.03 for support.
Rule 6.03 of the Uniform Rules of Circuit and County Court provides that every person in custody shall be taken, without unnecessary delay and within 48 hours of arrest, before a judicial officer or other person authorized by statute for an initial appearance. Bell was arrested on October 30, 2004, and was given an initial appearance on November 3, a period exceeding the time frame in Rule 6.03.
The record shows that Bell was arrested on October 30, and was interviewed November 1., a period clearly within 48 hours.
Bell relies on Abram v. State, 606 So. 2d 1015 (Miss. 1992). In Abram, this court found that the confession was coerced, and that the State would not have obtained the uncounseled confession if the defendant had been provided a timely initial appearance and access to counsel. This court held that where the defendant’s conviction relied solely upon his confession, it was reversible error for the State to fail to provide an initial appearance when a judge was available at all times.
In contrast to Abram, Bell’s conviction did not rely solely upon his confession. In Jones, this court went through a detailed analysis of whether the failure to provide a defendant with an initial appearance within 48 hours was prejudicial to the defendant. It is well established that the failure to provide an initial appearance for an accused within the time provided is not, in itself, a reason to suppress a confession.
There is now a Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure (MRCP) that has replaced the Uniform Rules of Circuit and County Court. Sections 5.1 and 5.2 of MRCP provide the rules on getting a defendant to an initial appearance. Like 6.03, a violation of 5.1 or 5.2 will not automatically render a confession inadmissible. You can see the MRCP here.