150 S.E.2d 1 (N.C. 1966), 7, State v. Gray

Docket Nº:7.
Citation:150 S.E.2d 1, 268 N.C. 69
Party Name:STATE v. Charles Ronald GRAY.
Case Date:September 21, 1966
Court:Supreme Court of North Carolina
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 1

150 S.E.2d 1 (N.C. 1966)

268 N.C. 69

STATE

v.

Charles Ronald GRAY.

No. 7.

Supreme Court of North Carolina.

September 21, 1966

Page 2

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 3

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 4

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 5

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 6

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 7

Atty. Gen. T. W. Bruton and Asst. Atty. Gen. George A. Goodwyn for the State.

James R. Vosburgh and Leroy Scott, Washington, for defendant appellant.

LAKE, Justice.

For at least one hundred forty years, long before the insertion of the

Page 8

Fourteenth Amendment into the Constitution of the United States, it has been the well settled law in this State that when one is on trial for an alleged criminal offense, a confession or admission by him may not be admitted in evidence, over his objection, unless it was made voluntarily and understandingly, not induced through use by the police of 'the slightest emotions of hope or fear.' It was so held in State v. Roberts, 12 N.C. 259. This Court has consistently followed and applied this basic principle since that decision in 1829 when it was recognized as already established by a 'course of approved adjudications.' State v. Barnes, 264 N.C. 517, [268 N.C. 78] 142 S.E.2d 344; State v. Virgil, 263 N.C. 73, 138 S.E.2d 777; State v. Guffey, 261 N.C. 322, 134 S.E.2d 619; State v. Crawford, 260 N.C. 548, 133 S.E.2d 232.

However, the mere fact that a confession was made while the defendant was in the custody of police officers, after his arrest by them upon the charge in question and before employment of counsel to represent him, does not, of itself, render it incompetent. State v. Barnes, supra; State v. Crawford, supra; State v. Rogers, 233 N.C. 390, 64 S.E.2d 572, 28 A.L.R.2d 1104; State v. Thompson, 224 N.C. 661, 32 S.E.2d 24. The test of admissibility is whether the statement by the defendant was in fact made voluntarily. State v. Rogers, supra; State v. Gosnell, 208 N.C. 401, 181 S.E. 323; State v. Livingston, 202 N.C. 809, 164 S.E. 337. 'Any circumstance indicating coercion or lack of voluntariness renders the admission incompetent.' State v. Guffey, supra. The fact that the defendant was in custody when he made the statement is a circumstance to be considered. State v. Guffey, supra. The mental capacity of the defendant is also a circumstance to be considered. State v. Whittemore, 255 N.C. 583, 122 S.E.2d 396. There may, of course, be coercion of the mind without physical torture or threat thereof. State v. Chamberlain, 263 N.C. 406, 139 S.E.2d 620.

Whether the defendant did or did not make the statement attributed to him is a question of fact to be determined by the jury from the evidence admitted in its presence. State v. Guffey, supra. Whether the statement, assuming it to have been made, was made voluntarily and understandingly, so as to permit evidence thereof to be given in the presence of the jury, is a question of fact to be determined by the trial judge in the absence of the jury upon the evidence presented to him in the jury's absence. State v. Outing, 255 N.C. 468, 121 S.E.2d 847, cert. den., 369 U.S. 807, 82 S.Ct. 652, 7 L.Ed.2d 555.

When the State proposes to offer in evidence that defendant's confession or admission, and the defendant objects, the proper procedure is for the trial judge to excuse the jury and, in its absence, hear the evidence, both that of the State and that of the defendant, upon the question of the voluntariness of the statement. In the light of such evidence and of his observation of the demeanor of the witnesses, the judge must resolve the question of whether the defendant, if he made the statement, made it voluntarily and with understanding. State v. Barnes, supra; State v. Outing, supra; State v. Rogers, supra. The trial judge should make findings of fact with reference to this question and incorporate those findings in the record. Such findings of fact, so made by the trial judge, are conclusive[268 N.C. 79] if they are supported by competent evidence in the record. No reviewing court may properly set aside or modify those findings if so supported by competent evidence in the record. State v. Barnes, supra; State v. Chamberlain, supra; State v. Outing, supra; State v. Rogers, supra.

It is to be noted that this defendant, a college student at the time of his trial, did not testify before the judge, in the absence of the jury, with reference to the voluntariness of his alleged statements to the police officers. He testified, in the presence of the jury, that he did not make

Page 9

the statements at all, saying, 'I have never admitted to anybody I broke in that place and took anything out of it.' Thus, his own version of the matter is not that he was coerced or tricked into the making of a confession or that he made a confession due to his having no counsel to advise him or due to 'the slightest emotions of hope or fear.' His own testimony is that he did not make the statements which the police officers testified he did make. The jury apparently believed the officers and not the defendant, though there is evidence in the record to support the verdict without the alleged confession.

Notwithstanding the failure of the defendant, himself, to testify to an overpowering of his mind resulting in a confession of guilt, the seasonable objection by his counsel to the admission of the testimony of the officers concerning the alleged confession, and their exception to the ruling permitting the officers so to testify, bring us to the question of whether, as a matter of law, this testimony was incompetent.

Neither in his brief nor in oral argument before this Court does the defendant contend that the rulings of the trial court allowing the officers so to testify violated, in any respect, the long established law of this State as above summarized. We hold that in the admission of the testimony of the police officers concerning these alleged statements to them by the defendant, the trial judge complied meticulously with the law of this State and committed no error thereunder.

Nevertheless, 'In passing on the admissibility of a confession, it is as much the duty of the State courts to protect the prisoner's rights under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States as it is to protect his rights under our State Constitution.' State v. Barnes, supra. In that inquiry, this Court is bound by the interpretation placed upon such provision of the Federal Constitution by the Supreme Court of the United States.

The defendant contends that the admission of the testimony of [268 N.C. 80] the police officers with reference to the alleged statements by the defendant violated this provision of the Constitution of the United States, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States in Miranda v. State of Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694. He so contends on the ground that the record does not show, and the trial court did not find, that the officers told the defendant, prior to the alleged statements by him, that if the defendant was indigent a lawyer would be appointed to represent him if he so desired. The defendant's second trial, from which this present appeal is taken, commenced two days after the announcement of the decision in the Miranda case. That decision, therefore, controls our decision here, if it is otherwise applicable to the facts disclosed in the present record. Johnson v. State of New Jersey, 384 U.S. 719, 86 S.Ct. 1772, 16 L.Ed.2d 882.

The trial court found as a fact that before the defendant made the statements in question, if he did make them, he was advised that he had a right to have and to confer with counsel; that any statement he made might be used against him; that he had a right to remain silent; and also found as a fact that if the defendant made the statements he made them freely, voluntarily and understandingly, without promise of reward, duress or other pressure. Each of these findings is amply...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP