509 F.3d 623 (4th Cir. 2007), 07-4101, United States v. Jamison

Docket Nº:07-4101.
Citation:509 F.3d 623
Party Name:UNITED States of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Eric JAMISON, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:December 04, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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509 F.3d 623 (4th Cir. 2007)

UNITED States of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Eric JAMISON, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 07-4101.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

December 4, 2007

Argued: September 28, 2007.

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Lori Ann Leonovicz, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the United States Attorney, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant.

Paresh S. Patel,

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Office of the Federal Public Defender, Greenbelt, Maryland, for Appellee.


Rod J. Rosenstein, United States Attorney, Baltimore, Maryland, Steven H. Levin, Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the United States Attorney, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant.

James Wyda, Federal Public Defender, Baltimore, Maryland, Joseph Balter, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Greenbelt, Maryland, for Appellee.

Before NIEMEYER and DUNCAN, Circuit Judges, and T. S. ELLIS, III, Senior United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, sitting by designation.

Reversed and remanded by published opinion. Judge DUNCAN wrote the opinion, in which Judge NIEMEYER and Senior Judge ELLIS concurred.


DUNCAN, Circuit Judge:

This appeal presents the question of whether a defendant subjected to police questioning in a hospital emergency room after he sought treatment for a gunshot wound was "in custody," triggering the protections of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 441, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). The defendant, Eric Jamison ("Jamison"), solicited police assistance upon arriving at the hospital, telling an officer stationed at the entrance, "I've been shot[!]" J.A. 70. Jamison's exclamation invited a later police interview in his hospital bed, during which Jamison ultimately revealed that he had in fact shot himself. Jamison's admission formed the basis of, inter alia, a charge for possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).

Finding that the police had subjected Jamison to a "police-dominated environment . . . from the moment he entered the treatment room," J.A. 334-35, the district court held that Jamison was in custody during the police questioning. The district court therefore suppressed Jamison's admission that he had shot himself and his other descriptions of the shooting, citing Miranda. On appeal, we find that Jamison's freedom to terminate the interview was curtailed primarily by circumstances resulting from his injury and hospital admittance rather than by police restraint. We therefore hold that Jamison was not in custody at the time of his questioning and that Miranda warnings were not required. We reverse the district court's order suppressing Jamison's statements and remand for further proceedings.


The essential facts are undisputed. At some point after midnight on January 17, 2006, Jamison accidentally shot himself near the groin. Michael McClenon ("McClenon") and Charles Moore ("Moore") drove him to the emergency room at the University of Maryland Hospital where three on-duty police officers, congregated at the hospital entrance, saw them arrive. McClenon and Moore exited the vehicle and told the officers that a gunshot victim was in the back seat. When the officers opened the back door to the car, Jamison called out, "C.O., C.O., I've been shot, man, I've been shot."1 J.A. 70 (internal punctuation altered).

Officer Maurice Avance ("Officer Avance"), one of the officers approached by McClenon and Moore, had been posted

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that evening at the "security registration desk" near the hospital entrance. He solicited Jamison's name and the geographic location of the shooting as hospital staff escorted Jamison to a treatment room. Officer Avance called the police dispatch coordinator, reported the shooting, and requested a detective be sent to the hospital to investigate. Officer Avance then followed Jamison to his room, where he was lying prone on a gurney while attending nurses cut off his clothing.

Hospital staff identified an entrance wound near Jamison's groin and an exit wound on his outer thigh. They began tending to the wounds and inserted an I.V. line into Jamison's arm. As Jamison's treatment continued, Officer Avance asked him to recount what had happened. Jamison initially stated that he was attempting to buy drugs on a certain street corner when an unknown person shot him. He said he then flagged down a car with two men in it and they drove him to the emergency room.

Shortly after Jamison was placed in the treatment room, Officer Avance requested that brown bags be placed over Jamison's hands. The record is unclear as to whether hospital staff or Officer Avance actually affixed the bags. Officer Avance later testified that officers investigating a shooting routinely order that a gunshot-residue test be performed on the hands of the wounded, regardless of whether he is thought to be a victim or a suspect in the shooting. To ensure the integrity of the test, plastic or paper bags are customarily placed over the hands of the person to be tested, reducing the possibility of contamination.

Officer Avance left Jamison's treatment room after Jamison's hands were bagged, contacting the dispatch coordinator again and requesting a gunshot-residue test for Jamison. He then returned to Jamison's room. Detective Sergeant Clifton Macer ("Detective Macer"), a nonfatal-shootings investigator weighing 280 pounds and standing six feet, four inches tall, responded to the dispatch coordinator's call and arrived in Jamison's room. Officer Avance met Detective Macer in the hallway and briefed him on what had occurred. The officers returned to Jamison's room, where Detective Macer asked Jamison to describe how he came to be shot. This time, Jamison said he was using drugs (rather than buying them, as he had claimed earlier) on a different street corner when someone attempted to rob and then shot him. Recognizing these discrepancies, Detective Macer asked Jamison once again to describe the shooting, and Jamison confirmed his second account.

Without securing Jamison's consent, Detective Macer examined Jamison's injury, partially exposing his genitalia. He found charring and stippling2 at the entry wound consistent with a shot fired at close range. He further observed a downward trajectory from the entry wound to the exit wound. Finding these facts to be in tension with Jamison's account of the shooting, Detective Macer then examined Jamison's clothing and found no bullet holes. Detective Macer again asked Jamison to explain the shooting; Jamison repeated that he was shot while using drugs. When Detective Macer explained that his observations seemed inconsistent with Jamison's story, Jamison admitted that he shot himself with a handgun and threw the gun away. Detective Macer asked Jamison to reveal the location of the gun so that it could be secured, but Jamison refused,

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explaining that he was on probation. Detective Macer's entire conversation with Jamison lasted approximately twenty minutes.

A crime-lab technician arrived while Detective Macer was interviewing Jamison. At Detective Macer's direction, the technician took a photograph of Jamison lying on the gurney, close-ups of the entry and exit wounds, and a photograph of each removed item of Jamison's clothing. It is unclear on the record whether the photographs were taken before or after Jamison admitted that he shot himself.

After interviewing Jamison, Detective Macer left the room to find McClenon and Moore, who were waiting elsewhere in the hospital. Meanwhile, the crime-lab technician remained in Jamison's room and collected samples from his hands for the gunshot-residue test. She also collected Jamison's clothes, preserving them as evidence. She then left the hospital, having been in Jamison's room for about forty minutes.

When Detective Macer located McClenon and Moore and began interviewing them, the two denied knowing Jamison. Coincidentally, a University of Maryland police officer approached the trio at that moment, informing Detective Macer that a handgun had been found in the hospital's vending-machine area. Hearing this, McClenon and Moore admitted to driving Jamison to the hospital and then disposing of the gun in the vending-machine area.3

A few hours after conducting the interviews of Jamison, McClenon and Moore, Detective Macer returned to the station house, researched Jamison's record, and learned that he was a convicted felon. Detective Macer swore out a warrant for Jamison's arrest. A federal grand jury indicted Jamison seven months later for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).

Before his trial, Jamison filed a motion to suppress "any and all statements, admissions and confessions" he made during the interviews that evening with Officer Avance and Detective Macer. At the subsequent suppression hearing, the district court, relying on United States v. Conley, 779 F.2d 970 (4th Cir. 1985), compared the limitations on Jamison's freedom to those suffered by the typical emergency room patient, concluding that such a patient would not be "subjected to what Mr. Jamison clearly indisputably was subjected to in this case," J.A. 331. In particular, the court reasoned that the imposing stature of the primary investigator, Detective Macer, and supposed inconsistencies in his testimony as to whether he returned to Jamison's room after recovering the gun, gave rise to an inference by "[c]ommon sense" that Detective Macer's questioning had been "aggressive." J.A. 332. Furthermore, the court found that the two officers treated Jamison's body and clothing as "a crime scene," inspecting both for evidence relating to the shooting, and further restraining Jamison's freedom of movement by handling his body for photographs and bagging his hands for a gunshot-residue test. J.A. 335. In short, the court reasoned that the officers subjected Jamison "to...

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