Com. v. Mannion

Decision Date05 February 1999
Citation725 A.2d 196
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant, v. Winifred MANNION, Appellee.
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court

Stuart B. Suss, Asst. Dist. Atty., West Chester, for Com., appellant.

Francis M. Walsh, Pottstown, for appellee.

Before McEWEN, President Judge, CAVANAUGH, DEL SOLE, KELLY, EAKIN, JOYCE, STEVENS, SCHILLER and LALLY-GREEN, JJ.

LALLY-GREEN, J.

¶ 1 The Commonwealth appeals from the suppression court's order entered October 6, 1997,1 granting Winifred Mannion's motion to suppress oral and written statements made by her to Pennsylvania State Troopers. We reverse and remand for a trial.2

¶ 2 When reviewing an appeal from a suppression court's decision, we must first determine whether the record supports the court's factual findings. Commonwealth v. Williams, 539 Pa. 61, 71, 650 A.2d 420, 425 (1994). When the Commonwealth appeals from a suppression court's decision, we consider only the evidence of the defendant's witnesses and so much of the prosecution's evidence that remains uncontradicted when fairly read in the context of the record as a whole. Commonwealth v. Prosek, 700 A.2d 1305, 1307 (Pa.Super.1997). We are bound by the suppression court's factual findings when the evidence supports those findings; however, we may reverse the suppression court when it draws erroneous legal conclusions from those factual findings. Williams, 539 Pa. at 71-72, 650 A.2d at 426.

¶ 3 The record reflects the following facts. On June 24, 1996, Pennsylvania State Trooper John David Milligan traveled to the French Creek Sheep and Wool Company ("French Creek") to investigate an alleged theft of approximately $200,000 taken from French Creek. Eric and Jean Flaxenburg, the owners of French Creek, alleged that Mannion, French Creek's former bookkeeper, perpetrated the theft. During this investigation, Trooper Milligan obtained from the Flaxenburgs tally sheets prepared by French Creek's current bookkeeper. These tally sheets purported to demonstrate a theft.

¶ 4 On June 26, 1996, Trooper Milligan and Pennsylvania State Trooper John V. Sauers, both dressed in street clothes, traveled to Mannion's Chester County residence. Trooper Milligan had a weapon concealed under his suit coat. The troopers knocked on Mannion's door, identified themselves as state police troopers, and stated that they were investigating an alleged theft of approximately $200,000 taken from French Creek. Mannion expressed her familiarity with the allegations, and stated that she had received a notice of intent to sue civilly filed against her by the Flaxenburgs. She also stated that because she viewed the troopers as neutral, she believed they could help her explain the situation to the Flaxenburgs. Mannion expressed her willingness to discuss the matter with the troopers, and invited them into her home. At that time, Trooper Sauers told Mannion that she: was not under arrest; was not required to speak with the troopers; could ask the troopers to leave at anytime; and could have an attorney present.

¶ 5 The troopers interviewed Mannion in her living room for approximately 1½ hours. During this time, Trooper Milligan reviewed the tally sheets with Mannion. Mannion denied any involvement in the theft. She stated that any error resulted from sloppy bookkeeping and the use of cash versus checks to pay certain suppliers that refused to take French Creek's checks. During and after this interview, neither trooper was convinced that a theft, as opposed to an accounting error, had occurred; or, if one had occurred, that Mannion was the perpetrator.

¶ 6 At the conclusion of the interview, Troopers Milligan and Sauers informed Mannion of their intention to return to French Creek to obtain further explanation and documentation from the Flaxenburgs. The troopers stated that they would telephone Mannion after they spoke with the Flaxenburgs to arrange for another meeting. The troopers informed Mannion that if she agreed to another meeting, it could take place at her home, her attorney's office, or the police barracks. Mannion expressed her agreement with this arrangement.

¶ 7 On June 27, 1996, Trooper Sauers obtained additional documentation from the Flaxenburgs, which he gave Trooper Milligan. Trooper Milligan then telephoned Mannion and arranged a second meeting at her home on June 28, 1996 at 10:00 a.m.

¶ 8 Troopers Milligan and Sauers, both dressed in street clothes, arrived at Mannion's home at approximately 10:30 a.m. on June 28, 1996. Trooper Milligan had a weapon concealed under his suit jacket. When the troopers arrived, neither was convinced that a theft had occurred; or, if one had taken place, that Mannion was the perpetrator. The troopers knocked on Mannion's door, and she invited them in. Trooper Sauers then told Mannion that she: was not required to speak with them; was free to stop speaking with them at any time; and could ask them to leave at any time.

¶ 9 The troopers and Mannion commenced their conversation in the living room, but later moved to Mannion's dining room table to better examine the additional documentation furnished by the Flaxenburgs. During this meeting, Mannion offered the troopers tea or coffee and moved about freely as she smoked cigarettes. When her telephone rang, she asked permission to answer. In response, Trooper Sauers told Mannion that she was free to do as she wished. Mannion then answered the telephone and engaged in a conversation for roughly five minutes.

¶ 10 Approximately two hours into the interview, Mannion stated that she paid French Creek's electric and postage bills in cash. This statement caused both troopers to doubt Mannion's credibility. Trooper Sauers told Mannion that he did not believe a company the size of French Creek would pay utility and postage bills in cash because receipts were necessary for tax purposes. Trooper Sauers stated that he believed Mannion was lying, that things were not looking good for her, and that she was going to be arrested at some point in time. Trooper Sauers then stood up and walked beside Mannion. As Trooper Sauers stood alongside Mannion, he said in a low voice that he did not believe French Creek would pay its electric bills in cash. He also said that he believed Mannion was lying and thought that she took the money to help her children.

¶ 11 At this point, Mannion began to cry and stated that: the Flaxenburg children had so much and were spoiled brats; she took the money to help her children because they deserved a better life; and Trooper Sauers was right. When Mannion stopped crying, she agreed to give a written statement, which she wrote on blank pages taken from Trooper Milligan's notebook. Mannion then asked whether the troopers were going to "drag her out of the house in cuffs." Trooper Sauers responded that Mannion would not be arrested that day. He explained that a complaint would be filed with the district justice's office and that Mannion would be notified and given an opportunity to turn herself in. Trooper Sauers further explained that Mannion would only be physically removed from her home if she failed to respond to the criminal complaint. Approximately one month later, on July 22, 1996, Mannion was formally charged with theft by unlawful taking or disposition and receiving stolen property.

¶ 12 Prior to trial, Mannion moved to suppress her statements to the troopers, alleging that she was not given Miranda3 warnings and the statements were the product of a custodial interrogation. After a hearing, the suppression court granted Mannion's motion.

¶ 13 The Commonwealth filed a motion to reconsider. In response, the suppression court vacated its original order, accepted written submissions from counsel, heard reargument, and issued a second order that essentially reinstated its original order.4 The Commonwealth appealed, and a panel of this Court affirmed the suppression court's order. We thereafter granted the Commonwealth's petition for reargument en banc and withdrew our previous decision. This appeal followed.

¶ 14 The Commonwealth frames its issue on appeal as follows:

Did the lower court commit an error of law by suppressing defendant's statements while utilizing a legally incorrect definition of custody, and erroneously concluding that a reasonable person, under the circumstances confronting this defendant, could have perceived herself to be in custody?

Appellant's Brief at 4.

¶ 15 We first address the Commonwealth's claim that the suppression court used a legally incorrect definition of "custody" when determining whether Mannion's statements were the product of custodial interrogation so as to require Miranda warnings. A law enforcement officer must administer Miranda warnings prior to custodial interrogation. Commonwealth v. Johnson, 373 Pa.Super. 312, 541 A.2d 332, 336 (1988). The standard for determining whether an encounter with the police is deemed "custodial" or police have initiated a custodial interrogation is an objective one based on a totality of the circumstances, with due consideration given to the reasonable impression conveyed to the person interrogated. Commonwealth v. Gwynn, ___ Pa. ___, ___, 723 A.2d 143, 148 (1998). Custodial interrogation has been defined as "questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his [or her] freedom of action in any significant way." Johnson, 541 A.2d at 336 quoting Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 1612, 16 L.Ed.2d 694, 706 (1966). "Interrogation" is police conduct "calculated to, expected to, or likely to evoke admission." Id. quoting Commonwealth v. Simala, 434 Pa. 219, 226, 252 A.2d 575, 578 (1969). When a person's inculpatory statement is not made in response to custodial interrogation, the statement is classified as gratuitous, and is not subject to suppression for lack of warnings. Id.

¶ 16 The appropriate test for determining whether a...

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