Com. v. Reed

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Citation400 Pa.Super. 207,583 A.2d 459
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Samuel Ray REED, Appellant.
Decision Date06 December 1990

Deborah Tetzlaff Lux, Asst. Public Defender, Bellefonte, for appellant.

M. Eileen Tucker, Asst. Dist. Atty., Bellefonte, for Com.


WIEAND, Judge:

Samuel Ray Reed was tried by jury and was found guilty of murder in the third degree in connection with the February 11, 1988 shooting death of his brother-in-law. Post-trial motions were denied, and Reed was sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment for not less than ten (10) years nor more than twenty (20) years. A motion to modify sentence was also denied. Reed then filed the instant appeal in which he argues that the trial court erred: (1) by denying his motion to suppress evidence; (2) by admitting into evidence, over defense objection, certain photographs, autopsy slides and physical evidence; (3) by refusing to admit into evidence statements made by him under hypnosis; (4) by refusing to declare a mistrial because of prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument; and (5) by refusing to charge the jury on the elements of involuntary manslaughter. Reed also asserts that the trial court abused its discretion when it imposed the maximum sentence authorized by law for third degree murder. We will consider these arguments seriatim.

Appellant first contends that all oral and written statements which he gave to the police should have been suppressed because he was subjected to custodial interrogation without first having been advised of his Miranda 1 rights and because police failed to stop questioning him after he asserted his right to counsel. In reviewing the trial court's denial of appellant's suppression motion, we must

'determine whether the factual findings of the [suppression] court are supported by the record. In making this determination, we consider only the evidence of the prosecution's witnesses and so much of the evidence for the defense, as, fairly read in the context of the record as a whole, remains uncontradicted. If, when so viewed, the evidence supports the factual findings, we are bound by such findings and may only reverse if the legal conclusions drawn therefrom are in error. Commonwealth v. Trenge, 305 Pa.Super. 386, 451 A.2d 701 (1982).'

Commonwealth v. Schneider, 386 Pa.Super. 202, 206, 562 A.2d 868, 870 (1989), quoting Commonwealth v. Chamberlain, 332 Pa.Super. 108, 112, 480 A.2d 1209, 1211 (1984). See also: Commonwealth v. Kichline, 468 Pa. 265, 280-281, 361 A.2d 282, 290 (1976); Commonwealth v. Stark, 363 Pa.Super. 356, 365, 526 A.2d 383, 388 (1987).

After the victim's body had been discovered, police conducted interviews with members of the victim's family and obtained information which caused their investigation to focus on appellant, the victim's brother-in-law. At or about 9:30 p.m. on February 12, 1988, the evening following the murder, Lieutenant Joseph Holmberg and Corporal Jeffrey Watson of the Pennsylvania State Police went to appellant's home for the purpose of questioning him and executing a search warrant for his home. Upon being admitted by appellant's wife, Holmberg asked appellant if he was willing to talk to the police. Appellant consented and led Holmberg and Watson into the kitchen, where they sat at the kitchen table. Holmberg told appellant that the police were not there to arrest him, that he did not have to answer any questions and that at any time he desired he could tell the police to leave his home. Appellant's wife was permitted to be present during the questioning. In response to police questioning, appellant said that he had had a few beers with the victim on the previous evening, but had left the victim at the bar when he returned to his home. The police asked appellant if he owned a gun, and appellant replied that he owned a .357 revolver. The police asked appellant if they could see the gun, and he sent his wife to get it. She retrieved the gun from an upstairs room and handed it to Corporal Watson.

After being given the gun, the police informed appellant that they had a search warrant for his home and asked him if he would accompany them to the police station for additional questioning. Holmberg told appellant that he was not under arrest, that he was under no obligation to go to the station and that, once at the station, appellant would be free to leave whenever he wished. According to Holmberg, appellant's response was that he would be glad to go down to the police station.

Upon arrival at the police station, appellant was taken to an interview room and left alone for a few minutes with the door open. He was then presented with a "notification of non-arrest" form which provided as follows:

I, Samuel Ray REED, do hereby acknowledge that I have accompanied Lt. HOLMBERG and Cpl. WATSON of the Pa. State Police to the station at Rockview at their request and by my own choice.

I understand I am not under arrest and am free to leave at any time.

No promises have been made to me and I have not been threatened or coerced in any way.

I understand that I may stop talking or refuse to answer any particular question I choose not to answer.

The form was explained to appellant, and he indicated that he understood the form and signed it. He was then questioned by police about his activities on the previous day. He said that he had met the victim at the residence of the victim's girlfriend, after which he and the victim had gone to a bar. The police questioned appellant regarding some inconsistent statements which he had made and revealed that they knew that the victim had been killed at 10:30 p.m. on the previous evening. They also disclosed that there had been a witness to the shooting. After this, appellant's demeanor visibly changed and he asked, very slowly, whether the police knew who did it. The police continued to question appellant regarding his inconsistent statements, when, according to Lieutenant Holmberg, appellant "looked down at the floor and he kind of muttered, maybe I should get a lawyer." In response, Holmberg motioned towards the door and again told appellant that he was free to go. Appellant sat silently for about a minute, and Holmberg then said to him "all we want is the truth." Appellant then blurted out, "Okay I did it ... you got the times down pretty close." Appellant thereupon gave an oral confession to Holmberg and Watson in which he explained the details of the killing.

Following appellant's oral confession, Holmberg informed him that he would be arrested and charged with criminal homicide. He also gave appellant the option of going home that evening and turning himself in the next morning. Instead, appellant agreed to remain and make a formal statement. He was then informed of his Miranda rights by Trooper Frederick Caldwell, who, after appellant had waived his rights, took a formal statement. 2 Appellant thereafter agreed to submit to arrest, and he was transported for preliminary arraignment.

The suppression court determined that appellant had not been in custody before Miranda warnings were given. The oral statements which he made during this period, therefore, were not subject to suppression because of the absence of such warnings. "Miranda warnings are necessary only on those occasions when a suspect is undergoing actual 'custodial interrogation.' " Commonwealth v. Fento, 363 Pa.Super. 488, 492, 526 A.2d 784, 786 (1987). See: Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 97 S.Ct. 711, 50 L.Ed.2d 714 (1977); Beckwith v. United States, 425 U.S. 341, 96 S.Ct. 1612, 48 L.Ed.2d 1 (1976); Commonwealth v. Holcomb, 508 Pa. 425, 498 A.2d 833 (1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1150, 106 S.Ct. 1804, 90 L.Ed.2d 349 (1986); Commonwealth v. Smith, 382 Pa.Super. 288, 555 A.2d 185 (1989).

The test for determining whether a suspect is being subjected to custodial interrogation so as to necessitate Miranda warnings is whether he is physically deprived of his freedom in any significant way or is placed in a situation in which he reasonably believes that his freedom of action or movement is restricted by such interrogation. Commonwealth v. Meyer, 488 Pa. 297, 412 A.2d 517 (1980); Commonwealth v. Brown, 473 Pa. 562, 375 A.2d 1260 (1977); Commonwealth v. Fisher, 466 Pa. 216, 352 A.2d 26 (1976); Commonwealth v. O'Shea, 456 Pa. 288, 318 A.2d 713, cert. denied, 419 U.S. 1092, 95 S.Ct. 686, 42 L.Ed.2d 685 (1974).

Commonwealth v. Chacko, 500 Pa. 571, 577, 459 A.2d 311, 314 (1983). See also: Commonwealth v. Gonzalez, 519 Pa. 116, 546 A.2d 26 (1988); Commonwealth v. Marabel, 445 Pa. 435, 283 A.2d 285 (1971); Commonwealth v. Toanone, 381 Pa.Super. 336, 553 A.2d 998 (1989). The Superior Court, sitting en banc, has developed the following guidelines for determining when Miranda warnings are required:

First, the mere fact that the police investigation has focused on a particular person will not require Miranda warnings before police interviews with that person. See Beckwith v. United States, supra; Commonwealth v. McLaughlin, supra. Second, if the police in fact place a person in custody or restrict his freedom in any significant way prior to, or during, the interview, then the interrogators must advise that person of his Miranda rights. Miranda v. Arizona, supra; Commonwealth v. Leaming, 432 Pa. 326, 247 A.2d 590 (1968); Commonwealth v. Moody, 429 Pa. 39, 239 A.2d 409 (1968); cert. denied, 393 U.S. 882, 89 S.Ct. 189, 21 L.Ed.2d 157. Third, a suspect actually may be in custody even if the police have not taken him to a police station or formally arrested him. Fourth, and this proposition is not without some doubt, "custodial interrogation" occurs when a suspect "... is placed in a situation in which he reasonably believes that his freedom of action of movement is restricted by such interrogation." Commonwealth v. Brown, supra, 473 Pa. at 570, 375 A.2d at 1264; Commonwealth v. Fisher, supra; ...

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