Commonwealth v. Libby, SJC–11749.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtCORDY, J.
Citation32 N.E.3d 890,472 Mass. 37
Decision Date26 June 2015
Docket NumberSJC–11749.
Parties COMMONWEALTH v. Jeremy LIBBY.

472 Mass. 37
32 N.E.3d 890

COMMONWEALTH
v.
Jeremy LIBBY.

SJC–11749.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.

Argued Feb. 4, 2015.
Decided June 26, 2015.


32 N.E.3d 893

Jane Davidson Montori, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Marissa Elkins, Amherst, for the defendant.

Present: GANTS, C.J., SPINA, CORDY, BOTSFORD, DUFFLY, LENK, & HINES, JJ.

CORDY, J.

472 Mass. 38

The Commonwealth appeals from the ruling of a Superior Court judge suppressing statements made to police officers by the defendant during the course of two interviews: the first being prearrest and the second following his arrest. The defendant was advised of the Miranda rights at the commencement of both interviews,

32 N.E.3d 894

but, in various ways, those rights were not accurately explained. Among other things, we are required to consider the effect of the inaccurate explanation of those rights in a noncustodial setting on the voluntariness of statements made thereafter, and on the knowing, voluntary, and intelligent waiver of those rights in a subsequent custodial interrogation. We reverse the judge's ruling suppressing the prearrest statement, and affirm her ruling suppressing the postarrest statement.

Background. On June 27, 2012, members of the Palmer police department received a complaint regarding the sexual abuse of K.C., a six year old girl who resided in the home where the defendant was living. Shortly after police arrived at the home, the defendant voluntarily1 accompanied them to the Palmer police station to discuss an allegation that he had inappropriately touched K.C. Sergeant Scott Haley was the only officer present during this conversation, and he began the interview by reading the defendant the Miranda rights. Haley then asked the defendant whether, with those rights in mind, the defendant was willing to talk "about these matters of concern." After a somewhat lengthy colloquy regarding the appointment of counsel and whether the defendant was under arrest, discussed infra, the defendant signed a Miranda waiver form and the interview proceeded. The defendant denied any inappropriate conduct with K.C. The interview concluded just after 10 P.M. , and the defendant left the police station.

On June 28, 2012, Haley attended a forensic interview of K.C., during which she alleged that the defendant had sexually abused her. The defendant was subsequently arrested and brought to the police station. He was booked, fingerprinted, and brought back to

472 Mass. 39

the same interview room in which he had met with Haley the day before. Haley again read the defendant the Miranda rights, which the defendant waived in writing. After being told that additional evidence had been uncovered, the defendant again raised the issue of counsel. Ultimately, after another colloquy with Haley, the defendant said he did not want a lawyer at that time and the interview continued. The defendant proceeded to make inculpatory statements and admitted that the previous day, while he was tickling K.C., she had moved his hand to her inner thigh near her private parts.

Procedural history. In July, 2012, the defendant was indicted by a Hampden County grand jury on four counts of forcible rape of a child in violation of G.L. c. 265, § 22A, as well as four counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of fourteen in violation of G.L. c. 265, § 13B.

In April, 2013, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the statements he made to Sergeant Haley during both of his interviews. The Commonwealth filed a written opposition in response. At a hearing on the motion, the parties submitted digital video discs of the defendant's interviews; a stipulation as to the timeline of events; two signed Miranda waiver forms; a medical record of the examination of K.C., the complaining witness; and a police report authored by Haley. No testimony was taken. After a second, nonevidentiary hearing, the motion judge granted the defendant's motion to suppress in its entirety.

32 N.E.3d 895

In her decision, the judge concluded that the June 27 interview was noncustodial, but expressed some uncertainty whether Miranda warnings given in a noncustodial interview had to be scrupulously honored under Massachusetts law. She further concluded that the Commonwealth failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant understood the full import of his right to counsel and that he had voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived that right. The judge also concluded that reasonable doubt remained as to the voluntariness of the defendant's statements on June 27, given interruptions and misstatements made by Haley. With respect to the defendant's June 28 interview, the judge held that misstatements by Haley created a fundamental misunderstanding as to the defendant's right to appointed counsel. This, coupled with repeated "clarifying" questions that may have dissuaded the defendant from exercising his right to counsel, hampered the Commonwealth from establishing, beyond a reasonable doubt, the validity of the defendant's waiver. Additionally, the

472 Mass. 40

motion judge found that the Commonwealth did not meet its burden of showing that the defendant's June 28 statements were voluntarily made in light of Haley's implicit offers of leniency in conjunction with misstatements about the defendant's right to counsel.

Subsequently, the Commonwealth filed a motion to stay proceedings in the trial court, with a notice of interlocutory appeal. The case is now before us pursuant to an order of a single justice allowing the Commonwealth's application for leave to pursue an interlocutory appeal.

Discussion. Typically, when "reviewing a ruling on a motion to suppress, we accept the judge's subsidiary findings of fact absent clear error, ‘but conduct an independent review of [her] ultimate findings and conclusions of law.’ " Commonwealth v. Clarke, 461 Mass. 336, 340, 960 N.E.2d 306 (2012), quoting Commonwealth v. Scott, 440 Mass. 642, 646, 801 N.E.2d 233 (2004). "A judge who has seen and heard the witnesses is in a better position to determine their credibility than is a court which is confined to the printed record." Commonwealth v. Novo, 442 Mass. 262, 266, 812 N.E.2d 1169 (2004). However, "whenever the evidence before the trial court is reduced to a tangible form, and is therefore available to the appellate court in the same form as it was reviewed by the trial court," id., "the case for deference to the [motion] judge's findings of fact is weakened." Clarke, supra at 340, 960 N.E.2d 306. In such circumstances, "this court stands in the same position as did the [motion] judge, and reaches its own conclusion unaffected by the findings made by the [motion] judge" (citation omitted). Novo, supra at 266, 812 N.E.2d 1169. Accordingly, we take "an independent view of the evidence and analyze[ ] its significance without deference" (citation and quotation omitted). Clarke, supra at 341, 960 N.E.2d 306.

We have previously held that "[t]he requirements of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), are not triggered unless the interrogation is custodial, and a defendant's failure to receive or understand Miranda warnings, or police failure to honor Miranda rights, does not result in suppression of a voluntary statement made in a noncustodial setting." Commonwealth v. Hilton, 443 Mass. 597, 608–609, 823 N.E.2d 383 (2005), S.C., 450 Mass. 173, 877 N.E.2d 545 (2007). "[T]he premise of Miranda [is] that the danger of coercion results from the interaction of custody and official interrogation." Illinois v. Perkins, 496 U.S. 292, 297, 110 S.Ct. 2394, 110 L.Ed.2d 243 (1990). Accordingly, "[t]he safeguards prescribed by Miranda become

32 N.E.3d 896

applicable as soon as a suspect's freedom of action is curtailed to a degree associated with formal

472 Mass. 41

arrest" (citation and quotation omitted). Commonwealth v. Kirwan, 448 Mass. 304, 309, 860 N.E.2d 931 (2007).

"Custodial interrogation is ‘questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.’ " Id., quoting Commonwealth v. Jung, 420 Mass. 675, 688, 651 N.E.2d 1211 (1995). "The determination of custody depends primarily on the objective circumstances of the interrogation, and not on the subjective views of either the interrogating officers or the person being questioned." Commonwealth v. Sneed, 440 Mass. 216, 220, 796 N.E.2d 1284 (2003). Accordingly, " ‘[t]he crucial question’ ... is whether ‘a reasonable person in the defendant's position would have believed that he was in custody.’ " Commonwealth v. Molina, 467 Mass. 65, 73, 3 N.E.3d 583 (2014), quoting Commonwealth v. Baye, 462 Mass. 246, 253, 967 N.E.2d 1120 (2012). Therefore, "if the defendant reasonably believed that he was not free to leave, the interrogation occurred while the defendant was in custody, and...

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26 practice notes
  • State v. Griffin, SC 20439
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 22, 2021
    ...‘‘must be viewed as a circumstance in conjunction with others, e.g., additional police interrogation tactics''); Commonwealth v. Libby, 472 Mass. 37, 42, 32 N.E.3d 890 (2015) (‘‘the use of false information 7 by [the] police during an interrogation is deceptive and is a relevant factor indi......
  • Commonwealth v. Scott, No. 17-P-446.
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • November 30, 2020
    ...questions asked of him and voiced lucid and logical responses, which reflected an effort to exonerate himself. See Commonwealth v. Libby, 472 Mass. 37, 49, 32 N.E.3d 890 (2015) (defendant's 98 Mass.App.Ct. 859 exculpatory explanations of events suggested statements were product of defendant......
  • Commonwealth v. Rosa-Roman, SJC-12504
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • September 8, 2020
    ...is dispositive, and questioning that occurs at a police station is not necessarily custodial interrogation. See Commonwealth v. Libby, 472 Mass. 37, 46, 32 N.E.3d 890 (2015) ; Almonte, 444 Mass. at 518, 829 N.E.2d 1094 ; Commonwealth v. Sparks, 433 Mass. 654, 657, 746 N.E.2d 133 (2001). For......
  • Commonwealth v. Weaver, SJC–10932.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • July 20, 2016
    ...rights, does not result in suppression of a voluntary statement made in a noncustodial setting” (citation omitted). Commonwealth v. Libby, 472 Mass. 37, 40, 32 N.E.3d 890 (2015). Whether an interrogation is custodial depends on the “objective circumstances of the interrogation, and not on t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
26 cases
  • State v. Griffin, SC 20439
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 22, 2021
    ...‘‘must be viewed as a circumstance in conjunction with others, e.g., additional police interrogation tactics''); Commonwealth v. Libby, 472 Mass. 37, 42, 32 N.E.3d 890 (2015) (‘‘the use of false information 7 by [the] police during an interrogation is deceptive and is a relevant factor indi......
  • Commonwealth v. Scott, No. 17-P-446.
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • November 30, 2020
    ...questions asked of him and voiced lucid and logical responses, which reflected an effort to exonerate himself. See Commonwealth v. Libby, 472 Mass. 37, 49, 32 N.E.3d 890 (2015) (defendant's 98 Mass.App.Ct. 859 exculpatory explanations of events suggested statements were product of defendant......
  • Commonwealth v. Rosa-Roman, SJC-12504
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • September 8, 2020
    ...is dispositive, and questioning that occurs at a police station is not necessarily custodial interrogation. See Commonwealth v. Libby, 472 Mass. 37, 46, 32 N.E.3d 890 (2015) ; Almonte, 444 Mass. at 518, 829 N.E.2d 1094 ; Commonwealth v. Sparks, 433 Mass. 654, 657, 746 N.E.2d 133 (2001). For......
  • Commonwealth v. Weaver, SJC–10932.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • July 20, 2016
    ...rights, does not result in suppression of a voluntary statement made in a noncustodial setting” (citation omitted). Commonwealth v. Libby, 472 Mass. 37, 40, 32 N.E.3d 890 (2015). Whether an interrogation is custodial depends on the “objective circumstances of the interrogation, and not on t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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