Commonwealth v. Monroe

Citation35 N.E.3d 677,472 Mass. 461
Decision Date19 August 2015
Docket NumberSJC–11813.
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH v. Charles MONROE.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

Nancy A. Dolberg, Committee for Public Counsel Services, for the defendant.

Donna–Marie Haran, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

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

Opinion

HINES

, J.

After a jury trial in the Superior Court, the defendant, Charles Monroe, was convicted of four counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon (knife); two counts of armed robbery; two counts of indecent assault and battery on a person fourteen years of age or older; two counts of armed kidnapping with serious bodily injury; and one count each of kidnapping and assault and battery.1 The convictions were based on three incidents that occurred in October, 2010, during which the defendant, then eighteen years old, accosted three different teenage victims as they walked to school. The defendant appealed, arguing that (1) admission of statements he made to police during a videotaped interview violated his right to due process, and (2) the trial judge erred in discharging two deliberating jurors. We transferred the case to this court on our own motion and now conclude that the motion judge erred in denying the defendant's motion to suppress statements and that the statements were admitted at trial erroneously. On the record before us, we agree that the police engaged in impermissibly coercive tactics that rendered the defendant's statements involuntary under the circumstances of the interrogation. Because the erroneous admission of those statements at trial was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, we reverse the convictions on that ground2 and remand for a new trial.

1. Background. We summarize the facts the jury could have found, reserving for later discussion the details of the postarrest interview.

The morning of October 19, 2010, the first victim, E.C., a seventeen year old female, was walking to her bus stop when she noticed a man, later identified as the defendant, walking behind her. The defendant attempted to get her attention, but she did not turn around. The victim crossed the street, evading the defendant. The following morning, E.C. encountered the defendant again on her walk to the bus stop. This time, the defendant got close to her and began asking questions. The defendant attempted to “hug” the victim, but she pushed him away. When the defendant attempted to put his arm around the victim again, she noticed that he was

holding a short silver knife, which he placed against her neck, telling her, “Don't scream. Come with me.” The defendant led the victim to a tree on the other side of the street. As the victim struggled to get away, her backpack fell off her arm; the defendant grabbed the bag and ran away.

On October 25, 2010, the second victim, L.B., a fifteen year old female, was walking to school when the defendant approached her and began walking beside her. L.B. tried to ignore the defendant, but he grabbed her by the neck and pressed down on her throat. He put a knife to her throat, lifted her off the ground, and attempted to move her to a nearby driveway. The victim was able to get her feet back on the ground, remove the defendant's hand from her neck, and move away from the defendant. The victim then ran from the scene. On arriving home, she realized she had minor cuts to her neck and a deep cut on her thumb.

On October 27, 2010, the third victim, A.G., a sixteen year old female, was walking to school when the defendant approached her and told her she looked familiar. A.G. engaged the defendant in conversation, and he said that he would walk her to school. The victim, who was not that familiar with the area, eventually realized that the two were not walking in the direction of her school, and when she stated this, the defendant became angry and aggressive. He told her to walk towards “the green building,” and at some point she noticed he had something in his hand. The victim followed the defendant into the building, where he put a knife to her neck.

Inside the building, the victim performed oral sex on the defendant; he also touched her breasts and inserted his penis into her rectum.3 After about fifteen minutes, the defendant told the victim to give him another “blow job.” The victim complied, and the defendant eventually ejaculated into her mouth. The defendant made the victim empty her tote bag in front of him and took a yellow highlighter that had been in her bag. The defendant then allowed the victim to leave, and she resumed walking towards school. After disclosing the attack to school officials, the victim was brought to the hospital where a sexual assault exam was performed. The defendant's deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) was found on A.G.'s genitals and face. A.G. identified the defendant as her attacker in a photographic array. Police recovered a yellow

highlighter from the defendant's pocket later that day.

2. Discussion. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the statements he made to police officers during a postarrest interview, claiming that even if the waiver of his Miranda rights is deemed valid, his statements were nonetheless involuntary. The judge denied the motion based on his review of the videotaped interview, the transcript of the interview, and the police report prepared after the interview. The defendant's inculpatory statements and some of his exculpatory statements, made during the interview, were admitted through the testimony of the two interviewing detectives and a redacted version of the videotaped interview that was played for the jury.4

On appeal, the defendant argues that the motion judge erred in denying his motion to suppress, claiming that psychological coercion, together with other factors, 5 rendered his statement involuntary and that the admission of his involuntary statement at trial violated his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and art. 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. More specifically, he contends that the coercive nature of the detectives' statements regarding the fate of his infant child compels a finding that his statement was involuntary.

a. Standard of review. In reviewing the grant or denial of a motion to suppress, we “review de novo any findings of the motion judge that were based entirely on the documentary evidence.” Commonwealth v. Thomas, 469 Mass. 531, 539, 21 N.E.3d 901 (2014)

. Because the defendant's interview was video recorded, we are in the same position as the motion judge to determine what occurred during the interview.” Id. at 535 n. 4, 21 N.E.3d 901.

b. The interview. The following summary is based on our review of the unredacted videotape of the defendant's postarrest interview and the police report prepared on that same date.6 The defendant was arrested at approximately 4 p.m. on Wednesday, October 27, 2010, in connection with the crimes against the three victims. Following his arrest, he was transported to the Worcester police detective bureau. By 4:15 p.m. , the defendant was seated alone in an interview room with his hands cuffed behind his back.

At approximately 4:30 p.m. , Detectives James O'Rourke and Donna Brissette entered the room. Detective O'Rourke asked the defendant to stand and moved the defendant's cuffed hands from behind his back to in front of him. Detective O'Rourke advised the defendant that the interview was being videotaped, informed him of his right to use a telephone, read him his Miranda rights, and informed him that he was at the detective bureau concerning a warrant. When the defendant asked about the substance of the warrant, Detective O'Rourke informed the defendant that he could not tell the defendant about the substance of the warrant unless the defendant waived his Miranda rights and agreed to speak with the officers. The defendant then signed a waiver of his Miranda rights.

Detective O'Rourke then asked the defendant several background questions, on topics including his education and whether he had any children. The defendant said that he was working toward his general education degree (GED) and that he has both a son and a daughter. At 4:43 p.m. , the detectives informed the defendant for the first time that he had been positively identified by three victims of assaults that occurred on October 20, October 25, and earlier that morning, October 27. In connection with the assaults, Detective O'Rourke asked the defendant questions regarding his whereabouts and activities earlier that morning and on October 25. The detective went on to tell the defendant that he “should be trying to help [himself] out,” and after that point the interview grew increasingly aggressive. Detective O'Rourke informed the defendant that he would only have “one opportunity to talk ... and tell [the detectives] why this happened.”

At this point in the interrogation, Detective Brissette turned the conversation toward the defendant's daughter, asking him her age and about the family's involvement with the Department of Children and Families (DCF).7 The defendant responded by stating, “Don't tell me they're going to take my daughter ‘cause—don't even tell me ‘cause I don't want to hear it. ‘Cause my daughter is the most important thing in my life.” The detective continued on the subject of the defendant's child, suggesting that the defendant was aware of a scheme by the child's mother to get “money from [w]elfare and stuff,” but that the defendant was “playing dumb” during the DCF investigation just as he was doing with the questions about his whereabouts when the victims were attacked.

During the next few minutes of the interrogation, the defendant told the police that he had emigrated from Africa with his family, that he had emotional problems, that he had not eaten or showered recently, and that he had slept on the stairs inside the house where he once...

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28 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Hammond
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • October 6, 2016
    ...we "review de novo any findings of the motion judge that were based entirely on documentary evidence." Commonwealth v. Monroe , 472 Mass. 461, 464, 35 N.E.3d 677 (2015), quoting Commonwealth v. Thomas , 469 Mass. 531, 539, 21 N.E.3d 901 (2014). Because there is a video recording of the defe......
  • Commonwealth v. Tremblay
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • October 3, 2018
    ...judge's findings drawn from it are not entitled to deference and we may review such evidence de novo. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Monroe, 472 Mass. 461, 464, 35 N.E.3d 677 (2015) (recorded interrogation constitutes documentary evidence); Clarke, 461 Mass. at 341, 960 N.E.2d 306 (same); Hoyt,......
  • Commonwealth v. Watt
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • June 4, 2020
    ...of curative instructions; and the weight or quantum of evidence of guilt" (quotation and citation omitted). Commonwealth v. Monroe, 472 Mass. 461, 472-473, 35 N.E.3d 677 (2015). Here, the cell phone evidence was cumulative of other evidence presented and posed little risk of prejudice to th......
  • Commonwealth v. Johnson
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • March 26, 2019
    ...those findings with undisputed facts from the documentary evidence that was before the motion judge. See Commonwealth v. Monroe, 472 Mass. 461, 464, 35 N.E.3d 677 (2015).In April 2012, the defendant appeared in the District Court for a probation violation hearing on four criminal dockets st......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • Suppressing Involuntary Confessions
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Suppressing Criminal Evidence - 2017 Contents
    • August 4, 2017
    ...have to investigate his wife and she would probably lose her job). §11:27 SUPPRESSING CRIMINAL EVIDENCE 11-14 • Commonwealth v. Monroe , 35 N.E.3d 677 (Mass. 2015) (police repeatedly told sexual assault suspect that his girlfriend could lose custody of their child if he didn’t confess). §11......
  • Suppressing involuntary confessions
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Suppressing Criminal Evidence Confessions and other statements
    • April 1, 2022
    ...that if he didn’t confess, they would have to investigate his wife and she would probably lose her job). • Commonwealth v. Monroe , 35 N.E.3d 677 (Mass. 2015) (police repeatedly told sexual assault suspect that his girlfriend could lose custody of their child if he didn’t confess). §11:27 C......
  • Suppressing involuntary confessions
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Suppressing Criminal Evidence - 2020 Contents
    • July 31, 2020
    ...that if he didn’t confess they would have to investigate his wife and she would probably lose her job). • Commonwealth v. Monroe , 35 N.E.3d 677 (Mass. 2015) (police repeatedly told sexual assault suspect that his girlfriend could lose custody of their child if he didn’t confess). §11:27 Co......

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