Commonwealth v. Sneed, SJC-08970.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Citation440 Mass. 216
Docket NumberSJC-08970.
Decision Date14 October 2003

Page 1

Maxine E. SNEED.
Supreme Court of Massachusetts.
September 5, 2003.
October 14, 2003.

Practice, Criminal, Voluntariness of statement. Due Process of Law, Police custody.

Complaint received and sworn to in the Boston Municipal Court Department on September 10, 1999.

A pretrial motion to suppress evidence was heard by Dermot Meagher, J.

An application for leave to prosecute an interlocutory appeal was allowed by Ireland, J., in the Supreme Judicial Court for the county of Suffolk, and the appeal was reported to the Appeals Court. After review by the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court granted leave to obtain further appellate review.

Cathryn A. Neaves, Assistant Attorney General, for the Commonwealth.

Dana Alan Curhan for the defendant.

Present: Marshall, C.J., Greaney, Ireland, Spina, Cowin & Cordy, JJ.


The defendant, seventy years of age and a long-term employee of the State Lottery Commission, made incriminating statements during an interview with a Massachusetts State trooper and an investigator from the Attorney General's Office regarding approximately $24,000 in receipts missing from the Boston lottery office. The defendant subsequently was summonsed to the Boston Municipal Court and there arraigned on a complaint charging larceny over $250 by a single scheme in violation of G.L. c. 266, § 30(1). After an evidentiary hearing on the defendant's motion to suppress her statements, a judge entered a memorandum of decision and order in which he ruled that the statements were the product of custodial interrogation without the warnings required under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and, thus, inadmissible. A single justice of this court allowed the Commonwealth's application under Mass. R.Crim. P. 15(a)(2), as appearing in 422 Mass. 1501 (1996), to pursue an interlocutory appeal from the order granting the motion to suppress, and the appeal was transferred to the Appeals Court. That court affirmed the judge's order. Commonwealth v. Sneed, 56 Mass.App.Ct. 391 (2002). We granted the Commonwealth's application for further appellate review and now conclude that the defendant was not entitled to Miranda warnings because she was not in custody at the time the statements were made. We further conclude, based on the judge's findings of facts and on our independent examination of the transcript of the evidentiary hearing, that the defendant's statements were voluntarily made. Accordingly, we vacate the order allowing the motion to suppress and remand the case to the Boston Municipal Court for further proceedings.

Page 2

1. The facts as found by the judge, all of which are supported by the evidence, are as follows. See Commonwealth v. Morse, 427 Mass. 117, 118 (1998). On Wednesday, June 9, 1999, the defendant remained home due to illness from her job as one of the two employees of the "Game Room," a commission outlet where lottery tickets are sold to the public. At approximately 1 P.M., State Trooper Matthew Murphy, accompanied by a civilian investigator, James McFadden,[1] rang her doorbell. Trooper Murphy was unarmed and in plain clothes. The two men went to the defendant's home, unannounced, with the purpose of inquiring about the defendant's job at the Game Room and about $ 24,000 in missing lottery receipts. A simultaneous investigation was being conducted of the other employee of the Game Room. Murphy and McFadden had with them copies of the Game Room's daily reporting forms for January, 1999, through March, 1999, as well as the results of another trooper's investigation of the defendant's slot machine gambling activity at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.

The defendant answered the door dressed in sweat pants or pajamas. Trooper Murphy identified himself and asked if they could come in to talk to her about her job. The defendant answered that she was not feeling well but that they could come in. The defendant suffered from asthma, and her condition required the use of a nebulizer, which was plugged into an electric socket in her home.

The interview lasted for two hours. Murphy asked questions of the defendant, and McFadden recorded her responses.[2] The defendant was stressed by the interrogation, and, a couple of times during the interview, she used her nebulizer. At one point she left the room to rid herself of accumulated phlegm and to answer a telephone call from her daughter. The defendant told her daughter she had visitors from the Lottery but did not reveal to her daughter, who sensed her discomfort, the reason for the visit. At no time was the defendant informed that she did not have to answer the questions put to her or that she could leave the room or order the two men to leave her apartment. The defendant was not given Miranda warnings.

The judge made no findings regarding specific questions posed to the defendant, but he appeared to credit the defendant's testimony that Trooper Murphy's tone was "very quiet, forceful, insistent, stern and sort of accusatory."[3] On a few occasions during the interview, the defendant asked whether she should call a lawyer. Trooper Murphy informed the defendant that she should call a priest to discuss (what Trooper Murphy characterized as) her gambling addiction.[4]

The defendant made various incriminating statements to the investigators.[5] Although the Commonwealth claims that she admitted the larceny, she was not arrested at the conclusion of the questioning but was later summonsed. Three hours after the interview ended, the defendant received emergency treatment for her asthma.

2. The central issue is whether the judge correctly concluded that the defendant was in custody, for purposes of Miranda, at the time she made the statements to Trooper Murphy in her home, on June 9, 1999.[6] "In reviewing the judge's decision, we 'give[ ] substantial deference to the judge's ultimate findings and conclusions of law, but independently review[ ] the correctness of the judge's application of constitutional principles to the facts found.' " Commonwealth v. Morse, 427 Mass. 117, 122 (1998), quoting Commonwealth v. Magee, 423 Mass. 381, 384 (1996).

In his memorandum of decision and order on the motion to suppress, the judge offered no justification for his...

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