Cox v. State

Decision Date26 June 1998
Docket NumberNo. 48S00-9705-CR-313,48S00-9705-CR-313
Citation696 N.E.2d 853
PartiesPatrick E. COX, Appellant (Defendant Below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff Below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Thomas G. Godfrey, Anderson, for Appellant.

Jeffrey A. Modisett, Attorney General, Arthur T. Perry, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, for Appellee.

BOEHM, Justice.

In this direct appeal from a conviction for murder, Patrick E. Cox contends that:

(1) his arrest in his home without a warrant violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and therefore incriminating statements he made to police at the police station after the arrest should have been suppressed;

(2) the prosecutor made improper remarks during trial that prejudiced his right to a fair trial;

(3) the trial court erred by admitting certain testimony, the relevance of which depended upon Cox's knowledge of the content of the testimony; and

(4) it was error to deny his motion for a continuance of the sentencing phase.

We affirm.

Factual Background

In the early morning hours of September 22, 1995 James and Patricia Leonard were asleep in the ground floor bedroom of their home. At about 3:00 a.m. Patricia woke to look after the family dogs, returned to bed, switched on a bedroom television, and fell asleep. She was awakened by a single "loud pop sound," and quickly realized that James had been shot in the eye. James was rushed to the hospital but died three days later.

Bullet holes were found in the bedroom window and its screen, and a bullet casing was outside beneath the window. An officer who was called to the scene that night had a clear view of the inside of the bedroom from immediately outside the window. A firearms expert testified that the pattern of discoloration on the screen could have been produced only by a shot fired within six inches of the screen.

Police questioned Cox on the morning of the shooting. Cox denied any involvement in the crime and said he returned home from a nearby friend's house at about 1:00 a.m. However, later that morning one of Cox's friends told police that Cox had said that he had looked into the Leonards' window, fired a shot, and fled. Cox also told him that "Leonards probably ain't gonna have a dad after last night." Police concluded they had probable cause to arrest Cox. That afternoon, without obtaining an arrest warrant, two officers went to Cox's home. The front door to Cox's home also had a screen door. Cox answered the police knock by opening the front door but not the screen. When the officers asked him to come with them he attempted to shut the front door but an officer opened the screen door, blocked the front door, reached inside the house, and pulled Cox out by the arm. The officers then placed Cox under arrest and took him to the police station. Shortly afterward, Cox signed a waiver of rights form and told police that he fired once into the Leonards' bedroom window. He described the gun in detail and said he had thrown it into a nearby gravel pit. Meanwhile, pursuant to a search warrant, police had searched Cox's home and found a gun hidden in his bedroom. When Cox finished giving his statement, the police showed Cox a picture of the gun and Cox identified it as the one he said he threw into the gravel pit. At trial, the firearms expert testified that this gun fired the deadly shot. In addition, Angela Bowling, a friend of Cox's, testified that she bought bullets for Cox at his request the night of the shooting and that she and a few other friends were with him at the home of Helen Johnson until Cox left between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m. Johnson was the mother of Cox's close friend, Jamie Hammer. Bowling said that Cox showed the bullets to the group and had a large object tucked into his trousers. The State contended that Cox killed Leonard as an act of retaliation because Hammer was in prison pending the resolution of charges filed against him by the Leonards for molesting their young daughter. The jury convicted Cox of murder but in a separate sentencing phase was unable to agree whether he should serve life in prison without parole. The trial court imposed life imprisonment and Cox appeals.

I. Constitutionality of the Arrest/Admissibility of Incriminating Remarks

Cox contends that his warrantless arrest violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution under Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980). He raises no claim under the Indiana Constitution. Payton resolved two different cases where the police entered a suspect's home with probable cause to arrest the suspect but without a warrant. In one, when there was no response to the officers' knock on the suspect's door, they broke it open with crowbars, entered the home, and searched for the suspect. In the other, the suspect's young son answered the police officers' knock. Police saw the suspect sitting in bed behind the son, entered and arrested him. The Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment "prohibits the police from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a suspect's home in order to make a routine felony arrest" even when the police have probable cause to make the arrest. Id. at 576, 100 S.Ct. 1371. "In terms that apply equally to seizures of property and to seizures of persons, the Fourth Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house. Absent exigent circumstances, that threshold may not reasonably be crossed without a warrant." Id. at 590, 100 S.Ct. 1371. Applying Payton to the facts of his arrest, Cox contends that the police unconstitutionally crossed the threshold of his home by opening the screen door, forcibly preventing him from closing the front door, and reaching into the house to pull him out.

The State responds that the arrest was constitutional under United States v. Santana, 427 U.S. 38, 96 S.Ct. 2406, 49 L.Ed.2d 300 (1976). In that case, directly after the crime had been committed police officers who had probable cause to arrest Santana but no arrest warrant, saw Santana standing in the frame of her front doorway as they approached her house. When they shouted "police" Santana retreated into the house. The police followed her inside and arrested her. This arrest was held proper on the basis that Santana was in a public place when the police initiated the process of arrest. A warrantless felony arrest based on probable cause is constitutional if the arrest is made in a public place. United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411, 96 S.Ct. 820, 46 L.Ed.2d 598 (1976). Santana's stance at the threshold of her home was "public" because "[s]he was not merely visible to the public but was as exposed to public view, speech, hearing, and touch as if she had been standing completely outside her house." Santana, 427 U.S. at 42, 96 S.Ct. 2406. The Court explained that completion of the arrest by entry into Santana's home was justified by exigent circumstances, specifically "hot pursuit," and concluded "that a suspect may not defeat an arrest which has been set in motion in a public place ... by the expedient of escaping to a private place." Id. at 43, 96 S.Ct. 2406. The State contends that Cox, like Santana, was standing in a "public" place--the doorway of the house--when the police initiated the arrest. There is no claim that Cox consented to the arrest, 1 nor is there any contention that exigent circumstances justified it.

Cox's claim involves a "threshold arrest," i.e., one made or attempted without a warrant when the suspect is either at or slightly within or behind the threshold of the home but not in front of the threshold or outside of the home. See generally WAYNE R. LAFAVE, 3 SEARCH AND SEIZURE § 6.1(e) (3d ed. 1996). The law in the area of threshold arrests is not entirely clear. The Supreme Court has not directly addressed the subject and the several courts that have considered it do not paint a consistent picture. Under Payton the police are generally not permitted to break the threshold of the home in order to make an arrest. Under Santana, if police spot the suspect and identify themselves when the suspect is in view, they may pursue her into the home to complete the arrest. The unresolved questions are whether the police may cause the suspect to come into public view and then invoke Santana to invade the home, and whether a glass or screen door may be breached to drag the suspect out. A minority of federal and state courts rely on Santana and hold that because the threshold is a public place, the police may arrest a suspect there, irrespective of how that occurred. 2 Others hold that some manifestation of consent is required before the police may perform a warrantless arrest at the threshold. 3 Most courts agree that a forcible removal of a suspect from his home is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. 4

It seems a dubious proposition that the threshold is always a "public" place for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. In Santana, the Court did not hold that the threshold was a public place under the Fourth Amendment per se. Rather, the Court said that Santana was standing in a public place because she was "exposed to public view, speech, hearing, and touch" when the police arrived at her home. Opening the door to ascertain the purpose of an interruption to the private enjoyment of the home is not an invitation to enter, but rather is a common courtesy of civilized society. Attendant to this courtesy is the ability to exclude those who are knocking and preserve the integrity of the physical boundaries of the home. See, e.g., United States v. Berkowitz, 927 F.2d 1376, 1387 (7th Cir.1991) ("A person does not abandon [the] privacy interest in his home by opening his door ... to answer a knock.... [This] is not an invitation to [enter]."). This is particularly true where an intervening screen or storm door remains closed.

This conclusion is bolstered by the Court's later decision in Payton. There, the...

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