Ex parte Siebert

Decision Date15 December 1989
PartiesEx parte Danial L. SIEBERT. (Re Danial L. Siebert v. State). 88-1329.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

William J. Willingham, Talladega, for petitioner.

Don Siegelman, Atty. Gen., and William D. Little, Asst. Atty. Gen., for respondents.

SHORES, Justice.

This is a death penalty case. In 1987, Siebert was convicted, pursuant to Alabama Code 1975, § 13A-5-40(a)(10), of the capital murder of Sherri Weathers and her sons, Chad and Joseph. The relevant facts surrounding the petitioner's crime and conviction are set forth adequately in the Court of Criminal Appeals' opinion, 555 So.2d 772, and need not be restated here. Two factual points need clarification, however. The record indicates that shoe prints lifted from the victims' apartment matched those found on papers located at the rear of the Porter Building, not in the defendant's apartment, as stated in the Court of Criminal Appeals' opinion. Second, the defendant gave a brief inculpatory statement to law enforcement officers while he was in Tennessee, but he did not make the detailed statement describing the crimes and his actions following his departure from the state until he returned to Talladega.


Siebert contends that before he made an incriminating statement to the police following his arrest in Tennessee, he was given improper Miranda warnings, Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), and, therefore, that the statement he made in Tennessee was improperly obtained. Specifically, Siebert contends that the police officer who informed him of his rights in Tennessee before he gave his first incriminating statement stated, "Anything you say can be used against you in court," instead of "anything you say can and will be used against you in court," which is what Miranda requires. Further, Siebert argues, any later statement he made was tainted as a result of the first statement, which he says was illegally obtained, and should not have been admitted into evidence.

Siebert's argument is without merit. He implicitly suggests that the United States Supreme Court, in deciding the Miranda case, required that the constitutional warnings administered to a defendant be an incantation of the precise language set forth in that opinion. Nothing in Miranda or in the subsequent opinions interpreting the Miranda opinion suggests any rigid requirements in the form of the Miranda warnings. In response to an argument similar to the one made here by Siebert, the Supreme Court stated:

"Quite the contrary, Miranda itself indicated that no talismanic incantation was required to satisfy its strictures. The Court in that case stated that '[t]he warnings required and the waiver necessary in accordance with our opinion today are, in the absence of a fully effective equivalent, prerequisites to the admissibility of any statement made by a defendant.' 384 U.S., at 476, 86 S.Ct., at 1629 (emphasis supplied). See also id., at 479, 86 S.Ct., at 1630. Just last Term in considering when Miranda applied we noted that that decision announced procedural safeguards including 'the now familiar Miranda warnings ... or their equivalent.' Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 297, 100 S.Ct. 1682, 1688, 64 L.Ed.2d 297 (1980) (emphasis supplied)."

California v. Prysock, 453 U.S. 355, 359-60, 101 S.Ct. 2806, 2809-10, 69 L.Ed.2d 696 (1981).

In fact, the Supreme Court, in the Miranda opinion, summarized part of its holding by stating, "Prior to any questioning, the person must be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed." Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 1612, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966) (emphasis added). Thus, the very language that Siebert contends violated Miranda is contained within the Miranda Court's own summary of its holding. Accordingly, we find that the warnings given to Siebert in Tennessee before he made his initial inculpatory statement sufficiently advised him of his constitutional rights and that subsequent inculpatory statements were in no way tainted by this initial statement.

Siebert also argues that the statement he made in Tennessee was involuntary because, he argues, it was conditioned on an alleged promise by the police officer that Siebert would not be questioned about the details of the murders until he returned to Alabama, and that, as a result, all subsequent statements he made were tainted and inadmissible. We disagree with Siebert's argument.

A review of the record discloses that Captain Willard Hurst of the Talladega Police Department advised Siebert of his constitutional rights under Miranda before Siebert was questioned in Tennessee. Hurst testified that Siebert stated that he understood his rights and that he was willing to make a statement. Siebert also signed a waiver of rights form before he made the statement. Hurst denied making any promises or threats to induce Siebert to make a statement. However, Hurst testified that when Siebert agreed to make an initial tape-recorded admission, he stated that he would not provide any details of the crime until they returned to Alabama. Hurst testified that the condition Siebert imposed prior to making the statement was acceptable to him.

Contrary to the position Siebert has taken before this Court, the record conclusively shows that Siebert's statement was not the result of any promise of benefit or inducement on Hurst's part. Rather, Siebert imposed a condition when he agreed to make an inculpatory statement in Tennessee but refused to provide details until later, and Hurst merely agreed to Siebert's condition. The record does not support Siebert's claim that the condition he imposed was tantamount to a promise from Hurst that rendered his statement involuntary.

Assuming that the condition that Siebert would not be questioned about the details of the murders in the statement he gave in Tennessee was, in fact, properly characterized as a promise by Captain Hurst, it did not render Siebert's inculpatory statement involuntary. The trial court is to determine whether a confession is voluntary, and the "true test is whether, under all the surrounding circumstances, a confession has been induced by a threat or a promise, express or implied, operating to produce in the mind of the prisoner apprehension of harm or hope of favor." Wallace v. State, 290 Ala. 201, 275 So.2d 634, 636 (1973). Furthermore, a confession is not rendered involuntary if it was made in response to a promise of benefit that was solicited by the accused. Thomas v. State, 531 So.2d 45, 48 (Ala.Cr.App.1988); Eakes v. State, 387 So.2d 855, 860 (Ala.Cr.App.1978). Siebert imposed the condition that he not be questioned about details of the crime in the statement he made in Tennessee; this limitation did not originate with Captain Hurst. Therefore, even if the condition is viewed as a promise, it did not affect the admissibility of the statement Siebert made in Tennessee, nor did it taint the subsequent statements Siebert made.


Siebert next argues that the trial court erred in refusing to invalidate his waiver of extradition to Alabama from Tennessee. He contends that he was not advised sufficiently of his right to counsel under the extradition laws or of his right to fight extradition pro se. He further argues that there is no evidence that he understood the rights explained to him or that he understood the importance of signing the waiver of extradition.

Siebert's contentions are not supported by the record. Roger Farley of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation testified that Siebert appeared before a Tennessee judge who advised him that he was entitled to a hearing to determine whether he should be returned to Alabama, that counsel would be appointed to represent him if he could not hire an attorney, and that he would be entitled to bond pending such a hearing. Farley testified further that Siebert stated that he understood his rights, that he did not desire counsel, and that he wanted to waive extradition and...

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