Ex parte Singleton

Decision Date08 February 1985
Citation465 So.2d 443
PartiesEx Parte Cornelius SINGLETON. (Re: Cornelius Singleton, alias v. State). 83-1071.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Michael Scheuermann and Reggie Stephens, Mobile, for petitioner.

Charles A. Graddick, Atty. Gen., and William D. Little, Asst. Atty. Gen., for respondent.

On Application for Rehearing

SHORES, Justice.

This Court's opinion of December 7, 1984, is hereby withdrawn, and the following opinion is substituted in its place.

Cornelius Singleton, the defendant herein, was indicted and convicted for the murder of Sister Ann Hogan while robbing her, in violation of § 13-11-2(a)(2), Ala.Code 1975 (repealed 1981). 1 Defendant's first conviction was reversed and the case remanded for a new trial at 406 So.2d 1024 (Ala.Cr.App.1981), on the authority of Beck v. Alabama, 447 U.S. 625, 100 S.Ct. 2382, 65 L.Ed.2d 392 (1980), on remand, 396 So.2d 645 (Ala.1981); and Ritter v. State, 403 So.2d 154 (Ala.1981), on remand, 403 So.2d 159 (Ala.Cr.App.1981). On remand for a new trial, defendant was again convicted. He was then sentenced to death according to the guidelines set out in Beck v. State, 396 So.2d 645 (Ala.1980). The original sentencing order, issued December 15, 1981, was withdrawn and replaced by an order issued December 22, 1981, 2 which indicated, inter alia, that defendant committed the murder while under a sentence of imprisonment. On February 1, 1983, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction, but ordered a new sentencing hearing. At the new sentencing hearing, the State conceded that defendant had not, in fact, been under a sentence of imprisonment when the crime was committed, which is reflected in the trial court's "Second Amended Sentencing Order." 3 After weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances in this case, the trial court again sentenced defendant to death.

The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the death sentence in its "On Return to Remand" opinion, dated April 24, 1984, and later overruled defendant's application for rehearing. Defendant then filed a petition for writ of certiorari, which we granted. We affirm.

The facts are set forth in the opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals in this case.

Defendant contends that the overall facts and circumstances surrounding his confession to the killing of Sister Ann Hogan reveal that it was involuntary and, therefore, not admissible at trial. After considering conflicting evidence on this issue at a suppression hearing out of the presence of the jury, the trial court ruled that the confession was voluntarily and freely made. The full text of the confession was then read into evidence.

Testimony was adduced at the suppression hearing from Sergeant Joe Connick and Sergeant Hubert Bell, both of whom participated in the questioning of the defendant, that no efforts were made by violence, coercion, or intimidation, to induce the defendant to confess, nor was the defendant offered any hope of leniency. Sergeant Connick did admit on cross-examination, however, that he advised the defendant that the crime for which he was being questioned carried a possible penalty of between ten years and life imprisonment. Connick testified that, although he was familiar with the capital statute then in effect, he did not realize the defendant would be charged with capital murder.

Connick and Bell further testified that the defendant was twice advised of his Miranda rights before he made his oral statement. He signed a printed "waiver of rights" form, which was read to him, and, prior to the transcription of of the statement into typewritten form, again was given his Miranda warnings. Both Connick and Bell testified that they believed the confession was voluntarily made.

Before the defendant made the oral statement, he was permitted to see his girlfriend, Cathy Barnes, in a room alone for approximately thirty minutes. Ms. Barnes testified that before she went in to see the defendant, Sergeant Bell urged her to "tell him something, because we have got to get this information out of him."

According to Ms. Barnes, while the defendant was being questioned, she was instructed by the district attorney of Mobile County to sit in the defendant's lap. She also testified that during this time the district attorney heavily influenced the content of defendant's statement and that the defendant was not given the opportunity to read the statement, but was merely instructed to sign it.

After a careful review of the conflicting testimony reflected in the record, we find that the trial court did not err in admitting this evidence.

Before a confession is admissible, the trial judge must be satisfied by a preponderance of the evidence that it was voluntarily made. Lego v. Twomey, 404 U.S. 477, 92 S.Ct. 619, 30 L.Ed.2d 618 (1972). This finding will not be disturbed on appeal unless it is evident that the determination was palpably contrary to the weight of the evidence. Smith v. State, 346 So.2d 382 (Ala.Cr.App.), cert. denied, 346 So.2d 385 (Ala.1977); Balentine v. State, 339 So.2d 1063 (Ala.Cr.App.), cert. denied, 339 So.2d 1070 (Ala.1976). Here, although the testimony was conflicting, there is sufficient evidence to support the trial court's conclusion that the confession was voluntarily made.

Defendant also argues that Sergeant Connick's statement that he was being questioned for first degree murder constituted an implied promise that he would not be charged with capital murder. We disagree.

In Womack v. State, 281 Ala. 499, 205 So.2d 579 (1967), a sheriff informed the defendant during questioning that "it would go lighter on him" if he made a statement. Reversing the conviction on the ground that the confession was based on an implied promise of leniency, the Court wrote:

"The rule is clearly settled in Alabama, as elsewhere, that confessions cannot be given in evidence against a person charged with crime, until they are first shown to the satisfaction of the court to have been voluntarily made. Any, the slightest menace or threat, or any hope engendered or encouraged that the prisoner's case will be lightened, meliorated, or more favorably dealt with if he will confess; either of these is enough to exclude the confession thereby superinduced." (Emphasis supplied.)

281 Ala. at 507, 205 So.2d at 587.

In the case at hand, there was no implied promise that defendant's punishment would be meliorated in return for a confession. The defendant was not told he would be charged with first degree murder as opposed to capital murder, nor does the record reflect he was threatened in any way. Sergeant Connick merely stated his opinion, albeit erroneous, that the defendant would be charged with first degree murder. It is evident that there was no inducement in this statement as contemplated by Womack, nor is there any indication that the methods employed by the interrogating officers were calculated to produce an untrustworthy confession.

The defendant next contends that the trial judge committed prejudicial error when he made the following comment to the jury concerning the voluntariness of defendant's confession:

"Do you know yesterday when you were--the jury was out of here for a long period of time? It is incumbent upon the Court first to hear all of the testimony and first the Court must decide that it is a voluntary statement and that it is admissible into evidence. The Court first makes this determination, which I did, and I allowed the confession to be introduced. But, again, I am not the trier of the facts, you are. So, then the burden is upon the State to show you that it was a quote, voluntary statement...."

It is improper for a trial judge to disclose to the jury that he made a preliminary determination that a confession was voluntary and, therefore, admissible. Clifton v. United States, 371 F.2d 354 (D.C.Cir.1966), cert. denied, 386 U.S. 995, 87 S.Ct. 1312, 18 L.Ed.2d 341 (1967); United States v. Inman, 352 F.2d 954 (4th Cir.1965). In the case at hand, however, the trial judge made it clear to the jury that they were to ultimately determine whether the confession was voluntary. We agree, therefore, with the Court of Criminal Appeals that there was no prejudicial error, since the comments of the trial judge "did not imply that the jury should accept and believe appellant's confession based on the trial court's ruling that the statement was voluntary."

Though the comments of the trial judge did not result in prejudicial error, the Court of Criminal Appeals in its opinion in this case incorrectly states the law with respect to the issue of voluntariness.

Relying on Matthews v. State, 55 Ala. 65 (1876), the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that "[o]nce the trial court has ruled that a confession was voluntarily made and is, therefore, admissible, the jury must accept it as voluntary." Indeed, Matthews v. State supports this conclusion:

"The duty of determining whether a confession is voluntary, rests with the court alone.... When after inquiry, the court determines it admissible, the jury must accept it--they can not reject it because, under the facts, they may deem it involuntary. Their duty is confined to its credibility."

55 Ala. at 71.

Correctly stated, whether a confession was voluntary rests initially with the trial court; once the trial judge makes the preliminary determination that the confession was voluntary, it then becomes admissible into evidence. Thereafter, the jury makes a determination of voluntariness as affecting the weight and credibility to be given the confession. Lewis v. State, 295 Ala. 350, 329 So.2d 599 (1976). Accordingly, the Court in Duncan v. State, 278 Ala. 145, 176 So.2d 840 (1965), wrote:

"We are clear to the conclusion that whenever a motion is made for the question of the voluntariness of the confession to be determined outside the presence of the jury, the motion should be granted. In such a hearing, the trial judge sitting alone should make a determination upon a...

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