Landreth v. State, CR-90-1434

CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals
Writing for the CourtTAYLOR
Citation600 So.2d 440
PartiesJohn Thomas LANDRETH v. STATE.
Decision Date17 April 1992
Docket NumberCR-90-1434

Page 440

600 So.2d 440
John Thomas LANDRETH
Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama.
April 17, 1992.
Rehearing Denied May 29, 1992.

Page 443

Michael D. Cook, Valley, for appellant.

James H. Evans, Atty. Gen., and Margaret S. Childers, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.

TAYLOR, Judge.

On November 7, 1988, the appellant, John Thomas Landreth, was convicted of the murder of Michael Crane, in violation of § 13A-6-2, Code of Alabama 1975. He was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. On June 21, 1989, the appellant moved for a new trial, and a hearing on that motion was held on August 4, 1989. Because of the illness of an essential witness, however, the hearing was continued until April 8, 1991. The appellant's new trial motion was subsequently denied. He then filed a notice of appeal on June 26, 1991, but the appeal was dismissed for noncompliance with A.R.App.P. 587 So.2d 1113. On August 5, 1991, the appellant was granted this out-of-time appeal.

The state's evidence tended to show that, on the afternoon of December 11, 1987, the appellant shot and killed Michael Crane, his sister's husband, at the victim's residence in Chambers County, with a Remington semi-automatic 30-06 caliber rifle. Just before the shooting, Crane, his wife, and their two children were standing on a deck behind their house. The appellant, who lived next door and who was standing on his back deck about 50 yards away from Crane, yelled and pointed a rifle at Crane. He lowered the rifle and Crane's 10-year-old son ran into the house, returning with a Winchester 30-30 lever-action rifle. Crane then held the rifle up and pointed it in the direction of the appellant.

The appellant said, "I am going to kill you, you son of a bitch" and shot his rifle. After pushing his children into the house, Crane fired a shot into the air, away from the appellant. The appellant then shot again, this time hitting Crane in the upper chest or shoulder, fatally wounding him.

The motive for the homicide is not at all clear. Crane and his family had recently moved into their house. The house had been occupied by the appellant's parents until his parents' divorce proceeding began.

The appellant presents five issues on appeal.


Initially, the appellant contends that the trial court committed reversible error by denying his motion to suppress the following evidence: two statements that he made, the murder weapon, and two spent cartridges.

The state's evidence tended to show that Lanett Chief of Police Robert Vincent arrived at the scene of the crime and ascertained from bystanders that the appellant, who Vincent noticed was watching from his deck next door, had shot the victim. Vincent and two other officers then walked to the appellant's residence and asked "Who fired the round?" (R. 629.) When the appellant indicated that he had, Vincent asked where the rifle was. The appellant told them that it was "in the house in the corner" and started to enter the premises. Chief Vincent, however, stepped in front of the appellant, entered the premises, and retrieved a Remington semi-automatic 30-06 caliber rifle. (R. 579.) The officer inspected the rifle and noted that the safety was off, one cartridge was in the chamber and four others were in the clip. Vincent seized only the gun and made no further search of the premises. The appellant was then arrested and was taken to the police station, where he later made a tape-recorded statement after being advised of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966).

Page 444

After seizing the rifle, Vincent returned to the victim's residence, where he found a spent cartridge from the victim's gun. He then returned to the appellant's yard and discovered two spent 30-06 cartridges in the grass below the deck.

Initially, the appellant argues that the statements he made at the scene of the crime and the gun and spent cartridges that were seized should have been suppressed. He contends that the seizure the gun and the cartridges resulted from illegal questions asked of him after he had been taken into custody but before he had been advised of his Miranda rights.

Miranda safeguards do not apply when one is not "in custody." Hubbard v. State, 500 So.2d 1204 (Ala.Cr.App.), affirmed, 500 So.2d 1231 (Ala.1986), cert. denied, 480 U.S. 940, 107 S.Ct. 1591, 94 L.Ed.2d 780 (1987). Whether one is "in custody" turns on whether "a reasonable person in the defendant's position would believe that he is not free to leave." Robinson v. State, 574 So.2d 910, 913 (Ala.Cr.App.1990).

Furthermore, even if one is in custody, the procedural safeguards "outlined in Miranda are required not where a suspect is simply taken into custody, but rather where a suspect in custody is subjected to interrogation." Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 300, 100 S.Ct. 1682, 1689, 64 L.Ed.2d 297 (1980). In deciding whether the questioning of a suspect is "custodial," the following factors should be considered:

"whether the suspect was questioned in familiar or neutral surroundings, the number of law enforcement officers present at the scene, the degree of physical restraint of the suspect, the duration and character of questioning, how the suspect got to the place of questioning, the language used to summon the suspect, the extent to which the suspect is confronted with evidence of guilt, and the degree of pressure applied to detain the suspect."

P.S. v. State, 565 So.2d 1209, 1214 (Ala.Cr.App.1990). See also, Finch v. State, 518 So.2d 864 (Ala.Cr.App.1987).

The facts as set out above indicate that the appellant was not under custodial interrogation and was not in custody when the police asked him who did the shooting and where the gun was located. We hold that the circuit court did not err in denying the motion to suppress the statements, the gun, and the cartridges on these grounds.

The appellant further contends that the circuit court erred when it received the 30-06 rifle and its spent cartridges into evidence. He asserts that they were the fruits of independent warrantless searches, each of which was unconstitutionally conducted. The appellant also contends that the statement procured at the police station should have been suppressed because it involved responses to questions regarding the illegally obtained spent cartridges.

Although warrantless searches and seizures are per se unreasonable, an exception is recognized where probable cause coincides with exigent circumstances. See, generally, Youtz v. State, 494 So.2d 189 (Ala.Cr.App.1986). The search and the arrest in this case were supported by probable cause because the appellant admitted to officers at the scene that he had done the shooting. See, e.g., Smith v. State, 466 So.2d 1026 (Ala.Cr.App.1985).

Exigent circumstances exist when officers are faced with a situation where the immediate safety of the public is threatened. Jones v. State, 49 Ala.App. 438, 272 So.2d 910 (1973). See also, 2 W. LaFave, Search and Seizure: A Treatise on the Fourth Amendment § 6.5(d) (2d ed. 1987). An officer's compelling need to protect himself or innocent bystanders outweighs an accused's constitutional rights, so long as the action taken to remove the threat is reasonable. See, e.g., Bragg v. State, 536 So.2d 965 (Ala.Cr.App.1988); Edwards v. State, 515 So.2d 86 (Ala.Cr.App.1987). Cf., King v. State, 521 So.2d 1042 (Ala.Cr.App.1987), cert. denied, 521 So.2d 1050 (Ala.1988).

In this case, the appellant admitted to the officers that he had done the shooting and told them the exact location of the

Page 445

weapon. Having been told that the rifle was just inside the house, but not knowing whether anyone else was in the house, Chief Vincent acted reasonably to protect himself, his fellow officers, and several bystanders by stepping in front of the appellant, entering the premises, seizing the rifle, and leaving the house immediately thereafter. According to the facts as recited above, Vincent's...

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