Leon v. State

Decision Date23 February 1982
Docket NumberNo. 80-650,80-650
Citation410 So.2d 201
PartiesJean LEON, Appellant, v. The STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

Bennett H. Brummer, Public Defender and Elliot H. Scherker, Asst. Public Defender, for appellant.

Jim Smith, Atty. Gen. and Paul Mendelson, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.



Leon was convicted of kidnapping Louis Gachelin and the possession of a firearm in the commission of that felony. The only point on his appeal which deserves discussion is the claim that his formal confessions should have been suppressed as the product of police threats and physical violence which had admittedly been asserted against him. We do not agree.

The issue arises from a highly unusual sequence of events. 1 For our purposes, it began when Leon arrived at a shopping center parking lot for a prearranged meeting to collect a ransom from Gachelin's brother, Frank. At that time, the victim was being confined at gunpoint in an unknown location by Leon's co-defendant, Frantz Armand. After an inconclusive confrontation, Leon drew a gun on Frank, whereupon the defendant was at once taken into custody by a number of officers who had accompanied Frank to the scene. For the very good reason that Louis' life was in grave danger from Armand if Leon (or the officers) did not return within a short time, the police immediately demanded that the defendant tell them where he was. When he at first refused, he was set upon by several of the officers. They threatened and physically abused him by twisting his arm behind his back and choking him until he revealed where Louis was being held. The officers went to the designated apartment, rescued Louis and arrested Armand.

In the meantime, Leon was taken to the police station. There, he was questioned by detectives who had not been involved in the violence at the scene of his arrest, in the presence of none of the officers who had. After being informed of his rights and signing a Miranda waiver form which stated-as confirmed by the interrogating officers, who themselves employed no improper methods-that he did so understandingly, voluntarily, and "of (his) own free will without any threats or promises," 2 Leon gave full oral and written confessions to the crime. This process was concluded some five hours after his arrest.

Before trial, the defendant moved to suppress the police-station statements on the ground that they resulted from the allegedly improper police activity which occurred when he was arrested. (The prosecution announced that it would not seek to introduce testimony as to what he was forced to say at that time.) The court denied the motion essentially because the later confessions were given independently of the earlier events. The trial judge held:

The Court is satisfied from having read the (formal) statement that the defendant did understand his rights. The Court is going to deny your motion to suppress. For the record, based upon the evidence before the Court ... the Court will make a finding that based on the evidence before it, it does appear there was force used on the defendant at the time of the making of the initial statement. However, the Court is denying the motion to suppress because it appears to the Court that not only does the defendant understand his rights, but that different officers were involved at the time of the statement. It does not appear that the defendant was under the influence of any duress or threats or promises. The motion to suppress is denied.

The record amply supports this determination. It is well settled that, under appropriate circumstances, the effect of an initial impropriety, even a coercive one, in securing a confession may be removed by intervening events, with the result that a subsequent statement is rendered "free of the primary taint" and thus admissible into evidence as the expression of a free and voluntary act. E.g., Lyons v. Oklahoma, 322 U.S. 596, 64 S.Ct. 1208, 88 L.Ed. 1481 (1944); State v. Oyarzo, 274 So.2d 519 (Fla.1973); State v. Shular, 400 So.2d 781 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981). We hold that the trial judge properly found that the threats and violence which took place at the scene of the arrest did not constitutionally infect the later confessions and that this rule is therefore applicable here.

In reaching this conclusion, we have considered the effect of numerous factors. Among the most important is that the force and threats asserted upon Leon in the parking lot were understandably motivated by the immediate necessity to find the victim and save his life. Unlike the situation in every authority cited by the defendant, and while it may have had that collateral effect, see note 5, infra, the violence was not inflicted in order to secure a confession or provide other evidence to establish the defendant's guilt. Compare, Brewer v. State, 386 So.2d 232 (Fla.1980); Porter v. State, 410 So.2d 164 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981). Several decisions-and none which hold otherwise have been cited or discovered-have determined that a confession is not invalidated merely because persons other than those who obtained it have, for their own reasons, previously inflicted even unjustified force upon the defendant. 3 Brown v. State, 53 Ala.App. 674, 304 So.2d 17, 25 (1974), cert. denied, 293 Ala. 746, 304 So.2d 27 (1974) (deputy sheriff slapped defendant after being attacked in course of questioning; confession taken shortly thereafter by officer of different agency admissible upon finding it was freely and voluntarily made); State v. Lea, 228 La. 724, 84 So.2d 169, 172 (1955), cert. denied, 350 U.S. 1007, 76 S.Ct. 655, 100 L.Ed. 869 (1956) (striking of defendant by civilian while in custody of officers did not influence subsequent confession); State v. Scarberry, 114 Ohio App. 85, 180 N.E.2d 631, 637 (1961) (striking of defendant by "disgusted" arresting officer while leading him to interrogation room did not invalidate confession properly taken there by detectives and formalized more than three hours later); Berry v. State, 582 S.W.2d 463 (Tex.Crim.App.1979) (threats of arresting officer and slap by security guard at scene of arrest not conditioned upon or related to "any effort to obtain or force a confession;" statement obtained at police station by other officers hour and half after arrest properly admitted by trial court); Brooks v. State, 130 Tex.Cr.R. 561, 95 S.W.2d 136 (1936) (sheriff knocked down and kicked defendant at scene of homicide because he called him a liar; force unrelated to confession properly secured by district attorney the following day); see also, State v. Rini, 151 La. 163, 91 So. 664 (1922).

Although the rationale has not previously been spelled out, the fact that any coercion was not employed to get a confession is highly significant, as evidenced by its being a characteristic common to each of these cases, in terms of the basic issue with which the "taint" decisions are all concerned: whether the ultimate confession is a product of or is caused by the force, or by an exercise of the defendant's own will. Brewer v. State, supra. When it appears-and it is known to the defendant-that the force is unrelated to whether he confesses or not, it is impossible, on the face of it, to say that a later statement has been caused by the effect of that coercion or fear of its repetition. 4 This observation applies with particular force to the present case. It must have been obvious to Leon that the arresting officers attacked him only to learn the victim's whereabouts, and that his revelation of that location entirely satisfied their wishes. Thereafter, there was no basis to believe that any force would be used for any other reason-specifically, to secure a confession. Indeed, this is therefore the perhaps unique case in which, by its cathartic effect, the very making of the defendant's initial utterance 5 was itself an important factor in dissipating the effect of the coercive influence which produced it. Because he had already told the police what they wanted to know, and the reason the force was asserted had therefore vanished, the effect of the violence may be deemed to have entirely passed when Leon gave the confessions now in question.

The elimination of any causative effect of the coercion is shown also by the more commonly discussed elements that a complete set of Miranda warnings was meticulously given, understood, and waived before the subsequent statements; 6 that over five hours transpired between the violence and the formalization of those statements; and that the confessions were secured by entirely different officers than those who employed the coercive tactics. See cases cited supra, at p. 4. In these latter respects, this case is significantly unlike Brewer v. State, supra, upon which the defendant primarily relies. There, the taking of an improperly induced confession was interrupted only by a fifteen minute appearance before a magistrate, after which the defendant returned to further interrogation by the same policemen. Instead, the situation is controlled by Lyons v. Oklahoma, supra, which is discussed in Brewer as follows:

In Lyons v. Oklahoma, an initial confession was improperly obtained by coercion. A second confession was held to be freely given and admissible. In addition to an intervening warning of constitutional rights, the following circumstances, in contrast to the instant case, were present: twelve hours elapsed from the time of the first statement to the time of the second; the second statement was given in response to questioning by an authority different from the one that exerted the improper influence; and the persons who applied the coercion were not present at the time of the second statement.

386 So.2d at 236. For these reasons, we find no basis to disturb the trial judge's conclusion that, considering the totality of the circumstances, the challenged confessions were freely and...

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8 cases
  • Braddy v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • April 10, 2013
    ...who had used force against the defendant. Id. at 604–05, 64 S.Ct. 1208. The Third District considered similar factors in Leon v. State, 410 So.2d 201 (Fla. 3d DCA 1982), in finding a confession admissible even after the defendant was subjected to physical abuse five hours prior. The most im......
  • People v. Richardson
    • United States
    • Illinois Supreme Court
    • September 24, 2009
    ...apparently unrelated to the subsequent confession." Barton v. State, 605 S.W.2d 605, 607 (Tex.Crim.App. 1980); accord Leon v. State, 410 So.2d 201, 203 (Fla.App.1982) (collecting cases). Although physical force is certainly a defining circumstance, and possibly a dispositive one, its incide......
  • State v. Williams
    • United States
    • Maine Supreme Court
    • November 3, 2020
    ...for approximately twenty minutes before being escorted out of the woods.8 Nevertheless, the court, informed by Leon v. State , 410 So. 2d 201 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1982), and Lyons v. Oklahoma , 322 U.S. 596, 64 S.Ct. 1208, 88 L.Ed. 1481 (1944), determined that the effect on Williams of the ......
  • Andrade v. State, 89-1329
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • July 17, 1990
    ...who did not participate in the subject police interrogation. Perez v. State, 536 So.2d 359, 360 (Fla. 3d DCA 1988); Leon v. State, 410 So.2d 201, 203 (Fla. 3d DCA), rev. denied, 417 So.2d 329 (Fla.1982). Second, the trial court did not, as urged, commit reversible error in excusing a juror ......
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