Light v. State, No. 61S00-8709-CR-861

Docket NºNo. 61S00-8709-CR-861
Citation547 N.E.2d 1073
Case DateDecember 15, 1989
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

Page 1073

547 N.E.2d 1073
Randy P. LIGHT, Appellant (Defendant Below),
v.
STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff Below).
No. 61S00-8709-CR-861.
Supreme Court of Indiana.
Dec. 15, 1989.
Transfer Denied March 20, 1990.

Page 1075

James A. Bruner, Rockville, for appellant.

Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen., Louis E. Ransdell, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellee.

SHEPARD, Chief Justice.

A jury found appellant Randy P. Light guilty of murder, a felony. Ind.Code Sec. 35-42-1-1 (Burns 1985 Repl.). The trial court sentenced him to the maximum term of 60 years in prison. We affirm.

When Cindy Lloyd Starr was last seen alive on August 27, 1986, she was with Randy Light. The two ventured to an area known locally as Fallen Rock, a heavily wooded area in Parke County across the county line from Brazil, Indiana.

Page 1076

Once there, they engaged in sexual intercourse. According to Light's responses during a tape-recorded interrogation, Light became enraged when Starr called him a "bastard" and other derogatory terms. Light reacted by striking Starr with an object resembling a tire iron. An autopsy revealed that Starr's death was caused by three crushing blows to her face and head.

The State presented the deposition of a truck driver who died before trial. The truck driver stated that he observed Light's brother, Gary, push the victim into a car earlier on the same day. Randy Light was already in the car. The three drove away. The truck driver said he observed that incident while following the truck route through Brazil. Pat Puff and Kimberly Snowden also saw Starr in this area at the same time.

The truck driver's testimony was contradicted by a defense witness, the former chief of police in Brazil. He testified that if the truck driver followed the truck route, the truck driver would not have passed the intersection where he claimed to have seen Gary Light force the victim into a car.

The victim's nude and partially decomposed body was found September 6, 1986, in a ravine in the Fallen Rock area. Her head, neck, upper back and arms were charred.

Light raises ten issues in this direct appeal, the most important one being admissibility of his own statement to the police.

I. Admissibility of Light's Statements

Light argues that the trial court erroneously admitted inculpatory statements, violating his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination and his fourteenth amendment right to due process. 1 Light asserts that his statements made during custodial interrogation were not voluntarily given and therefore should have been excluded.

We review separately Light's voluntary waiver of his right to remain silent and right to counsel under the Miranda doctrine. Although Light argues these issues together, they are subject to separate analysis. 2

In reviewing the voluntariness of statements made by defendants, courts look at the "totality of the circumstances." Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 206, 80 S.Ct. 274, 280, 4 L.Ed.2d 242, 248 (1960). Unlike the standard appellate review of sufficiency of the evidence, the standard of review for the voluntariness of confessions takes into consideration the total record. See id. Customarily a review for sufficiency of the evidence only looks to the evidence favorable to the verdict. Loyd v. State (1980), 272 Ind. 404, 398 N.E.2d 1260, cert. denied, 449 U.S. 881, 101 S.Ct. 231, 66 L.Ed.2d 105. A review of constitutional voluntariness is not a factual issue but "a legal question meriting independent consideration ..." Miller v. Fenton, 474 U.S.

Page 1077

104, 115, 106 S.Ct. 445, 452, 88 L.Ed.2d 405, 414 (1985). 3

A review of voluntariness of statements made during a custodial interrogation involves looking at all the evidence. See Blackburn, 361 U.S. 199, 80 S.Ct. 274, 4 L.Ed.2d 242. Among the considerations are the defendant's low level of intelligence, Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737, 86 S.Ct. 1761, 16 L.Ed.2d 895 (1966); inconsistencies in the defendant's statement, Clewis v. Texas, 386 U.S. 707, 87 S.Ct. 1338, 18 L.Ed.2d 423 (1967); explicit or implicit promises by police interrogators, Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 12 L.Ed.2d 653 (1964); and the coercive nature of the interrogation atmosphere, Blackburn, 361 U.S. 199, 80 S.Ct. 274, 4 L.Ed.2d 242

The question presented is whether the trial court erred by admitting the statements. The trial judge must determine that a confession was freely and voluntarily given before allowing a jury to hear it, and the judge's "conclusion that the confession is voluntary must appear from the record with unmistakable clarity." Sims v. Georgia, 385 U.S. 538, 544, 87 S.Ct. 639, 643, 17 L.Ed.2d 593, 598 (1967).

Recent U.S. Supreme Court opinions focus on two areas of inquiry: 1) whether the alleged coercive police activity violated the U.S. Constitution and 2) whether the defendant's will was overborne by such coercive activity. Coercive police activity is a necessary prerequisite to finding a confession is not "voluntary" within the meaning of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment. Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 167, 107 S.Ct. 515, 522, 93 L.Ed.2d 473, 484 (1986). A review of the trial court's decision essentially examines the defendant's "will to resist," Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 544, 81 S.Ct. 735, 741, 5 L.Ed.2d 760, 768 (1961), 4 which must not be overborne; nor can his "capacity for self determination [be] critically impaired." Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 602, 81 S.Ct. 1860, 1879, 6 L.Ed.2d 1037, 1057-58 (1961). This analysis ultimately turns "on the effect of the totality of the circumstances on the defendant's will." United States v. Ballard, 586 F.2d 1060, 1062 (5th Cir.1978). It matters not whether the statement was true or false or even if there is ample evidence aside from the confession to support the verdict. See Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. at 540-41, 81 S.Ct. at 739-40. What matters is only whether the statement would not have been given but for coercive government influences. See Blackburn, 361 U.S. 199, 80 S.Ct. 274, 4 L.Ed.2d 242.

Light argues that several factors militate against admitting his statements: Light's lack of experience in police procedures, the privacy of the interrogation room, coercive psychological techniques employed by police, false legal advice given, his lower than average intelligence and illiteracy, inconsistencies in his statements and the explicit

Page 1078

or implicit promises made to him by police. Under the totality of the circumstances, Light argues, these factors show that his statements were involuntary because his mental will was overborne by coercive police interrogation. Light cites various cases in support of his argument which describe scenarios that have caused courts to hold confessions involuntary: Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737, 86 S.Ct. 1761, 16 L.Ed.2d 895 (1966) (defendant with third- or fourth-grade intelligence level not advised of Miranda warnings held in solitary for 16 days and interrogated at least once each day taken on a 14-mile hike while handcuffed to police on the 16th day when he confessed); Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. 532, 580, 18 S.Ct. 183, 42 L.Ed. 568 (1897) (police stripped defendant of his clothing and induced confession by asking a question that would imply guilt no matter the answer); Clewis v. Texas, 386 U.S. 707, 87 S.Ct. 1338, 18 L.Ed.2d 423 (1967) (defendant with no prior experience with police procedures, given no Miranda warnings held for 38 hours of intermittent interrogation, impaired by inadequate food, sleep and sickness, given several polygraph tests and taken on a trip to the grave site by police). He also cites Smith v. State (1969), 252 Ind. 425, 249 N.E.2d 493, a case in which admission of the defendant's statement was upheld. Smith, a 26-year-old man with an eighth grade education and no previous arrest record, was in contact with police ten hours and confessed while holding a Bible telling officers somebody was healing him.

The entire interrogation of Light lasted approximately four hours. Only a portion of it was tape recorded. Before the tape-recorded statement, Sheriff Wayne Lucas, Officers Doug Smiley and Mike Lankford and Deputy Charles Jones each observed or participated in part of the interrogation. Deputy Jones testified: "... Wayne was asking most of the questions. Then if he didn't like the answer he stormed out of the room and come [sic] back in and then he would blurt it out some more and then [sic] got a little bit heated and out of control so I decided to leave. I was there about fifteen minutes." Police Officer Eugene Hardman testified that when he arrived at the Clay County Sheriff's Department, Wayne Lucas said about the initial interrogation of Light: "We've torn down two of his alibis and there's one more to go." It is Clay County procedure to file a Miranda statement sheet after a suspect is read his rights. Police officers testified that they gave Light Miranda warnings before questioning him but were unable to produce a record of doing so. The record does demonstrate that Light was read his rights before the tape-recorded interrogation.

Light dropped out of school at age 15 and was enrolled primarily in a special education curriculum. He was 28 years old at the time of the trial. Light said in the statement he was drowsy during the tape-recorded interrogation. At several points, Officer Hardman audibly smacked Light's arm, ostensibly to keep Light alert. Hardman also used the technique of persistently positing Light's guilt in every question. He also repeatedly stated to Light: "I can't help you unless you tell us what happened. I want to help you...." On cross-examination by Light's attorney, Officer Hardman admitted lying to Light:

Q. You allowed him to believe that you knew more than you did?

A. I allowed him to believe that we had a lot of evidence.

Q. In fact you deceived him, didn't you?

A. Deceived him in which way?

...

To continue reading

Request your trial
70 practice notes
  • People v. Humphrey, No. 05SA364.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • April 17, 2006
    ...State v. Fields, 265 Conn. 184, 827 A.2d 690, 698 (2003); State v. Buch, 83 Hawai`i 308, 926 P.2d 599, 612 (1996); Light v. State, 547 N.E.2d 1073, 1076 (Ind.1989); State v. Bell, 276 Kan. 785, 80 P.3d 367, 375 (2003); State v. Coombs, 704 A.2d 387, 390 (Me.1998); Gorge v. State, 386 Md. 60......
  • Bivins v. State, No. 06S00-9105-DP-00401
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • November 4, 1994
    ...of violation of the Indiana Constitution, the defendant has waived the state constitutional argument. Light v. State (1989), Ind., 547 N.E.2d 1073, 1076 n. 1 (citing St. John v. State (1988), Ind., 523 N.E.2d 1353 (failure to provide argument for independent standard waives state constituti......
  • Sweeney v. State, No. 10S00-9603-CR-231
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • December 18, 1998
    ...found no body." Br. of Appellant at 34. We disagree. "A crime may not be proven solely on the basis of a confession." Light v. State, 547 N.E.2d 1073, 1080 (Ind.1989). There must be some other proof of the crime, "in order to prevent confessions to crimes which never occurred." Id. (citing ......
  • State v. Rogers, No. S-07-085.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Nebraska
    • January 30, 2009
    ...(Colo. 2002); State v. Fields, 265 Conn. 184, 827 A.2d 690 (2003); State v. Buch, 83 Hawai`i 308, 926 P.2d 599 (1996); Light v. State, 547 N.E.2d 1073 (Ind.1989); Gorge v. State, 386 Md. 600, 873 A.2d 1171 (2005); State v. Miller, 573 N.W.2d 661 (Minn. 1998); State v. Cooper, 124 N.M. 277, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
69 cases
  • People v. Humphrey, No. 05SA364.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • April 17, 2006
    ...State v. Fields, 265 Conn. 184, 827 A.2d 690, 698 (2003); State v. Buch, 83 Hawai`i 308, 926 P.2d 599, 612 (1996); Light v. State, 547 N.E.2d 1073, 1076 (Ind.1989); State v. Bell, 276 Kan. 785, 80 P.3d 367, 375 (2003); State v. Coombs, 704 A.2d 387, 390 (Me.1998); Gorge v. State, 386 Md. 60......
  • Sweeney v. State, No. 10S00-9603-CR-231
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • December 18, 1998
    ...found no body." Br. of Appellant at 34. We disagree. "A crime may not be proven solely on the basis of a confession." Light v. State, 547 N.E.2d 1073, 1080 (Ind.1989). There must be some other proof of the crime, "in order to prevent confessions to crimes which never occurred." Id. (citing ......
  • State v. Rogers, No. S-07-085.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Nebraska
    • January 30, 2009
    ...(Colo. 2002); State v. Fields, 265 Conn. 184, 827 A.2d 690 (2003); State v. Buch, 83 Hawai`i 308, 926 P.2d 599 (1996); Light v. State, 547 N.E.2d 1073 (Ind.1989); Gorge v. State, 386 Md. 600, 873 A.2d 1171 (2005); State v. Miller, 573 N.W.2d 661 (Minn. 1998); State v. Cooper, 124 N.M. 277, ......
  • Bivins v. State, No. 06S00-9105-DP-00401
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • November 4, 1994
    ...of violation of the Indiana Constitution, the defendant has waived the state constitutional argument. Light v. State (1989), Ind., 547 N.E.2d 1073, 1076 n. 1 (citing St. John v. State (1988), Ind., 523 N.E.2d 1353 (failure to provide argument for independent standard waives state constituti......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT