Mitchell v. State, No. 97-241

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtLEHMAN, Chief Justice.
Citation982 P.2d 717
PartiesSteven W. MITCHELL, Appellant (Defendant), v. The STATE of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff). Steven W. Mitchell, Appellant (Defendant), v. The State of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff).
Decision Date24 June 1999
Docket Number No. 97-241, No. 97-242.

982 P.2d 717

Steven W. MITCHELL, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
The STATE of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff).
Steven W. Mitchell, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
The State of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff)

Nos. 97-241, 97-242.

Supreme Court of Wyoming.

June 24, 1999.


982 P.2d 719
Sylvia Lee Hackl, State Public Defender; Donna D. Domonkos, Appellate Counsel; Walter Eggers, Assistant Public Defender; and T. Alan Elrod, Assistant Public Defender. Argument by Mr. Elrod, Representing Appellant

William U. Hill, Attorney General; Paul S. Rehurek, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling, Senior Assistant Attorney General; and Barbara L. Boyer, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Boyer, Representing Appellee:

Before LEHMAN, C.J., and THOMAS, MACY, GOLDEN, and TAYLOR,1 JJ.

LEHMAN, Chief Justice.

Appellant Steven Mitchell, convicted of first degree murder and two counts of attempted first degree murder, appeals his judgment and sentence. Mitchell raises issues of Miranda violations, improper admission of involuntary statements, improper joinder of trial, prosecutorial misconduct, and error in the ordered forfeiture of his truck. We affirm the judgment and modify the sentence to strike the forfeiture portion of the order.

ISSUES

Mitchell presents the following issues for review:

I. Did the District Court err when it denied the Appellant's motions to suppress the Appellant's inculpatory statements to law enforcement?
II. Was the District Court's order granting the prosecution's motion for joint trial erroneous?
III. Did the Prosecution violate the Appellant's right to a fair trial during its rebuttal closing argument?
IV. Did the District Court impose an illegal sentence when it ordered the forfeiture of the Appellant's truck to pay public defender fees?

The State rephrases the issues:

I. The District Court properly denied Appellant's motion to suppress the statements he made to law enforcement.
II. The District Court did not abuse its discretion when it granted the prosecutor's motion for joint trial.
III. In closing argument, counsel for the State did not improperly assert his personal beliefs to the jury.
IV. The District Court properly ordered that the proceeds of a sale of Appellant's truck may be applied as reimbursement
982 P.2d 720
for fees owed to the public defender's office.

FACTS

Around 2:00 a.m. on October 14, 1996, Mike Norton stopped by Tawnya "T" Sidwell's trailer. Norton and Pam Turner, Sidwell's roommate, talked in the living room, while Sidwell wrote a letter in her bedroom. Norton and Turner left the house twice during the next couple hours. During the first of these outings, around 3:30 a.m., they spotted Mitchell and invited him to go to the Sidwell residence. Mitchell arrived shortly after Norton and Turner returned. Around 4:00 a.m., Sidwell stated she was going to bed, and Norton and Turner left the residence once more. Mitchell remained in the trailer. Fifteen to twenty minutes later, Norton and Turner returned, finding Mitchell gone and Sidwell dead from a gunshot wound to the cheek area. Hysterical, believing Sidwell had shot herself, Turner ran to a neighbor's house and phoned Mitchell at his home to inform him of Sidwell's death. Norton, too, immediately left. While driving out of the trailer park, however, Norton spotted a police car, flashed his headlights at the officer, and led the officer back to the residence.

The police interviewed Norton and Turner, and then sought Mitchell for questioning. In an attempt to locate Mitchell, Lieutenant Mecham drove to the Mitchell home. While outside, Mecham telephoned the Mitchell residence and spoke with Mitchell's mother, advising her that there had been a shooting and the police wanted to talk with her son. Though several officers were at the residence, only Officers Mecham and Bingham went inside. Almost immediately, Mecham realized someone was standing in the hallway. As he peeked around the wall into the hallway, Mitchell shot him in the neck with a shotgun. Officer Bingham returned fire, shooting Mitchell in the hand.

After the officers removed Mecham, only Mitchell remained inside. The Special Response Team (SRT) then responded and fired tear gas into the house. Proving unsuccessful in removing Mitchell, several officers then entered the home. Unknown to the officers, Mitchell had crawled into the attic; and, when Mitchell saw Officer Hyer crawling down the hallway, he again fired, shooting Officer Hyer in the arm. Mitchell remained barricaded in the attic as the SRT continued to tear gas the house. The officers eventually decided to send an entry team into the attic from the outside by cutting a hole near the roof at each end of the house. Mitchell finally surrendered and was placed under arrest.

Mitchell was transported to the hospital for treatment of the gunshot wound to his hand. Upon Mitchell's arrival, Detective Haskell informed Mitchell of his rights by reading from a Miranda card. Mitchell stated that he understood his rights, but the detective did not question him at that time. Approximately eleven hours later, while still in the hospital, Special Agent Rumpf interviewed Mitchell without re-advising him of the Miranda warnings. When asked, Mitchell told Agent Rumpf that he remembered another officer advising him of his rights, he understood those rights, and he knew they still applied. Mitchell agreed to answer some of Agent Rumpf's questions. Prior to trial, Mitchell filed suppression motions, claiming his statements were involuntary and that the police failed to properly advise him of his Miranda rights. After a hearing, the trial court denied the suppression motions.

SUPPRESSION MOTIONS

Standard of Review

To comply with Miranda, law enforcement must advise an accused of his rights before any of the accused's statements, made during custodial interrogation, can be used against the accused at trial. Kolb v. State, 930 P.2d 1238, 1243 (Wyo. 1996); Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Failure to comply with these procedural safeguards requires the court to suppress such statements. We review the record to determine whether the trial court could conclude, given the totality of the circumstances, that the police sufficiently followed Miranda. Kolb, 930 P.2d at 1240.

982 P.2d 721
Moreover, even when Miranda has been complied with, the United States Constitution, amendments V and XIV, as well as the Wyoming Constitution, art. 1, §§ 6 and 11, require admissions and statements to be voluntary. Doyle v. State, 954 P.2d 969, 971-72 (Wyo.1998); State v. Evans, 944 P.2d 1120, 1124 (Wyo.1997). To be voluntary, the defendant's statements must result from "free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation, coercion, or deception." Madrid v. State, 910 P.2d 1340, 1344 (Wyo.1996). Because we presume a defendant's statements to be involuntary, the burden rests on the State to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant's statements were voluntary. Evans, 944 P.2d at 1126-27. Once the State has met its burden and rebutted the presumption of involuntariness, the defendant may be required to present evidence demonstrating the involuntariness of his statements. Id. at 1126. If such statements resulted from coercion, then the statements are inadmissible at trial for any purpose because their validity is suspect. Id. at 1125

Voluntariness is a legal question; thus, we review the ultimate issue, whether a defendant's statements were voluntary, de novo. Miller v. Fenton, 474 U.S. 104, 110, 106 S.Ct. 445, 449-50, 88 L.Ed.2d 405 (1985); Doyle, 954 P.2d at 972; Simmers v. State, 943 P.2d 1189, 1194 (Wyo.1997); Evans, 944 P.2d at 1124. On review, however, we will not disturb the trial court's findings of fact unless clearly erroneous. Id. We look to the totality of the circumstances to determine if the defendant's statements were voluntary. Vigil v. State, 859 P.2d 659, 664 (Wyo.1993).

Miranda

The police read Mitchell the Miranda warnings upon his arrival at the hospital around 11:00 a.m. Detective Haskell testified that he administered the required warnings by reading from his "Miranda card." After each point in the Miranda warnings, Officer Haskell specifically asked Mitchell if he understood the rights explained, to which Mitchell always replied "yes." The attending nurse heard Haskell advise Mitchell of his rights and heard Mitchell respond that he understood. Mitchell was alert and coherent, and responded properly to directions.

Mitchell was interviewed later that same day at 10:00 p.m. by Agent Rumpf. Questioning occurred several hours after Mitchell underwent surgery on his hand. Testimony revealed that Mitchell was alert, responsive, aware of his surroundings, and not on pain medication. Although Mitchell had been offered pain medication several times during the day, he had refused such offers. Before questioning, Agent Rumpf asked Mitchell if he recalled another officer earlier reading him his rights. When Mitchell hesitated, Agent Rumpf began summarizing the Miranda warnings, to which Mitchell started nodding his head, yes, repeatedly. When asked if he would like to answer some of Agent Rumpf's questions, Mitchell responded, "[y]es, some," indicating he would answer some questions, but not others.

In response to Agent Rumpf's question of what happened, Mitchell explained how Turner phoned to tell him about Sidwell's death. Mitchell described picking up Turner and taking her to the park that morning, with Turner talking about how Sidwell's apparent suicide upset her. The narrative continued with Mitchell recounting how his mother told him the police wanted to talk with him, how he loaded his shotgun and armed himself. When asked by Agent Rumpf about the police presence, Mitchell responded that he figured they...

To continue reading

Request your trial
27 practice notes
  • Snyder v. State, S-20-0245
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • October 12, 2021
    ...859 P.2d 659, 664 (Wyo. 1993). Pena v. State , 2004 WY 115, ¶ 7, 98 P.3d 857, 862 (Wyo. 2004) (quoting [496 P.3d 1250 Mitchell v. State , 982 P.2d 717, 720-21 (Wyo. 1999) ). Regarding our review of a trial court's factual findings on voluntariness, we have also said:This Court considers the......
  • Pena v. State, No. 03-13.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • October 6, 2004
    ...circumstances to determine if the defendant's statements were voluntary. Vigil v. State, 859 P.2d 659, 664 (Wyo.1993). Mitchell v. State, 982 P.2d 717, 720-21 Discussion [¶ 8] On appeal, Pena argues that he affirmatively invoked his right to remain silent and that the district court did not......
  • Siler v. State, No. 03-169.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • July 8, 2005
    ...the involuntariness of his statements.'" Lewis v. State, 2002 WY 92, ¶ 18, 48 P.3d 1063, 1068 (Wyo.2002) (quoting Mitchell v. State, 982 P.2d 717, 721 13. Our standard for appellate review of the denial of a suppression motion is as follows: A trial court's ruling on a defendant's motion to......
  • Jones v. State, No. 74060.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • November 5, 2003
    ...offense, second officer knew defendant had already been warned and defendant told officer she had been warned before); Mitchell v. State, 982 P.2d 717, 722 (Wyo.1999) (same offense, officer reminded hospitalized defendant of warnings given by another officer several hours earlier and began ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
27 cases
  • Snyder v. State, S-20-0245
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • October 12, 2021
    ...859 P.2d 659, 664 (Wyo. 1993). Pena v. State , 2004 WY 115, ¶ 7, 98 P.3d 857, 862 (Wyo. 2004) (quoting [496 P.3d 1250 Mitchell v. State , 982 P.2d 717, 720-21 (Wyo. 1999) ). Regarding our review of a trial court's factual findings on voluntariness, we have also said:This Court considers the......
  • Pena v. State, No. 03-13.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • October 6, 2004
    ...circumstances to determine if the defendant's statements were voluntary. Vigil v. State, 859 P.2d 659, 664 (Wyo.1993). Mitchell v. State, 982 P.2d 717, 720-21 Discussion [¶ 8] On appeal, Pena argues that he affirmatively invoked his right to remain silent and that the district court did not......
  • Siler v. State, No. 03-169.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • July 8, 2005
    ...the involuntariness of his statements.'" Lewis v. State, 2002 WY 92, ¶ 18, 48 P.3d 1063, 1068 (Wyo.2002) (quoting Mitchell v. State, 982 P.2d 717, 721 13. Our standard for appellate review of the denial of a suppression motion is as follows: A trial court's ruling on a defendant's motion to......
  • Jones v. State, No. 74060.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • November 5, 2003
    ...offense, second officer knew defendant had already been warned and defendant told officer she had been warned before); Mitchell v. State, 982 P.2d 717, 722 (Wyo.1999) (same offense, officer reminded hospitalized defendant of warnings given by another officer several hours earlier and began ......
  • 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