Pruett v. Com.

Citation232 Va. 266,351 S.E.2d 1
Decision Date26 November 1986
Docket NumberNos. 860478,860499,s. 860478
PartiesDavid Mark PRUETT v. COMMONWEALTH of Virginia. David Mark PRUETT v. COMMONWEALTH of Virginia. Record
CourtVirginia Supreme Court

Moody E. Stallings, Jr. (Deborah L. Rawls, Stallings and Richardson, Virginia Beach, on brief), for appellant.

Robert H. Anderson, III, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Mary Sue Terry, Atty. Gen., on brief), for appellee.

Present: All the Justices.

CARRICO, Chief Justice.

On July 1, 1985, David Mark Pruett was indicted for capital murder in the killing of Wilma L. Harvey during or subsequent to the commission of rape. Pruett was also indicted for the rape and robbery of Mrs. Harvey. In the first phase of a bifurcated trial conducted pursuant to Code § 19.2-264.3, a jury convicted Pruett of all three charges and fixed his punishment for rape at life imprisonment and for robbery at seventy-five years' imprisonment. In the second phase of the trial, the jury heard evidence in aggravation and mitigation of the murder charge and fixed Pruett's punishment on that charge at death. Following consideration of a pre-sentence report, the trial court imposed the sentences fixed by the jury.

Pruett appealed his convictions for rape and robbery to the Court of Appeals. Pursuant to Code § 17-116.06, we certified those charges to this Court and consolidated them with Pruett's appeal of his murder conviction and the automatic review of his death penalty under Code § 17-110.1.

I. Pretrial Matters
A. Motion to Suppress

In a pretrial motion, Pruett sought to suppress "all statements, confessions or admissions" he made to the police concerning the crimes in question. The trial court denied the motion, and this denial is the subject of Pruett's principal assignment of error.

The record shows that shortly before noon on February 13, 1985, the nude, mutilated body of Wilma L. Harvey was found on a bed in the home she shared with her husband, Richard, in Virginia Beach. Richard was out of town on a business trip at the time his wife was killed.

Evidence at the suppression hearing shows that in the early stages of their investigation, police officers learned from witnesses that Pruett's automobile was parked in front of the Harvey residence on the evening of February 12, preceding the discovery of Mrs. Harvey's body. The police also learned that Pruett was a close friend of the Harveys.

Shortly after midnight on February 14, a detective was dispatched to Pruett's home to ask him "if he would accompany" the detective to police headquarters "for an interview." Pruett was transported to headquarters, where he was interviewed by Sergeant J.T. VanderHeiden in a session lasting about 90 minutes. VanderHeiden did not give Pruett the warnings outlined in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), prior to any questioning.

During the interview, which was recorded and transcribed, Pruett admitted he visited Wilma Harvey on the evening of February 12, but he denied killing her. He said he left the Harvey residence about 5:45 p.m. VanderHeiden had information, however, that placed Pruett's car in front of the Harvey home somewhat later than 5:45. 1 When this apparent conflict developed, VanderHeiden read Pruett his Miranda rights. Pruett signed a waiver stating he understood his rights and was willing to make a statement and answer questions without a lawyer present.

The interview ended some 20 to 30 minutes after the waiver was signed with VanderHeiden requesting Pruett to "give [the police] a call if he had any additional information." Pruett then left police headquarters and was driven home by a detective.

Later in the day on February 14, VanderHeiden learned that Pruett's fingerprints had been found on the inside of the right lens of eyeglasses worn by Wilma Harvey and on the headboard of the bed on which her body was found. VanderHeiden dispatched a detective to Pruett's home with instructions to ask him to accompany the detective to police headquarters, "the same as the first interview." Pruett was not arrested "at that time." He arrived at police headquarters about 3:45 p.m. Prior to questioning, VanderHeiden advised Pruett of his Miranda rights and Pruett signed a waiver stating he understood his rights and was willing to make a statement and answer questions without a lawyer present.

The second interview, which was videotaped, lasted some 4 1/2 hours. During the interview, Pruett not only confessed to the rape, robbery, and murder of Wilma Harvey but also volunteered the information that in 1975, he robbed and murdered Debra McInnis, the assistant manager of a Kentucky Fried Chicken store. At the end of the interview, Pruett was arrested, placed in handcuffs, and transported to a magistrate.

Pruett testified at the suppression hearing that he did not feel he was free to leave during the 1:00 a.m. interview on February 14. He admitted, however, that he was told he was not under arrest at the time of the interview, and he said that he did, "in fact," leave when the interview was completed.

On appeal, Pruett contends that "the first interview was a custodial interrogation to which Miranda applied." Pruett argues that because he was not advised of his Miranda rights at the beginning of the first interview and the police gained, during that "initial improper interrogation," incriminating information which was used to secure his confession during the second interrogation, the confession was tainted by the illegality of the earlier confrontation.

It is well settled, Pruett maintains, that a confession secured after an earlier incriminating statement has been illegally obtained should be held inadmissible, absent a demonstration by the prosecution that the second statement was not "a product of the earlier unwarned and coerced confession." Then, quoting from United States v. Bayer, 331 U.S. 532, 540, 67 S.Ct. 1394, 1398, 91 L.Ed. 1654 (1947), Pruett metaphorizes that "after an accused has once let the cat out of the bag by confessing, no matter what the inducement, he is never thereafter free of the psychological and practical disadvantages of having confessed" and "can never get the cat back in the bag." Pruett concludes that the Commonwealth should be made to "suffer the consequences" of the police failure to advise him of his rights and the only appropriate sanction is the suppression of the incriminating statements he made in both interviews.

We disagree with Pruett. Miranda applies only to "custodial interrogation," which means "questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way." Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444, 86 S.Ct. at 1612. Miranda does not affect "general questioning of citizens in the fact-finding process." Id. at 477, 86 S.Ct. at 1629. Neither is the application of Miranda triggered "simply because the questioning takes place in the station house, or because the questioned person is one whom the police suspect." Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 495, 97 S.Ct. 711, 714, 50 L.Ed.2d 714 (1977). Miranda warnings are required "only where there has been such a restriction on a person's freedom as to render him 'in custody.' " Id.

In denying Pruett's motion to suppress, the trial court found that Pruett was "not under arrest" at the time of the first interview, that he "knew from the beginning ... he was not under arrest," and that he was "free to leave at any time" during the interview. The court concluded that Pruett's initial meeting with the police was "noncustodial questioning," not "a custodial interview," and, therefore, that it was not necessary for the police to advise Pruett of his Miranda rights prior to questioning.

These findings of the trial court are amply supported by the evidence. Sergeant VanderHeiden testified without contradiction at the suppression hearing that although he considered Pruett "a suspect," he did not advise Pruett of his Miranda rights because he was not a "concrete suspect" and the police had "nothing to indicate that he was the person who had killed Wilma." VanderHeiden said that Pruett "and just about everybody else in the City of Virginia Beach was a suspect at that time."

VanderHeiden testified further that Pruett was not under arrest at the time of the interview, was told he was not under arrest, and was told he was not a suspect. Pruett was not booked on any charge, according to VanderHeiden, and he was not under any physical restraint. When asked what he would have done had Pruett said he wanted to leave, VanderHeiden replied that he "would [have] let him leave."

We think the record of the suppression hearing demonstrates clearly that Pruett was not in custody at the time of the first interview and that he was subjected only to "general questioning ... in the fact-finding process." Miranda, 384 U.S. at 477, 86 S.Ct. at 1629. Hence, the police were not required to give Pruett the Miranda warnings before commencing questioning. See Coleman v. Commonwealth, 226 Va. 31, 47, 307 S.E.2d 864, 873 (1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1109, 104 S.Ct. 1617, 80 L.Ed.2d 145 (1984); Smith v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 455, 470, 248 S.E.2d 135, 144 (1978), cert. denied, 441 U.S. 967, 99 S.Ct. 2419, 60 L.Ed.2d 1074 (1979). But even if we assume that Miranda warnings were required before questioning commenced in the first interview, our opinion with respect to the admissibility of the confession obtained at the second confrontation would remain the same.

In Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 105 S.Ct. 1285, 84 L.Ed.2d 222 (1985), the accused made an incriminating statement while in custody without benefit of Miranda warnings. Approximately one hour later, the accused was advised of his Miranda rights and made a full confession. He contended that the confession was tainted by the earlier failure of the police to give him the Miranda warnings, and he relied upon the "cat out of...

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