State v. Atkinson

Citation235 Conn. 748,670 A.2d 276
Decision Date23 January 1996
Docket NumberNo. 14922,14922
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Darrell ATKINSON.

Lauren Weisfeld, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant (defendant).

Harry Weller, Assistant State's Attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Michael Dearington, State's Attorney, and Elpedio Vitale, Assistant State's Attorney, for appellee (state).


KATZ, Justice.

Following a jury trial, in which the charges in two substitute informations were joined, the defendant, Darrell Atkinson, was convicted 1 of one count each of felony murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54c, 2 robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-8 and 53a-134(a)(4), conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48 and 53a-134(a)(4), attempted assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-8, 53a-49 and 53a-59(a)(1), escape in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-169(a)(1), and assault in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-60(a)(5). The trial court imposed a total effective sentence of ninety-five years imprisonment. 3

The defendant appealed directly to this court pursuant to General Statutes § 51-199(b)(3). 4 He raises four issues: (1) the trial court improperly concluded that he was not in custody when two detectives interrogated him regarding his involvement in the murder of Edward Sebastian Moore without having first provided him with Miranda 5 warnings; (2) this court should reject the holding in Oregon v. Elstad, 6 and conclude that the trial court improperly failed to suppress a statement that he gave following the receipt of Miranda warnings; (3) the trial court improperly joined the murder and escape cases; 7 and (4) certain of the prosecutor's statements during closing argument violated his constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial.

The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On the evening of February 27, 1992, the defendant, along with three others, Ryan Myers, 8 Richard Smith and Andre Rogers, was in Roberto Clemente Park in New Haven. The defendant, Myers and Smith wore black clothing with black or purple hoods. Rogers, in contrast, wore a turquoise "Miami Dolphins" jacket and a baseball hat; he was not wearing a hood. That same evening, the victim, Edward Sebastian Moore, and his friend, Charles Stevenson, were in the park selling cocaine. Rogers walked past Moore and Stevenson and exited the park. The defendant, Myers and Smith remained in the park until Moore and Stevenson walked out, at which time the defendant and the two others, all of whom wore masks, robbed and shot them. Moore, who was shot in his right knee and chest, was killed. Stevenson was only grazed in the left leg by a bullet. 9 Thereafter, the defendant was charged in a four count substitute information with felony murder, robbery in the first degree, conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree and attempted assault in the first degree. Additional facts will be presented as needed.


The first issue on appeal that we consider is whether the defendant was in custody during his interrogation when he implicated himself in Moore's murder. The trial court found the following facts pertaining to this issue. Two days after the murder, two plainclothes detectives, Joseph Greene and James Ponteau, of the New Haven police department, went to the defendant's home, where he was on supervised home release, in order to inquire about an unrelated robbery that had occurred in the vicinity of the park on the same night as the murder. After speaking with the detectives for about five minutes, the defendant agreed to go with them to the police station in order to be questioned further. They rode to the police station in an unmarked car, with the defendant sitting alone in the back seat. Upon arriving at the station, they went to an interrogation room on the third floor, where the defendant was interrogated in a closed room. Without receiving Miranda warnings, the defendant was first questioned about the unrelated robbery. Those questions and answers were not recorded. Once the questioning turned to the murder case, the defendant was advised of his Miranda rights. He waived his rights, continued to answer questions, and implicated himself in the crimes with which he was charged in the murder case. He placed himself in the park on the night of the murder 10 and stated that he was wearing black clothing and a hood, as he usually did. 11 That portion of the interrogation was recorded and transcribed and, subsequently, signed by the defendant. 12

Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress his statement on the grounds that his rights under the fifth, sixth and fourteenth amendments 13 to the United States constitution had been violated. He argued, inter alia, that because he was in custody when the interrogation began, and had not first been provided with Miranda warnings, his entire statement should be suppressed, including the portion he gave after receiving Miranda warnings, because that portion was the product of a prior unwarned and, therefore, inadmissible statement. The trial court, Fracasse, J., denied the defendant's motion to suppress, finding that he "was not at any time in custody, he was at all times free to leave. And a reasonable person under the circumstances would not have believed that he was not free to leave. Therefore the giving of the Miranda [w]arnings was not necessary; but they were given, they were understood, and they were waived."

The defendant claims on appeal that the trial court's finding that he was not in custody at any point during the interrogation, and, therefore, was not entitled to Miranda warnings, is not supported by substantial evidence. The defendant argues alternatively that either he was in custody from the beginning of the interrogation or that the interrogation became custodial once questioning turned to the murder case. Because he was in custody, he asserts that the statement that he gave prior to receiving Miranda warnings, which included information implicating him in the murder, 14 should have been suppressed. Furthermore, the defendant claims that if this court agrees that he was in custody and that the statement he provided prior to receiving Miranda warnings should have been suppressed, this court should then, as a matter of state, rather than federal, constitutional law, reject the holding of the United States Supreme Court in Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 105 S.Ct. 1285, 84 L.Ed.2d 222 (1985), 15 and conclude that the transcribed statement that he furnished after the warnings had been given should also have been suppressed. Because we agree with the trial court's conclusion that the defendant was not in custody, we do not reach the Elstad issue.

"Two threshold conditions must be satisfied in order to invoke the warnings constitutionally required by Miranda: (1) the defendant must have been in custody; and (2) the defendant must have been subjected to police interrogation. 16 Miranda v. Arizona, [384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966) ]." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Williams, 227 Conn. 101, 112, 629 A.2d 402 (1993); accord State v. DesLaurier, 230 Conn. 572, 576, 646 A.2d 108 (1994). "As stated by the United States Supreme Court in California v. Beheler, [463 U.S. 1121, 1125, 103 S.Ct. 3517, 3520, 77 L.Ed.2d 1275 (1983) ], '[a]lthough the circumstances of each case must certainly influence a determination of whether a suspect is "in custody" for purposes of receiving Miranda protection, the ultimate inquiry is simply whether there is a "formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement" of the degree associated with a formal arrest. [Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 495, 97 S.Ct. 711, 714, 50 L.Ed.2d 714 (1977) ].' See also New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 655, 104 S.Ct. 2626, 2631, 81 L.Ed.2d 550 (1984); Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. 420, 430-31, 104 S.Ct. 1136, 1144, 79 L.Ed.2d 409 (1984); United States v. Cadmus, 614 F.Sup. 367, 370 (S.D.N.Y.1985)." State v. Pittman, 209 Conn. 596, 608, 553 A.2d 155 (1989); accord State v. Ross, 230 Conn. 183, 204, 646 A.2d 1318 (1994), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 1133, 130 L.Ed.2d 1095 (1995); see also Thompson v. Keohane, --- U.S. ----, ----, 116 S.Ct. 457, 465-67, 133 L.Ed.2d 383 (1995). "Further, the United States Supreme Court has adopted an objective, reasonable person test for determining whether a defendant is in custody.... Thus, in determining whether Miranda rights are required, the only relevant inquiry is whether a reasonable person in the defendant's position would believe that he or she was in police custody of the degree associated with a formal arrest." (Citations omitted; emphasis added.) State v. DesLaurier, supra, 230 Conn. at 577, 646 A.2d 108.

Furthermore, we note that "[n]o definitive list of factors governs a determination of whether a reasonable person in the defendant's position would have believed that he or she was in custody. Because, however, the Miranda court expressed concern with protecting defendants against interrogations that take place in a 'police-dominated atmosphere' containing 'inherently compelling pressures which work to undermine the individual's will to resist and to compel him to speak where he would not otherwise do do so freely'; Miranda v. Arizona, supra, 384 U.S. [at 467, 86 S.Ct. at 1624]; circumstances relating to those kinds of concerns are highly relevant on the custody issue. See generally C. Whitebread & C. Slobogin, Criminal Procedure (3d Ed.1993) § 16.03, pp. 385-91; 1 W. LaFave & J. Israel, Criminal Procedure (1984) § 6.6, pp. 494-99." State v. DesLaurier, supra, 230 Conn. at 577-78, 646 A.2d 108.

The defendant bears the burden of proving custodial interrogation. State...

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