State v. Guthrie

Decision Date27 January 1984
Docket NumberNo. 15754,15754
Citation173 W.Va. 290,315 S.E.2d 397
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of West Virginia v. George Ballard GUTHRIE, II.

Katz, Kantor, Katz, Perkins & Cameron, Norris Kantor, Bluefield, John C. Parr, St. Albans, for appellant.

Chauncey H. Browning, Atty. Gen., Gregory W. Bailey, Silas Taylor and Bradley Russell, Asst. Attys. Gen., Charleston, for appellee.


George Ballard Guthrie, II, was convicted of first-degree murder with a recommendation of mercy after a jury trial in Mercer County. He appeals the trial court's November, 1981 denial of his motion to set aside the verdict.

Guthrie, Naomi Cloud and John Corprew were indicted in September, 1980 for the January, 1980 murder of Ms. Cloud's husband, David, at their home in Princeton, West Virginia. 1 A trooper and a postal inspector from West Virginia took the indictment to Roanoke, Virginia, and presented it to a magistrate who used it as probable cause to issue a fugitive warrant. Virginia Code, 19.2-85, et seq.

Accompanied by Virginia peace officers, the West Virginians searched for Guthrie, finding him in Roanoke at about 9:25 p.m. at a garage where he was doing body work on a car. The Virginia officers arrested him and drove him some distance away to their headquarters in Salem, Virginia, rather than taking him to the local Roanoke magistrate from whom they had gotten the fugitive warrant. That magistrate was on call and was aware that they would return to present Guthrie. The West Virginia trooper requested the detour so that he could question Guthrie.

It is undisputed that Guthrie was read his Miranda 2 rights in the police car when he was arrested, and again at police headquarters. The trip to the police station took approximately twenty minutes and they arrived around 9:45 p.m. Guthrie was taken into a small office. The Virginia policeman left to get supplies to fingerprint and process Guthrie, and our officer began questioning him. 3 He signed a written waiver and confession by 10:40 p.m. and then was taken before a magistrate in Roanoke.

Corprew was also arrested in Virginia that evening, but he was taken directly to a magistrate.

Guthrie waived extradition, and the next day he was returned to Mercer County, and had counsel appointed for him.

A full suppression hearing was held in April, 1981. His counsel moved to suppress his inculpatory statement because it was made after a delay in presentment to a magistrate, and it was not voluntarily given because Guthrie was too intoxicated to knowingly waive his rights. The trial court ruled the confession admissible. He decided that the delay was not unreasonable or so lengthy that it justified exclusion of the confession. He also found that Guthrie had been under the influence of "speed" and beer, but that he was not so severely intoxicated that he was without capacity to know what he was doing when he confessed.


Guthrie was arrested on a Virginia fugitive warrant in accord with the Uniform Criminal Extradition Law, Virginia Code, § 19.2-85 et seq. 4 Our first issue is whether an arrestee upon a fugitive warrant in Virginia for a crime allegedly committed in West Virginia must be promptly presented to a magistrate, and, if there is a delay in presentment, whether a confession elicited during that delay should be suppressed.

The extradition law provides that a justice or judge shall issue a warrant directing a peace officer to arrest a person charged with an offense in another state, if a credible person comes before the judicial officer and swears to an affidavit. The arrestee must be brought before any judge or magistrate in the harbouring state to answer the complaint and affidavit:

Arrest prior to requisition.--Whenever: (1) any person within this State shall be charged on the oath of any credible person before any judge, magistrate or other officer authorized to issue criminal warrants in this State with the commission of any crime in any other state and, except in cases arising under § 19.2-91, (a) with having fled from justice, (b) with having been convicted of a crime in that state and of having escaped from confinement, or (c) of having broken the terms of his bail, probation, or parole, or (2) complaint shall have been made before any such judge, magistrate or other officer in this State setting forth on the affidavit of any credible person in another state that a crime has been committed in such other state and that the accused has been charged in such state with the commission of the crime, and, except in cases arising under § 19.2-91, (a) has fled from justice, (b) having been convicted of a crime in that state has escaped from confinement, or (c) broken the terms of his bail, probation or parole, and that the accused is believed to be in this State, such judge, magistrate or other officer shall issue a warrant directed to any sheriff or to any peace officer commanding him to apprehend the person named therein, wherever he may be found in this State, and to bring him before any judge who may be available in or convenient of access to the place where the arrest may be made, to answer the charge of complaint and affidavit. A certified copy of the sworn charge or complaint and affidavit upon which the warrant is issued shall be attached to the warrant. Virginia Code, § 19.2-99. 5 (Emphasis supplied.)

The defendant maintains that his confession should have been suppressed because he was not promptly presented to a magistrate, but instead, was taken to police headquarters and interrogated. 6 He was arrested at 9:25 p.m. and taken before the magistrate at 11:45 p.m., a period of less than three hours. His thesis is that the officers had probable cause to arrest, (the warrant, founded on an indictment), so that pre-presentment interrogation was unnecessary, and the only reason he was not presented was to get him to confess.

Our state prompt presentment rule has been interpreted to proscribe delays in presentment, the sole purpose of which is to obtain a confession:

The delay in taking the defendant to a magistrate may be a critical factor where it appears that the primary purpose of the delay was to obtain a confession from the defendant. Syllabus Point 6, State v. Persinger, W.Va., 286 S.E.2d 261 (1982).

We stated in Persinger, 286 S.E.2d, at 271: "[A]n unjustifiable and unreasonable delay in taking the accused before a magistrate after his initial arrest may in itself be sufficient to render a confession involuntary." Earlier in that opinion, we wrote that it is not the length of the delay, but its purpose that affects the admissibility of a confession. Id., at 270.

In State v. Mitter, W.Va., 289 S.E.2d 457 (1982), we found that holding a defendant after a first confession in order to "clear up a few discrepancies" without presenting him to a magistrate was, in fact, unjustifiable and unreasonable and made the second written statement inadmissible. A magistrate had been alerted that his services would be required. After Mitter's first confession, police had probable cause to arrest him and should have presented him to a magistrate then. 7

Persinger and Mitter show that this confession is inadmissible in West Virginia. The delay was unjustifiable, and that makes it involuntary. The rationale that justifies refusing to admit a confession under circumstances where a defendant was questioned by police officers at the police station rather than taken to a neutral magistrate for an explanation of his rights, the charges against him, and mechanisms for acquiring bail, is that a confession elicited under those circumstances is inherently unreliable or suspect. We may use the prompt presentment statute as an indication of the parameters of acceptable police behavior, but the true inquiry is into the trustworthiness of the confession.

Guthrie could easily have been presented to a magistrate, advised of his rights, informed of the charges, and his state of intoxication could have been assessed. The State argues that we are not to apply our prompt presentment statute extraterritorially and Virginia, applying her own law, would admit this confession. There is authority for the government's position in Davis v. State, 42 Md.App. 546, 402 A.2d 77 (1979). We disagree with Davis. This is not a question of extraterritorial application of our prompt presentment rule. We must decide whether a confession elicited under the facts in this case is admissible in our criminal courts. Guthrie is not being tried in Virginia for a crime he committed in Virginia. He is being tried here.

We see an analogy between this case and controversies about the admissibility of confessions in federal courts where state authorities improperly delayed presentation of defendants to magistrates...

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