State v. Hunter

Decision Date11 July 2018
Docket NumberNo. 20170345,20170345
Citation914 N.W.2d 527
Parties STATE of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee v. Ashley Kenneth HUNTER, Defendant and Appellant
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court

Birch P. Burdick, State's Attorney, Fargo, North Dakota, for plaintiff and appellee.

Samuel A. Gereszek (argued), East Grand Forks, Minnesota, and Anna Dearth (appeared), third-year law student, under the Rule on Limited Practice of Law by Law Students, for defendant and appellant.

Tufte, Justice.

[¶ 1] Ashley Hunter appealed from a criminal judgment entered after a jury found him guilty of two counts of murder and one count of arson. Hunter argues the district court erred by denying his motion to suppress, the court erred in allowing testimony about his statements to a medical professional, and the judge should have recused himself. We affirm.


[¶ 2] On the afternoon of June 22, 2015, Fargo police officers responded to a call about a death at a north Fargo location and found the body of Clarence Flowers. Flowers had been stabbed numerous times. Later that day, firefighters responded to a call about a fire at another north Fargo location and found the body of Samuel Traut. Traut had been killed by blunt force trauma to the head


[¶ 3] The next morning Fargo police officers were dispatched to an address near the Traut murder scene in response to a call about a suspicious male. When officers arrived at the address, Hunter approached them and was arrested. Hunter was considered a person of interest in the Traut death, but the officers arrested him on a bench warrant for unrelated charges. Hunter was taken to the police station, where he was questioned by Fargo police detectives Matthew Ysteboe and Nick Kjonaas. Hunter made several incriminating statements related to the Flowers and Traut murders. After the interview was complete, Hunter attempted suicide and was taken to the hospital. Hunter was charged with two counts of murder and one count of arson.

[¶ 4] On April 10, 2017, Hunter filed a demand for change of judge under N.D.C.C. § 29-15-21. The court denied the demand for failing to comply with statutory requirements.

[¶ 5] On April 10, 2017, Hunter moved to suppress statements he made to law enforcement after his arrest, arguing the statements were coerced and were not voluntary. He also argued that information obtained from Andrea Wallace, an emergency room nurse, about statements he made to her should be suppressed because Wallace violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ("HIPAA") by informing police about statements he had made while he was receiving medical care. After a hearing on Hunter's motion, Hunter filed a supplement to his motion to suppress. He argued his statements to police should be suppressed because he was not given the warning required by Miranda v. Arizona , 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), before he made the statements and he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. He also argued that any statements he made to medical professionals should be suppressed on the basis of physician-patient privilege.

[¶ 6] On April 21, 2017, the district court entered an order authorizing disclosure of medical information and denying Hunter's motion to suppress his statements made to Wallace based on his HIPAA arguments. The court later entered a second order denying Hunter's motion to suppress the statements made to Wallace based on his physician-patient privilege argument.

[¶ 7] On May 10, 2017, the district court denied the remaining issues raised in Hunter's motion to suppress. The court found Kjonaas gave Hunter the Miranda warning before Hunter was transported to the police station for questioning, Hunter understood the warning, Hunter never invoked his right to remain silent, and Hunter voluntarily spoke to police about the murders. The court concluded Hunter voluntarily waived his right to remain silent.

[¶ 8] On May 12, 2017, Hunter moved the court to reconsider its order denying his motion to suppress the statements he made to police. He argued the statements had been involuntary. The court denied his motion. A nine-day jury trial began on May 22. The jury found Hunter guilty of both counts of murder and one count of arson.


[¶ 9] Hunter argues the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress because the State failed to meet its burden to establish he was given a Miranda warning and he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his constitutional rights.

[¶ 10] We have explained our standard of review for reviewing a district court's decision on a motion to suppress:

When reviewing a district court's ruling on a motion to suppress, we defer to the district court's findings of fact and resolve conflicts in testimony in favor of affirmance. We recognize that the district court is in a superior position to assess the credibility of witnesses and weigh the evidence. Generally, a district court's decision to deny a motion to suppress will not be reversed if there is sufficient competent evidence capable of supporting the district court's findings, and if its decision is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Questions of law are fully reviewable on appeal, and whether a finding of fact meets a legal standard is a question of law.

State v. Rogers , 2014 ND 134, ¶ 17, 848 N.W.2d 257 (quoting State v. Goebel , 2007 ND 4, ¶ 11, 725 N.W.2d 578 ).


[¶ 11] Hunter argues the district court erred by finding he was given a Miranda warning before he was subject to custodial interrogation. He claims the court's finding was based on Kjonaas' testimony that he gave Hunter the Miranda warning at the scene of the arrest, but other evidence indicated Kjonaas was never at the scene of the arrest and there was no other indication from the record that Hunter was ever given the Miranda warning.

[¶ 12] The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that no person shall "be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." In Miranda , 384 U.S. at 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602, the Supreme Court held as a matter of federal constitutional law that "the prosecution may not use statements ... stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination." A law enforcement officer is required to give a person subject to custodial interrogation a Miranda warning and inform him of certain rights, including that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has a right to an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning. Id. ; see also Rogers , 2014 ND 134, ¶ 18, 848 N.W.2d 257. The parties do not dispute that Hunter was in custody and subject to custodial interrogation when he made the statements at issue, and therefore law enforcement was required to give Hunter a Miranda warning before questioning him.

[¶ 13] The district court found Hunter was given a Miranda warning after he was arrested and before he was interviewed. The court found that Hunter was arrested on a warrant unrelated to the murder investigations and that officers handcuffed him and placed him in the back of Officer Wes Libner's squad car. The court found Kjonaas walked around the block from the Traut murder scene to the scene of the arrest, spoke to other officers and confirmed Hunter was the person in the back of Libner's squad car, and then gave Hunter the Miranda warning. The court found Detective Matthew Ysteboe testified Kjonaas went to the scene of the arrest and then returned to the Traut murder scene after speaking to Hunter, Ysteboe asked Kjonaas if Hunter had been given Miranda warnings, and Kjonaas said he had. The court found Kjonaas' testimony about giving Miranda warnings to Hunter was consistent with the timeline. The court found Hunter's testimony was credible and was corroborated by Ysteboe's testimony. The court found Hunter was given a Miranda warning.

[¶ 14] Hunter claims the evidence does not support the district court's finding that Kjonaas gave him the Miranda warning while he was sitting in the squad car. Hunter argues the evidence shows he was arrested at 6:34 a.m., the squad car camera video began recording him in the back of Libner's squad car at 6:53 a.m., and the video does not show he was given the Miranda warning. He contends Kjonaas is not listed on the crime scene roster for the scene of the arrest, the squad car recording started immediately after he was seated in the vehicle, and Libner's testimony confirmed Kjonaas was not at the scene of the arrest and so could not have issued the warning.

[¶ 15] Evidence in the record supports the court's findings. Hunter was arrested at 6:34 a.m. on June 23, 2015. Libner testified Officer Cody Gease placed Hunter in the squad car after he was arrested, the video recording in the squad car was started manually, and he could not recall who started the video recording or when it was started. Libner testified he was bagging up Hunter's property while Hunter was placed in the vehicle, he placed the bags containing Hunter's property in the vehicle's trunk, and other officers began arriving at the scene around that time, including officers from the Traut murder scene. There was also evidence that Libner and other officers conducted a security sweep of the surrounding property after Hunter was placed in the squad car. Libner testified he went into the apartment building located near the scene of the arrest so he could speak to the person who called police about Hunter, he spoke with the caller, and he searched a vehicle behind the apartment building before returning to his squad car to drive Hunter to the police station. Kjonaas testified he was at the Traut murder scene around 6:30 a.m. when he heard a dispatch on the police radio to a location that was around the block from the Traut...

To continue reading

Request your trial
7 cases
  • Lenertz v. City of Minot N.D.
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • February 21, 2019
    ...on appeal unless it abused its discretion. Cass Cty. Joint Water Res. Dist. v. Erickson , 2018 ND 228, ¶ 19, 918 N.W.2d 371 ; State v. Hunter , 2018 ND 173, ¶ 44, 914 N.W.2d 527. "The court has broad discretion to determine whether a witness is qualified as an expert and whether the testimo......
  • City of Bismarck v. King
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • March 13, 2019
    ...whether to admit or exclude evidence, and we will not reverse a district court’s decision unless the court abused its discretion. State v. Hunter , 2018 ND 173, ¶ 36, 914 N.W.2d 527. The district court abuses its discretion when it acts in an arbitrary, unreasonable, or unconscionable manne......
  • State v. Kukert
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • October 28, 2021
    ...voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his or her Miranda rights depends on the totality of the circumstances. State v. Hunter , 2018 ND 173, ¶ 22, 914 N.W.2d 527. This Court described the focus of the analysis for claims about whether a defendant has waived Miranda rights:"First,......
  • Hunter v. State
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • October 21, 2020
    ...After a nine-day jury trial, he was found guilty of all charges. Hunter appealed and the convictions were affirmed in State v. Hunter , 2018 ND 173, 914 N.W.2d 527. On that direct appeal, Hunter argued the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress because the State failed to es......
  • 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