State v. Innis, 75-333-C

Citation120 R.I. 641,391 A.2d 1158
Decision Date09 August 1978
Docket NumberNo. 75-333-C,75-333-C
PartiesSTATE v. Thomas J. INNIS. A.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Rhode Island

DORIS, Justice.

The defendant, Thomas J. Innis, was tried before a justice of the Superior Court, sitting with a jury, on an indictment charging him with murder, kidnapping and robbery. 1 The jury returned verdicts of guilty on all three counts. The defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder and received concurrent sentences of 20 years for the kidnapping and 30 years for the robbery. The defendant appeals.

The case presented by the state at trial was built primarily on circumstantial evidence. The testimony revealed that defendant had been picked up by a taxi on the evening of January 12, 1975, in Providence. On January 16, 1975, the body of the cab driver was found in a shallow grave in Coventry. Death resulted from a shotgun blast to the back of the head. Witnesses testified that defendant made statements implicating himself in the crime, and the state presented evidence that defendant was seen in possession of a sawed-off shotgun prior to the commission of the crime. A sawed-off shotgun was introduced into evidence by the state.

The defendant brings several claims of error before us on appeal. Based upon our view of this case, we need only address two of defendant's contentions.

The initial assignment of error we address is defendant's claim that the trial justice erred in denying defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained in violation of his fifth amendment rights.

The evidence presented by the state at the suppression hearing indicated that defendant was apprehended by Patrolman Robert M. Lovell of the Providence Police Department early on the morning of January 17, 1975. Lovell placed defendant under arrest and advised him of his constitutional rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Sergeant Francis J. Sears then arrived at the scene of the arrest, and he also gave defendant his Miranda warnings.

Responding to the call that defendant had been apprehended, Captain John J. Leyden arrived and again advised defendant of his rights. In response to the warnings given by Leyden, defendant stated that he wanted to see an attorney. At this point Leyden had defendant placed in a police wagon for transportation to police headquarters. Three Providence police officers, Joseph Gleckman, Walter Williams and Richard McKenna, were assigned to the station wagon. Leyden ordered the three patrolmen not to question or coerce defendant in any way.

The patrolman placed defendant in the station wagon and began their journey to the police station. 2 Once in the wagon, Gleckman began a conversation with McKenna concerning the missing shotgun. Gleckman informed McKenna that there was a school for handicapped children in the area, and he expressed the fear that one of the children might find the weapon and injure himself. The defendant, who was clearly able to hear the entire conversation, asked the police to return to the scene of the arrest so that he could show them where the shotgun was hidden. It is undisputed that at no time were any questions asked of defendant before he offered to lead police to the weapon.

The police wagon, which had traveled approximately one-half to one mile from the scene of the arrest, was driven back to that area, where a search for the shotgun was in progress. Upon returning, defendant was again advised of his rights by Captain Leyden. Leyden then asked defendant if he understood his rights, whereupon defendant answered that he did, and that he wanted to show the police where the weapon was hidden. The defendant then led police to the hidden shotgun and shells, which were later introduced into evidence at trial over defendant's objection.

The defendant asserts that the introduction of the sawed-off shotgun and shells, as well as the testimony of the police officers relating to the discovery of the evidence, violated both his right against self-incrimination and his right to counsel.

We turn to defendant's fifth amendment claim. There can be no doubt that an accused possesses an absolute right to consult an attorney before being subjected to police interrogation. Miranda v. Arizona, supra; State v. Kachanis, R.I., 379 A.2d 915, 916 (1977); State v. Lachapelle, 112 R.I. 105, 111, 308 A.2d 467, 470 (1973). There is no dispute that defendant requested to see a lawyer after being initially advised of his rights by Captain Leyden; and clearly, the incriminating evidence was located by police with defendant's assistance prior to his consulting an attorney. The issues we address, therefore, are (1) whether defendant was "interrogated" within the meaning of Miranda prior to leading police to the shotgun, and (2) if so, whether he submitted to that interrogation voluntarily by waiving his right against self-incrimination. There is no dispute that defendant was in custody.

The guidelines set down by the United States Supreme Court regarding police questioning are straightforward and unambiguous:

"Once warnings have been given, the subsequent procedure is clear. If the individual indicates in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease. At this point he has shown that he intends to exercise his Fifth Amendment privilege; any statement taken after the person invokes his privilege cannot be other than the product of compulsion, subtle or otherwise. * * * If the individual states that he wants an attorney, the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present. At that time, the individual must have an opportunity to confer with the attorney and to have him present during any subsequent questioning. * * *

"If the interrogation continues without the presence of an attorney and a statement is taken, a heavy burden rests on the government to demonstrate that the defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his privilege against self-incrimination and his right to retained or appointed counsel." Miranda v. Arizona, supra, 384 U.S. at 473-75, 86 S.Ct. at 1627-28, 16 L.Ed.2d at 723-24.

We have strictly and conscientiously applied the teachings of the Miranda decision. See, e. g., State v. Travis, 116 R.I. 678, 360 A.2d 548 (1976); State v. Lachapelle, supra.

Since Miranda, the traditional notions of both "custody" and "interrogation" have been gradually expanded to meet the changing techniques and tactics of law enforcement personnel. With respect to interrogation, we have held that, under certain circumstances, even casual conversation can be interrogation when it is initiated under false pretenses for the purpose of obtaining incriminating statements. See State v. Travis, supra.

The expansion of the concept of interrogation has most recently been undertaken by the United States Supreme Court in Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387, 97 S.Ct. 1232, 51 L.Ed.2d 424 (1977).

In Brewer, the suspect Williams was arrested and arraigned in Davenport, Iowa, on a charge of abducting a small child, whom police were unable to locate after arresting the defendant. Williams was represented by counsel in Davenport and in Des Moines, where the offense was committed. Both lawyers advised Williams not to make any statements to the police until he had been transported to Des Moines and had consulted his attorney there. Two police officers were assigned to drive Williams from Davenport to Des Moines.

During the course of the journey, one of the police officers began directing statements toward the suspect, who was asked not to respond, on the subject of the child's need for a Christian burial. At this point Williams had been given his Miranda warnings three times but had expressed no willingness to discuss the case and had in fact already told police that he would talk with them after consulting his Des Moines lawyer. However, as a result of the officer's remarks, Williams made several incriminating statements and then led police to the victim's body.

Williams was convicted in state court and his conviction was affirmed by the Iowa Supreme Court. He then petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. The District Court ruled that the evidence of the events which transpired during the automobile trip was wrongly admitted against Williams because the statements were obtained in violation of both Williams' fifth and sixth amendment rights. Williams v. Brewer, 375 F.Supp. 170 (S.D.Iowa 1974). That decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. Williams v. Brewer, 509 F.2d 227 (8th Cir. 1974).

The Supreme Court decided the case strictly on sixth amendment grounds and held that Williams' right to counsel had been violated by the so-called "Christian burial speech," given to him by the police officer. The Court, however, specifically upheld the lower court ruling that the speech was, in effect, a form of interrogation. Brewer v. Williams, supra, 430 U.S. at 400, 97 S.Ct. at 1240, 51 L.Ed.2d at 437. The Supreme Court decision noted that Williams' constitutional claim to counsel would not "have come into play if there had been no interrogation." Id.

While there are several factors relating to the Brewer remarks which distinguish that case from the one before us, we find the differences to be constitutionally insignificant. To do otherwise would be "to play games with an individual's constitutional guarantees." State v. Travis, supra, 116 R.I. at 682-83, 360 A.2d at 551.

As the Supreme Court has noted, absent a valid waiver, any statement taken after a suspect invokes his fifth amendment rights "cannot be other than the product of compulsion, subtle or otherwise." Miranda v....

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