State v. Levin

Decision Date08 September 2006
Docket NumberNo. 20050001.,20050001.
Citation144 P.3d 1096,2006 UT 50
PartiesSTATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Ralph LEVIN, Defendant and Petitioner.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

Mark L. Shurtleff, Att'y Gen., Erin Riley, Asst. Att'y Gen., Salt Lake City, for plaintiff.

Margart P. Lindsay, Orem, for defendant.

On Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals

DURRANT, Justice:

INTRODUCTION

¶ 1 The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects against self-incrimination.1 To preserve this right, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that defendants subjected to custodial interrogation are entitled to a Miranda warning.2 Where such a warning is not given, any incriminating statements made by a defendant during the custodial interrogation are excluded from evidence.3 We granted certiorari in this case to clarify the standard of review to be applied by a Utah appellate court in reviewing a trial court's decision on whether a defendant was subjected to custodial interrogation.

¶ 2 Following a jury trial, defendant Ralph Levin was found guilty of possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. He challenged his convictions before the Utah Court of Appeals, arguing that the trial court had erred in failing to suppress certain incriminating statements he made to police officers without the benefit of a Miranda warning. In particular, he contended that the trial court had erred in concluding that the officers had not subjected him to "custodial interrogation."

¶ 3 The court of appeals upheld Levin's convictions. It held that the trial court had erred when it concluded that Levin was not interrogated but affirmed the trial court's determination that he was not "in custody."4 In so doing, the court of appeals expressly applied an "abuse of discretion" standard to the custody determination.5 It did not specify the standard of review that it applied to the trial court's interrogation determination.6 On certiorari, Levin challenges the court of appeals custody determination, arguing that it was error for the court of appeals to apply the deferential "abuse of discretion" standard of review.

¶ 4 Because the "custody" and "interrogation" elements of a trial court's custodial interrogation determination overlap and together serve to answer a single inquiry into whether a Miranda warning was necessary in a particular case, we address the standard of review for the trial court's custodial interrogation determination as a whole. A trial court's application of the legal concept of custodial interrogation to the facts of a particular case presents a mixed question of fact and law. Therefore, we select the appropriate standard of review using the general factors and policy considerations that we have discussed in State v. Pena7 and its progeny. However, we take this opportunity to revise our statement of the original four factors from Pena into a three-factor, policy-based balancing test. We then conclude that the three factors of this revised balancing test weigh in favor of reviewing for correctness a trial court's custodial interrogation determination.

¶ 5 Ultimately, the important policy of promoting uniformity in police officers' administration of Miranda warnings and in courts' application of Miranda to exclude a defendant's incriminating statements mandates greater appellate involvement in defining the concept of custodial interrogation as it applies to the facts of individual cases. Because the court of appeals applied a deferential standard in reviewing the trial court's determination that Levin was not in custody, we remand to the court of appeals for application of the "correctness" standard of review.

BACKGROUND

¶ 6 Because our opinion is concerned only with defining the appropriate standard of review, we limit our discussion of the facts in this case. Although somewhat abbreviated, our factual discussion incorporates undisputed facts established at trial as well as those found by the trial court in connection with Levin's initial motion to dismiss. We consider undisputed facts from trial because at the beginning of the trial Levin made an appropriate continuing objection to the introduction of his incriminating statements by renewing his earlier motion to suppress those statements.8

¶ 7 Levin's convictions for drug offenses are based on evidence gathered during an approximately one-and-one-half hour traffic stop on the Provo Dike Road in a rural area near Utah Lake. Deputy Wayne Keith of the Utah County Sheriff's Office was on patrol when he noticed a convertible bearing expired registration tags parked on the side of the road. Three occupants were sitting in the convertible with the roof down. Without activating his lights or siren, Deputy Keith parked behind the convertible. He approached on foot and saw several open containers of alcohol in plain view inside the convertible.

¶ 8 Deputy Keith asked the convertible's occupants for identification. Levin was in the driver's seat, Michael Winger was a passenger in the front seat, and Richard Johnson was sitting in the backseat. Deputy Keith had all three men step out of the vehicle and notified them that he was going to search for more open containers. His search of the vehicle's center console uncovered an odor of marijuana and a metal "socket" tool that had been fashioned into a pipe, which appeared to contain burnt and unburnt marijuana. Deputy Keith also found several small bags of marijuana in a backpack claimed by Johnson.

¶ 9 There is some dispute over the precise chronology of the following events, but the record establishes that Deputy Keith called in two deputies who were certified drug recognition experts. Because the vehicle belonged to Levin and he had been sitting in the driver's seat, Deputy Keith pulled Levin aside and personally subjected him to a sobriety test designed to identify alcohol impairment. He passed. The drug recognition experts then subjected Levin to additional field sobriety tests. Those officers determined that Levin had a fast pulse rate and a lack of convergence of the eyes. They informed Deputy Keith that they believed Levin was under the influence of marijuana. At some point, either before or after these tests, Deputy Keith asked Levin at least once about the socket, and Levin asserted that he knew nothing about it and had not smoked marijuana. Deputy Keith also patted Levin down but found no marijuana and no scent of marijuana on him.

¶ 10 However, after the drug recognition experts presented their conclusions to Deputy Keith, Deputy Keith pulled Levin aside and stated: "There's no doubt in my mind that you've been smoking marijuana." Deputy Keith's accusation was not phrased in the form of a question, and Deputy Keith was not "in Levin's face." Deputy Keith testified that he did not expect a response because Levin had already denied using marijuana. Nevertheless, Levin answered by saying that "he had taken a couple of hits" with Richard Johnson but that Michael Winger had not used any marijuana. He also added that they had smoked out of a pipe that the officers had not located. At no time was Levin formally arrested, handcuffed, or given a Miranda warning, although he was issued a citation.

¶ 11 In addition to the investigation of Levin, the officers questioned the two passengers. The officers briefly questioned Winger about smoking marijuana. They read Johnson his Miranda rights and questioned him about the marijuana found in his backpack. Johnson admitted that he had been smoking with Levin, but later said that he had smoked the marijuana alone. When the officers had completed their investigation, they allowed Levin and his passengers to leave in the convertible. As the convertible started to drive away, one of the officers spotted a pipe located directly under the convertible. The officers stopped the convertible, and Deputy Keith asked if this was the pipe they had used to smoke. Johnson stated that it was.

¶ 12 Levin was later charged with possession and use of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and with having an open container in a vehicle. Levin pleaded no contest to the open container charge. With regard to the drug offenses, he pleaded not guilty and then moved to suppress the incriminating statements he had made to Deputy Keith, arguing that despite being subjected to custodial interrogation, he had not been given the required Miranda warning. The trial court denied the motion. It determined that Levin had not been in custody or subject to interrogation. At the commencement of trial, Levin renewed his motion, which the trial court again denied. Following the trial, a jury found Levin guilty of both possession of marijuana with a prior conviction and possession of drug paraphernalia.

¶ 13 On appeal, the court of appeals concluded that Levin had been subjected to "interrogation," but it applied a deferential "abuse of discretion" standard of review to the trial court's determination that Levin was not "in custody" and affirmed that determination.9 It did not specify the standard of review that it applied to the trial court's interrogation determination.

¶ 14 Levin now challenges the court of appeals' decision, arguing that the court of appeals erred in reviewing the trial court's custody determination under a deferential abuse of discretion standard. We granted Levin's petition for certiorari to decide whether the court of appeals applied the correct standard of review. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Utah Code section 78-2-2(5).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 15 On certiorari, we review for correctness the decision of the court of appeals, not the decision of the trial court.10 The correctness of the court of appeals' decision turns, in part, on whether it accurately reviewed the trial court's decision under the appropriate standard of review.11

ANALYSIS

¶ 16 Levin argues that the court of appeals erred in reviewing the trial court's determination that he had not been ...

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