State v. Picknell

Decision Date02 November 1982
Docket NumberNo. 192-80,192-80
Citation142 Vt. 215,454 A.2d 711
CourtVermont Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Vermont v. Stephen PICKNELL.

James P. Mongeon, Rutland County State's Atty., Rutland, for plaintiff-appellee.

Barry E. Griffith, Rutland, for defendant-appellant.


During the early morning hours of July 6, 1979, a retired Rutland businessman and his wife were abducted from their home by two assailants, one masked and one unmasked. While the masked assailant guarded the wife, the unmasked assailant forced the husband to go to his local bank. Following the instructions of his abductor, he withdrew a substantial portion of his savings. After turning the savings over to his abductor, he was taken to an abandoned foundry, later identified as the Patch-Wegner Building, where he was bound and left in the cellar. At approximately the same time, the masked assailant forced the wife from her home, drove her around the neighborhood in one of her cars for about 10 minutes, and then both returned to the couple's garage. The masked assailant left the wife bound in the car's back seat. She managed to free herself and run to a neighbor's house for help. A short while later, her husband freed himself and immediately contacted the police.

It was the State's contention at trial that the masked abductor was the defendant, Stephen Picknell. On January 23, 1980, defendant was found guilty after a jury trial of two counts of kidnapping with the intent to extort money. 13 V.S.A. § 2403. Following the denial of defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal, V.R.Cr.P. 29(c), and defendant's motion for a new trial, V.R.Cr.P. 33, judgments of conviction were entered on May 26, 1980. Defendant filed a timely notice of appeal. We affirm.

Defendant briefs three issues for our consideration: first, whether defendant's rights as guaranteed both by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), and by 13 V.S.A. § 5234 were violated when the trial court admitted into evidence certain statements made by him; second, whether a court order pursuant to V.R.Cr.P. 41.1 compelling defendant to produce handwriting exemplars violated defendant's rights guaranteed under Chapter I, Article 10 of the Vermont Constitution; and third, whether the trial court abused its discretion by permitting an in-court comparison of defendant's physical features with those of the masked assailant. These issues will be addressed in turn, and further facts necessary to our analysis will follow below.


Defendant first excepts to the trial court's decision to allow into evidence statements made by him to the police. Specifically, defendant asserts that two distinct groups of statements, those made at the Patch-Wegner Building, and those made while in custody at the police station, should have been suppressed. Defendant contends that the admission of the first group of statements violated his Miranda rights, and the admission of the second group of statements violated those statutory rights guaranteed by 13 V.S.A. § 5234 (the public defender statute).

Evaluation of the admissibility of the first group of statements must start with a review of the facts surrounding defendant's detention at the foundry. At or about 10:30 a.m. on the morning of the kidnappings, an officer of the Rutland Police Department was sent to "preserve the scene" at the Patch-Wegner Foundry as part of the kidnapping investigation. His instructions were to detain and question any persons who might appear at the scene. At approximately 11:00 a.m., the officer spotted the defendant in the building. He detained the defendant, and asked him a few general questions, such as his name, address, place of birth, and his reasons for being on the premises. No Miranda warnings were given at this time. The officer next radioed the police station to determine what, if anything, should be done about defendant. A second officer was quickly dispatched to the foundry. The second officer repeated the same type of questions, again without giving the Miranda warnings. At this time, neither officer had any reason to believe that the defendant was in any way connected with the kidnappings. Shortly thereafter, the officers were ordered by radio to arrest the defendant on the basis of an outstanding bench warrant in an unrelated district court matter. All questioning ceased, and the defendant was transported to the police station.

Defendant insists that this initial detention and questioning at the Patch-Wegner Foundry constituted a custodial interrogation. Citing as authority Miranda v. Arizona, supra, and State v. Hohman, 136 Vt. 341, 392 A.2d 935 (1978), defendant asserts that the failure of the officers to issue Miranda warnings at the outset of his detention was a direct violation of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. He argues that since the exculpatory nature of his responses is irrelevant to the issue of admissibility, Miranda v. Arizona, supra, 384 U.S. at 477, 86 S.Ct. at 1629, the statements made at the foundry should have been suppressed. We disagree.

Defendant's reliance on Miranda and Hohman is misplaced. The chief concern of the United States Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona, supra, was the problem of "incommunicado interrogation of individuals in a police-dominated atmosphere, resulting in self-incriminating statements without full warning of constitutional rights." Id. at 445, 86 S.Ct. at 1612; State v. Hohman, supra, 136 Vt. at 349, 392 A.2d at 940. Such tactics jeopardized the privilege against self-incrimination, Miranda v. Arizona, supra, 384 U.S. at 478, 86 S.Ct. at 1629-1630, thus violating those "restraints society must observe consistent with the Federal Constitution in prosecuting individuals for crime." Id. at 439, 86 S.Ct. at 1609. As a result, the Supreme Court held that the prosecution "may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation ... unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination." Id. at 444, 86 S.Ct. at 1612; Michigan v. Mosley, 423 U.S. 96, 99-100, 96 S.Ct. 321, 324-325, 46 L.Ed.2d 313 (1975). Consequently, the effect of Miranda was to require law enforcement officers, prior to any custodial interrogation, to advise the detained individual of his or her Miranda rights. Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 494, 97 S.Ct. 711, 713, 50 L.Ed.2d 714 (1977); State v. Howe, 136 Vt. 53, 58, 386 A.2d 1125, 1128 (1978).

The Supreme Court defined custodial interrogation as "questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way." Miranda v. Arizona, supra, 384 U.S. at 444, 86 S.Ct. at 1612. However, the Miranda Court specifically recognized two exceptions to its definition: first, general, on-the-scene questioning as to facts surrounding a crime were not to be considered custodial interrogation; and second, statements freely volunteered without compelling influences were likewise excluded. Id. at 477-78, 86 S.Ct. at 1629-1630; State v. Oakes, 129 Vt. 241, 254, 276 A.2d 18, 26 (1971); State v. Gosser, 50 N.J. 438, 446, 236 A.2d 377, 381 (1967). It was essential that the high court articulate exceptions to the rule of Miranda, for when read literally, its definition of custodial interrogation could arguably encompass almost any instance of police interrogation. As the Court itself later recognized:

Any interview of one suspected of a crime by a police officer will have coercive aspects to it, simply by virtue of the fact that the police officer is part of a law enforcement system which may ultimately cause the suspect to be charged with a crime. But police officers are not required to administer Miranda warnings to everyone whom they question.... Miranda warnings are required only where there has been such a restriction on a person's freedom as to render him "in custody." It was that sort of coercive environment to which Miranda by its terms was made applicable, and to which it is limited.

Oregon v. Mathiason, supra, 429 U.S. at 495, 97 S.Ct. at 714. Thus, Miranda and its progeny serve to safeguard an individual's right against self-incrimination, while at the same time preserving the traditional function of police officers in investigating crime. Miranda v. Arizona, supra, 384 U.S. at 477, 86 S.Ct. at 1629.

Defendant argues that the initial questioning at the foundry was a custodial interrogation. As we have said before, the determination of whether or not an individual is in custody is an objective test, based on the totality of circumstances. State v. Hohman, supra, 136 Vt. at 349, 392 A.2d at 940; United States v. Hall, 421 F.2d 540, 544, 45 (2d Cir.1969). The facts as found by the trial court clearly establish that the officers were engaged in a general, on-the-scene inquiry when they questioned the defendant. They had no reason to suspect that defendant was in any way involved in the kidnapping, and were merely following orders to question anyone who appeared on the scene at the foundry. Thus, this questioning falls well within Miranda's first exception. Consequently, the trial court properly ruled that there was no custodial interrogation. Since the procedural safeguards of Miranda only attach where defendant is subjected to a custodial interrogation, the trial court's decision to admit the first group of statements into evidence is affirmed.

Turning next to the second group of statements, the facts as found by the trial court are as follows. After the initial detention at the foundry, the defendant was promptly transported to the Rutland Police Station. Once all questioning at the foundry had ceased, no subsequent interrogation took place until one of the officers read defendant his Miranda rights one-half hour later at the...

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