State v. Werner

Decision Date11 January 2000
Citation9 S.W.3d 590
Parties(Mo.banc 2000) State of Missouri, Respondent, v. Jeremy Werner, Appellant. SC81663 0
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Appeal From: Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Hon. Emmett M. O'Brien

Counsel for Appellant: Leonard J. Frankel and Elaine A. Pudlowski

Counsel for Respondent: Shaun J. Mackelprang

Opinion Summary: Jeremy Werner appeals from his conviction of involuntary manslaughter, arguing the trial court erred in admitting certain statements he made.

Court en banc holds: The totality of the circumstances demonstrates that Werner was in custody when the police questioned him. He did not voluntarily talk with police but, rather, was summoned by police, removed from school, isolated from his friends and family, and questioned by two detectives without receiving a Miranda warning. Werner, 16 years old and functioning at a fourth-grade level, was unfamiliar with police procedures. There is no evidence he understood that he could refuse to answer or leave. No authority figure informed him he could leave. After police questioned him, they arrested him. He never waived his rights. A reasonable person would have thought himself in custody. Werner should have been afforded his rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Werner was improperly seized in violation of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment by illegally seizing and detaining him without probable cause. Because the statements he made were a direct result of an illegal seizure, the trial court should have suppressed them.

All concur.

Ann K. Covington, Judge

Jeremy Werner, appellant, appeals from his conviction of involuntary manslaughter, section 565.024.1, RSMo 1994, for which he received a seven year sentence. Appellant claims that the trial court erred in refusing to suppress certain statements appellant made on April 18, 1996, because (1) the police took appellant into custody and did not afford him the rights required by Miranda v. Arizona, 348 U.S. 436 (1966), in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and article 1, section 15 of the Missouri Constitution; (2) police officers seized appellant without probable cause in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and article 1, section 19 of the Missouri Constitution; and (3) appellant's statements were obtained in violation of sections 211.059 and 211.061, RSMo 1994, because appellant was not given his Miranda rights and neither a parent nor a juvenile officer was present when he was questioned. After opinion by the Court of Appeals, Eastern District, this Court granted transfer. Reversed and remanded.

Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict and the trial court's overruling appellant's motion to suppress, State v. Rousan, 961 S.W.2d 831, 845 (Mo. banc 1998), the facts are as follows: on the evening of March 15, 1996, appellant, then sixteen years of age, was at his home in St. Louis County with his sisters, Sarah and Nacol Werner, as well as Sarah's boyfriend, Greg Pancoast, and Nacol's fiance, Brad Kohler. Sarah's two children, Brittany, then three-and-a-half years old, and her younger brother, Michael Jonas, then twenty-two months old, were also there. At approximately 9:00 p.m., appellant went downstairs to where Michael was sleeping, got into bed with him, and held Michael to his chest for approximately five minutes, until Michael started to choke and cough. Appellant released Michael, got off the bed, lying on Michael in the process, and went upstairs. Later, Pancoast heard Michael making "throwing up" noises and went to investigate. Pancoast administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation and summoned help. An ambulance arrived and transported Michael to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

The night of Michael's death and the following morning, police officers questioned all members of the household who were at home on the evening of Michael's death. The officers believed that the death was suspicious. On April 9, 1996, the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide by mechanical asphyxiation.

On the morning of April 18, 1996, Detectives Fourtney, Berra, and Paul went to Hazelwood Central High School where appellant was a special education student; he had an I.Q. of 78 and functioned at a fourth-grade level. The detectives asked to speak with appellant and Nacol Werner about an "investigation." Daniel Fels, the assistant principal, brought appellant and Nacol to the school office. Detective Fourtney completed a form that stated he was taking "custody" of appellant and Nacol and "accept[ing] full responsibility for the care and custody of same." Detective Fourtney checked the box on the form that read "custody without notification." The form specified that a detective would notify appellant and Nacol's parents. Detective Fourtney told appellant and Nacol that the police were still investigating Michael's death and that the detectives wished to "interview them about the investigation." The detectives asked appellant and Nacol to go with them to the police station. They agreed to go. Detectives Fourtney and Berra accompanied appellant and Detective Paul accompanied Nacol. Appellant and Nacol were transported to the station in separate vehicles.

Upon arriving at the police station, Detectives Fourtney and Berra placed appellant and Nacol in separate rooms. The rooms could be locked only from the inside. No one else was in either of the interview rooms. Other detectives retrieved Pancoast and Sarah from Pancoast's mother's house and transported them in separate cars to the police station. During the morning, a detective escorted appellant to the bathroom when he requested to use it. According to Detective Fourtney, for "logistics and convenience," he waited two hours until all of the individuals present in the house the night of Michael's death arrived at the station before he and Detective Berra began to question appellant. Detectives Fourtney and Berra did not restrain appellant before they questioned him.

Detectives Fourtney and Berra questioned appellant for approximately one hour. They did not read appellant his Miranda rights before they questioned him. The detectives told appellant that the case was a homicide and that they were trying to gather as many "details about the homicide" as possible.

Appellant told the detectives that Pancoast put Michael to bed and twice went back downstairs to retrieve some darts and clothes. Appellant said that Pancoast returned to the basement a third time to put Brittany to bed, whereupon Michael became sick. The detectives left appellant's interview room and went to the room where Pancoast was being interviewed. Pancoast stated that he returned to the basement only when he put Brittany to bed. Detectives Fourtney and Berra resumed their interview with appellant. They told appellant that Pancoast denied returning to the basement. Appellant then asked the detectives how Michael had died. Detective Fourtney told appellant that Michael had been suffocated. Appellant stated again that he "thought" Pancoast had gone downstairs. Detectives Fourtney and Berra left the room a second time and spoke with the police officer interviewing Sarah, who reported that Sarah denied having seen Pancoast go downstairs after putting Michael to bed. The detectives returned to appellant's interview room and told appellant that Sarah denied having seen Pancoast go downstairs. Detective Fourtney asked appellant again whether he had gone downstairs. Appellant admitted that he had gone downstairs. Detective Fourtney testified that when he asked appellant what he did when he went downstairs, appellant said that he got into bed with Michael, held Michael's face to his chest for about five minutes until Michael started to choke and cough, and then released Michael. Appellant told Detective Fourtney that he lay on top of Michael when he got off the bed, got his darts and clothes, and then went upstairs.1 At that time, Detective Fourtney believed that appellant had incriminated himself and stopped the interview.

At the pretrial hearing on appellant's motion to suppress, Detective Fourtney testified that he was attempting to gather information when he interviewed appellant and did not ask guilt-seeking questions concerning the crime. Detective Fourtney did not say anything to appellant regarding an attorney or juvenile officer. Detective Fourtney testified that there were no restrictions on appellant's leaving the room or the station until after appellant incriminated himself. Appellant was not physically restrained in any way during the questioning. At no time did appellant ask to leave the police station. Detective Fourtney located appellant's mother after appellant incriminated himself and notified her that appellant was being held at the police station. Detective Fourtney also located a deputy juvenile officer to read appellant his rights upon the arrival of his mother. Appellant's mother immediately contacted two attorneys. Appellant was informed of his Miranda rights and arrested. Appellant did not sign a waiver of his rights.

Appellant first contends that the trial court should have suppressed the statements he made to the police on April 18, 1996, because he was in custody and not advised of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, in violation of his right against self-incrimination as guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and article 1, section 19 of the Missouri Constitution.

The privilege against self-incrimination includes the requirement that the police warn those taken into custody that they have the right to remain silent. State v. Mahan, 971 S.W.2d 307, 314 (Mo. banc 1998). "Custodial interrogation" occurs either when a suspect is formally arrested or under any other circumstances where the suspect is deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way....

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