Thomas v. State

Decision Date26 October 2012
Docket NumberSept. Term, 2011.,No. 130,130
Citation55 A.3d 680,429 Md. 246
PartiesKonnyack A. THOMAS v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Ben Miller, Asst. Public Defender (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for petitioner.

Carrie J. Williams, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Douglas F. Gansler, Atty. Gen., of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for respondent.

Argued by BELL, C.J., HARRELL, BATTAGLIA, GREENE, ADKINS, BARBERA and McDONALD, JJ.

BATTAGLIA, J.

In this case, we review the issue of the admissibility of a confession given in the absence of Miranda warnings.1

Konnyack Thomas, Petitioner, having been contacted by police, agreed to speak with the officers at the station. Prior to his arrival, he spoke with his estranged wife who informed Thomas that the police wanted to speak to him about accusations of sexual abuse made by their daughter against Thomas. When he arrived at the station, Thomas met with two detectives and spoke with them for approximately an hour and a half, during which he confessed to touching his daughter inappropriately and having intercourse with her. Thomas was arrested approximately twenty minutes after the interview concluded and was charged in the Circuit Court for MontgomeryCounty with one count of sexually abusing a minor, two counts of second degree rape, and six counts of second degree sexual offense.

Prior to trial, Thomas filed a motion to suppress all of the statements he had made and argued that he had not been given Miranda warnings at the time he arrived at the police station, although he should have been. The circuit court judge agreed and suppressed the statements. The State appealed, pursuant to Section 12–302(c)(3)(i) of the Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article of the Maryland Code (1973, 2006 Repl.Vol.),2 and the Court of Special Appeals reversed in a reported opinion, State v. Thomas, 202 Md.App. 545, 33 A.3d 494 (2011), because they determined that Thomas was not in custody at the time he gave the statements at issue.3 We granted Thomas's Petition for Certiorari, 425 Md. 227, 40 A.3d 39 (2012), to consider the following questions:

1. Is a person in custody for purposes of Miranda if, prior to questioning insidea police station, police have sufficient evidence to make an arrest and the person knows this, even if the police also tell the person “you are not under arrest”?

2. Did the Court of Special Appeals err when it found that petitioner was not in custody even though at the time petitioner was interrogated by police inside a police station he knew that his wife and daughter had told police that he had been sexually assaulting his daughter, police confronted him with this information, petitioner was noticeably having a “difficult time” prior to questioning, and police never told petitioner he was free to leave or that he did not have to cooperate with them and only told him he was not under arrest after petitioner was alone with two detectives in a closed room inside a police station?

We shall hold that a belief held by a suspect that police may have probable cause to arrest him or her is not sufficient to render the individual in custody for Miranda purposes. We shall further hold that the motion to suppress Thomas's statements should have been denied because, given the totality of the circumstances, Thomas was not in custody at the time he made the statements.

During the suppression hearing, the judge viewed a video, as well as admitted its transcript, of the police interrogation and Thomas's statements and heard testimony from Detective Kristie Thorpe, one of the detectives who interrogated Thomas; Thomas also testified on his own behalf. Thereafter, the judge made the following factual findings related to the events preceding Thomas's arrival at the police station: 4

The facts are in this case as this Court finds them are that the detectives are, called the defendant to the station not to talk about the situation with his daughter. Notwithstanding, very good detective work initially, told him that he was invited down to the police station. Such invitations generally mean trouble, and this one did.

On the way to the police station the Court finds that the defendant's wife talked with him on the phone and gave him more information about what this really was about and this was about their daughter [C.] and his alleged sexual abuse of her. The defendant in this motions hearing took the stand and said that he thought initially that it might be about a runaway son until his wife informed him that it wasn't.

Now it's relevant in this case that the defendant, Mr. Thomas, is a sergeant in the United States Army. I think it's a reasonable inference that if the police want to talk to you about your children, and particularly when he finds out that it's about his daughter, that a sergeant who is a supervisor in the United States Armed Forces does not want police detectives coming on the base to talk to him about sexually abusing his daughter. I think it's a reasonable inference.

So, certainly, he was going to go down to the police station to talk to them, as opposed to having them come to him.

With respect to what occurred when Thomas arrived at the police station, the judge found that the officers informed Thomas that he was not under arrest and the door was unlocked,5 but did not tell Thomas he was free to leave:

Now, he gets to the police station and the detective tells him the following things. They greet him and they tell him it is a police station. It “doesn't look like” one, but it's a police station.

They tell him, “You are not under arrest,” and that the door is unlocked. Now what does that mean? You're not under arrest and the door is unlocked.

If he was free to leave and he could get up and walk out if he wanted to, why didn't they just say that? Why stop by telling him, after telling him the door is unlocked?

Now for the record, the Court asked the State's Attorney, and she complied with the request, showed a portion of the CD of the interview. The Court observed that during the course of the interview the defendant is sitting on a sofa and he has two detectives sitting in front of him, the one asking most of the questions, Detective Thorpe, who testified here today; and Detective Birch, a male detective, is sitting also in front of him, but just a short, a great, a little further away.

They're polite. They're courteous. They're very respectful. They are detectives wearing plain clothes. But the detective never told him that he was free to leave.

The court then identified the “totality of the circumstances” test used to determine whether an individual is in custody for purposes of Miranda and explained that it requires an objective analysis of all the facts particular to the case at hand:

Now the State argues that the defendant was free to leave and the Court raises the question what reasonable person in a police interrogation room thinks that they can just get up and walk out? The Court, the issue is not whether they could, but whether a reasonable person would believe they could. And it's an objective standard as the Court said.

Now in an interview of one suspected of a crime by the police will have coercive aspects to it simply by virtue of the fact that they're the police and they're in the law enforcement system. And the Court said that in a case cited by the State, Abeokuto v. State, at 391 Md. 289 [893 A.2d 1018 (2006) ]. You know, inherently, if you're being interviewed by the police, and particularly in a police station, there is some coercive aspect to it.

The Court, in deciding whether an interrogation is custodial, must consider the totality of the circumstances on a case-by-case basis. Now, obviously, the State wants to argue the facts the way they see them. The Defense argues the facts the way he sees them and, but the Court must decide what the facts are as the apply, as the law applies to him in this case. And the Court considers all of the facts, not just the facts that the State wants the Court to consider or just the facts that the Defense wants the Court to consider.

The judge then considered the nature of interrogations that occur at police stations and stated that, although he did not believe the detectives intended to do anythinginappropriate, “a system of subterfuge has developed in the law enforcement community with respect to interrogation techniques” and further opined that interrogations occurring at a police station are “inherently custodial” and professed disbelief that a person could confess to a serious crime such as murder or sexual assault and be allowed to leave:

The Court does not find that there was any intention by the detectives to do anything improper. However, a system of subterfuge has developed in the law enforcement community with respect to interrogation techniques.

The defendant was not at the station for a social visit. The detectives wanted to make this prosecution. They told the defendant he was not under arrest and the door was unlocked. It's a scary thought to think that in this community a citizen can walk into a police station, confess to a violent crime and then they are free to leave.

The State argues that a man who goes in and says that I was, I sexually abused my daughter can just leave. And that flies in the face of reason that you could go in and confess to a murder and just walk out of the station, you're not under arrest and you're not, and you're not in custody.

Now interrogations in police stations are inherently custodial whether they are coercively so or whether it's to the extent that it's violative of the requirements of Miranda is what these cases are all about. And that's why the Court must consider each factual situation on its own legs.

Each of the cases cited by counsel, both the State and the Defense, if you look at the facts, they're all different and that's why the cases are at the Appellate Court and that's why the opinions read as the way they do,...

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