Watts v. Com., Record No. 2816-00-3.

Decision Date30 April 2002
Docket NumberRecord No. 2816-00-3.
Citation562 S.E.2d 699,38 Va. App. 206
PartiesJames Edmond WATTS, a/k/a Jimmy Brennan Dobson v. COMMONWEALTH of Virginia.
CourtVirginia Court of Appeals

Richard L. Derrico (Copenhaver, Ellett, Cornelison & Derrico, on brief), Roanoke, for appellant.

Margaret W. Reed, Assistant Attorney General (Randolph A. Beales, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

Present: FITZPATRICK, C.J., and ELDER and AGEE, JJ.

AGEE, Judge.

James Edward Watts (Watts) was convicted in a Roanoke City Circuit Court bench trial of forging a public document in violation of Code 18.2-168. He was sentenced to serve a term of eight months incarceration. On appeal, he contends the trial court erred in failing to suppress statements he made to sheriffs deputies while in custody. He alleges the statements were obtained in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). For the following reasons, we affirm the decision of the trial court.


On January 28, 2000, Watts was arrested on warrants for kidnapping and abduction, and a magistrate committed him to the Roanoke City Jail where Deputies banning, Allman and Watkins were on duty.

Upon Watts' arrival at the jail, Deputy banning did the initial intake. Deputy Lanning entered identifying information on Watts, which he received from the arresting officer and the arrest warrants, into the jail's computer database, and fingerprinted Watts using a computerized fingerprinting system. This process is standard operating procedure for all inmates upon admittance to the jail. Deputy Lanning generated a fingerprint card with the name "James Edmond Watts" printed at the top and asked Watts to sign his name to the card.

Watts reviewed the card and informed the deputy, "That is not my name." In response, Deputy Lanning instructed Watts to "sign your true name." Watts proceeded to sign the card, in the presence of Deputies Lanning and Allman, "___ Dobson" (the first name being illegible). Deputy Lanning noticed the discrepancy and informed others in his department and the police that the suspect had signed a name that was "different than what had been printed out." Deputy Lanning had no further personal interaction with Watts.

Watts was then directed to Deputy Watkins to be "classif[ied] . . . into the general population of the jail," which is also a standard operating procedure for all inmates upon admittance to the jail. When Watts arrived at Deputy Watkins' duty station, the deputy had a committal card, which noted Watts was to be held by the Roanoke City Jail, and a jail card which contained the name James Edmond Watts, an address, an abbreviation of the charges against him, and a section to be filled in on "jail housing."

Deputy Watkins' duty is to "determine what the safest housing is for [the] inmate." This required him to "get a background history, check on [his] record, check on [his] name, stuff like that, get [] personal information, next of kin." The questions to be asked are provided on a standard form, which the deputy fills out. "The purpose of the questions is [the Roanoke City Jail has] several housing areas in the jail, and we put people into those housing areas based on, you know, . . . what kind of security risk they are, or whether they have any things that we need to protect them from. . . ."

As. Deputy Watkins began this procedure, he "had the information that there was a question about [Watts'] identity." However, he did not know there was a problem with the fingerprint card; in fact, he did not know for certain that Watts had already been fingerprinted. Deputy Watkins testified that he was not investigating a crime when he obtained answers from Watts for the standard jail housing form.

When Deputy Watkins asked Watts for his name, Watts replied, "Jimmy Brennan Dobson." He also gave the deputy a birthdate, place of birth and criminal history that were inconsistent with the record on file for "James Edmond Watts."

After completing all the questions on the standard form, Deputy Watkins asked Watts to sign his name to the form that contained the background information. Watts stated to Deputy Watkins that "he was not James Watts." Watts then informed Deputy Watkins that other deputies were telling him to say that he was James Watts and asked the deputy "what he should do." Deputy Watkins "told him he should sign whatever his true, legal name was, and [Watts] signed Jimmy [B.] Dobson, and he corrected [the deputy's] spelling of the name."

Deputy Watkins then completed the classification process by entering the name "James Dobson" into the jail's computer database. Watching him, Watts asked the deputy what he was doing. The deputy informed Watts that he "was going to put the alias that he gave . . . in the computer, and . . . [he] was going to have . . . [the] security staff confirm what his identity was." Watts then said, "No, no, my name is James Watts. Let me go on and sign it that way." Deputy Watkins refused to allow Watts to amend the signature and turned the matter "over to the Security Staff to run [Watts'] fingerprints again."1 Deputy Watkins never informed Watts that he did not have to sign the form or participate in the classification procedures. Deputy Watkins also never informed Watts that "he would get in trouble if he signed a false name to [the] form," nor did he give Watts the Miranda warnings at any time.

The next day, January 29, 2000, Watts was charged with forgery of a public document: the January 28, 2000 fingerprint card created by Deputy Lanning upon Watts' arrest for abduction and kidnapping. Watts was then fingerprinted by Deputy Allman on the new charge. Deputy Allman instructed Watts to sign this additional fingerprint card. The deputy did not ask any questions of Watts nor did he have any further contact with him. This second card bore the name "James Watts," and Watts signed it as "James Watts."

Deputy Allman, who was aware of the circumstances giving rise to the forgery charge, did not inform Watts that he had the right to refuse to sign the fingerprint card nor did he provide Watts with the Miranda warnings before asking Watts to sign the card. Watts did not object to signing the card nor did he challenge the printed name on the card.

Prior to trial on the charge of forgery of a public document, Watts sought to suppress (1) the fingerprint card executed on January 29, 2000, before Deputy Allman; (2) his response to Deputy Watkins' question, "What is your name?"; (3) the jail classification form completed by Deputy Watkins and signed by Watts as "Jimmy B. Dobson"; (4) Watts' statement to Deputy Watkins that other deputies were telling him to say that he was James Watts; (5) his inquiry on "what he should do"; and (6) his statement to Deputy Watkins that he was "James Watts." Watts averred suppression of all the foregoing was required because the deputies failed to advise him of his rights pursuant to Miranda before obtaining the information.

The trial court granted Watts' motion to suppress the January 29, 2000 fingerprint card, but otherwise denied his motion. The trial court specifically held "there is a routine booking question exception in Virginia." Its ruling to deny Watts' motion was based on that exception and a finding that certain of Watts' statements were voluntary and spontaneous utterances and, therefore, outside the scope of Miranda.

Subsequently, Watts was convicted of forging the January 28, 2000 fingerprint card, a public record under Code § 18.2-168. Watts did not object to the testimony of Deputy Lanning regarding what occurred during the January 28, 2000 fingerprinting or to the introduction into evidence of the signature on the January 28, 2000 fingerprint card.

On November 13, 2000, the same day as Watts' sentencing hearing, Watts filed a "Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and Incorporated Memorandum," in which he argued for "a judgment of acquittal based on the admission of evidence that should, respectfully, have been suppressed." In this motion, Watts argued that the trial court should have suppressed the January 28, 2000 fingerprint card. Watts contended that because the deputy knew, or should have known, that Watts was about to lie regarding his identity the deputy should have given him the Miranda warnings. The trial court denied the motion for acquittal and imposed sentence.

On appeal, Watts argues the trial court erred (1) in denying his motion to suppress the jail classification documents and statements made during the classification procedure and (2) the January 28, 2000 fingerprint card and statements made during that fingerprint procedure raised in his motion for judgment of acquittal. Watts cites the failure of the deputies to give him the Miranda warnings as the error requiring reversal. We disagree and affirm the decisions of the trial court for the following reasons.


In reviewing a trial court's denial of a motion to suppress, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as the party that prevailed below, and grant to its evidence "all reasonable inferences deducible therefrom." Giles v. Commonwealth, 28 Va.App. 527, 532, 507 S.E.2d 102, 105 (1998) (citation omitted). In addition, we review the trial court's findings of historical fact only for "clear error," but we review de novo the trial court's application of defined legal standards to the particular facts of a case. See Ford v. Commonwealth, 28 Va.App. 249, 255, 503 S.E.2d 803, 805 (1998)

; see also Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 700, 116 S.Ct. 1657, 1663-1664, 134 L.Ed.2d 911 (1996).


The Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination

serves to protect persons in all settings in which their freedom of action is curtailed in any significant way from being compelled to incriminate themselves. We have concluded that without proper safeguards the process of in-custody interrogation of

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