Michigan Court of Appeals Holds Miranda Rights Violation in Lansing Interrogation

On May 8th, 2014, the Michigan Court of Appeals held in a criminal case that officers from the Lansing Police Department violated a suspect's Miranda rights during the course of an interrogation.

In People v Henry, Docket Nos. 306449 and 308963, the Michigan Court of Appeals addressed an appeal in a criminal case arising from a conviction and sentence on several felony counts including armed robbery.  After addressing the facts of the case and defendant's other issues on appeal, the Court addressed defendant's argument that the trial court erred in denying defendant's pre-trial motion to suppress statements he made in the course of a custodial interrogation with Lansing police officers.

Defendant next argues that the trial court erred in allowing the prosecutor to introduce evidence of statements he made to police during a custodial interrogation. Defendant contends that the waiver he signed during the interrogation was invalid because the police did not scrupulously honor his unambiguous assertion of his right to silence. Defendant preserved this issue for review by filing a pre-trial motion to suppress the statements. People v Aldrich, 246 Mich App 101, 113; 631 NW2d 67 (2001). 

[']Statements of an accused made during custodial interrogation are inadmissible unless the accused voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his or her Fifth Amendment rights.['] People v Gipson, 287 Mich App 261, 264; 787 NW2d 126 (2010), citing Miranda v Arizona, 384 US 436, 444; 86 S Ct 1602; 16 L Ed 2d 694 (1966). [']We review de novo a trial court’s determination that a waiver was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary.['] Gipson, 287 Mich App at 264. However, we review a trial court’s factual findings on a motion to suppress for clear error. Hyde, 285 Mich App at 436. To the extent we find constitutional error occurred, ['][w]e review preserved issues of constitutional error to determine whether they are harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.['] People v Dendel, 289 Mich App 445, 475; 797 NW2d 645 (2010). [']A constitutional error is harmless if [it is] clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have found the defendant guilty absent the error.['] Id. at 475-476 (quotations and citations omitted). 

A criminal defendant enjoys safeguards against involuntary self-incrimination during custodial interrogations. Michigan v Mosley, 423 US 96, 99-100; 96 S Ct 321; 46 L Ed 2d 313 (1975); Miranda, 384 US at 444. Included within these safeguards is the right to remain silent during custodial interrogation and the right to cut off police questioning. Mosley, 423 US at 103- 104. A defendant may assert his right to remain silent at any time, id. at 100, however, his assertion must be unequivocal. People v Davis, 191 Mich App 29, 36; 477 NW2d 438 (1991). When a defendant invokes his right to remain silent, police must [']scrupulously honor['] defendant’s request. Mosley, 423 US at 103-104. Police fail to “scrupulously honor” a defendant’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment right [']by refusing to discontinue the interrogation upon request or by persisting in repeated efforts to wear down his resistance and make him change his mind.['] Id. at 105-106. 

If the individual indicates in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease. At this point he has shown that he intends to exercise his Fifth Amendment privilege; any statement taken after the person invokes his privilege cannot be other than the product of compulsion, subtle or otherwise. [Id. at 100.] 

In this case, police read defendant his Miranda rights and defendant acknowledged that he understood those rights. The police then had the following exchange with defendant: 

Detective: Okay. So you understand everything that I read to you? 

Defendant: Yes. 

Detective: Are you willing to give up those rights and make a statement to us at this time? Talk to us about what we’re, talk to us about what we’re doing? 

Defendant: No sir

Detective: So you don’t want to talk to us? 

Defendant: I mean you say give up the rights. 

Detective: Well no, do you wanna give us, give us a statement at this time? You understand [sic] what I read to you. 

Defendant: Yeah. 

Detective: Those are all your rights. 

Defendant: Yeah. 

Detective: Now I’m asking do you wanna make a statement at this time, what we wanna talk to you about? 

Defendant: Yeap, yes. I understand what you’re saying. Yeah, yeah. 

Detective: Okay, okay. You wanna make a statement then and talk to us. 

Defendant: Yes, I’ll make a statement yeah.

Detective: Okay. 

Defendant: But I’m not give [sic] up my rights am I

Detective: If you’re uncomfortable about something or if you just simply don’t like us, you can say I’m done, okay. You can interrupt us for that matter, it’s no big deal. We just wanna set the matter straight. This has been coming on for some time. 

Defendant: Okay. [Emphasis added.] 

Defendant then signed a waiver form, waiving his rights, and then made incriminating statements. The trial court denied defendant’s motion to suppress, finding that defendant knowingly waived his Fifth Amendment rights. 

Having reviewed the record, we conclude that the trial court erred in holding that defendant unequivocally waived his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. After police read defendant his rights and asked him if he was willing to [']give up those rights and make a statement,['] defendant unequivocally stated [']No sir.[']In doing so, defendant asserted his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. See Berghuis v Thompkins, 560 US 370, 382; 130 S Ct 2250; 176 L Ed 2d 1098 (2010) (a defendant can unambiguously assert his right to remain silent by stating that [']he did not want to talk with the police[']). 

Instead of scrupulously honoring defendant’s assertion of his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, police sought to assure defendant that he would not be giving up his rights by making a statement. Specifically, when defendant stated, [']you said give up the rights,['] the detective responded, [']Well no, do you wanna give us, give us a statement at this time?['] (Emphasis added). The detective informed defendant that his rights were on the form; then stated, [']Now I’m asking do you wanna make a statement at this time?[']In doing so, police distinguished the act of making a statement from the act of waiving the right of silence, when in fact, the two are inextricably linked. Indeed, before signing the waiver, defendant again sought assurance that he was not giving up his rights when he stated, [']But I’m not give [sic] up my rights am I?[']This response showed that defendant believed that he could make a statement without waiving his Fifth Amendment rights. Police did not respond by accurately informing defendant that by agreeing to talk, he was in fact waiving his Fifth Amendment rights. Instead, police informed defendant that he could stop talking if he wanted to. In doing so, police concealed from defendant the fact that agreeing to talk constituted a waiver of his constitutional rights. Only then did defendant agree to talk with police and sign the waiver form. Because police failed to scrupulously honor defendant’s initial assertion of his right to remain silent, and because police subsequently led defendant to believe that he was not relinquishing his rights by agreeing to make a statement, the trial court erred in concluding that defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his Fifth Amendment rights. Mosley, 423 US at 100; Miranda, 384 US at 479.