Court Orders New Trial Based on Miranda Violation


Case: People v. Root

Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )

Judges: Per Curiam – Sawyer, Hoekstra, and Beckering

Issues:

Motion to suppress confession; People v. Vaughn; Miranda v. Arizona; Custodial interrogation; Stansbury v. California; Howes v. Fields; Oregon v. Mathiason; United States v. Patterson (7th Cir.); United States v. LeBrun (8th Cir.); People v. Hill; Tankleff v. Senkowski (2nd Cir.); Statements after Miranda warnings; Oregon v. Elstad; Missouri v. Seibert; Voluntary statement; People v. Cipriano; Whether error was harmless; People v. Whitehead; Expert testimony; Whether proposed testimony related to the barred diminished capacity defense; People v. Carpenter; Opinion testimony; People v. Heft; Request to redact statements; MRE 402; People v. Musser; MRE 401 & 403; People v. Mills

Summary:

Holding that the trial court should have suppressed portions of the defendant-Root’s videotaped statement and that the error was not harmless, the court vacated her conviction and remanded for a new trial. She was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder. She argued that her inculpatory statements were inadmissible because the detectives failed to advise her of her constitutional right against self-incrimination as required by Miranda before subjecting her to a custodial interrogation. Based on a careful review of the record, the court held that “by the time detectives were able to procure a confession from Root, the interrogation had turned custodial.” The question on appeal was whether she was in custody for purposes of the rule stated in Miranda at some point before Detective D formally notified her that she was under arrest. Considering the totality of the circumstances, the court held that by the time she asked whether—or concluded that—she was “being arrested,” a reasonable person in her position would believe, as she did, “that she was no longer at liberty to end the interrogation and leave. A reasonable person would believe that if she did not immediately confess or tell her version of the story, she would be arrested on the charge of first-degree murder and obviously not be free to leave. For this reason, the detectives had an obligation at least by that point to advise Root of her rights in accordance with Miranda. Because they did not do so, the statements she made after that point could not be used against her.” Because their failure to warn her “consistent with Miranda was more akin to the inadvertent mistake in Elstad, and was not part of an interrogation technique designed to evade the requirements of Miranda as found in Seibert,” whether her later statements were inadmissible depended on whether she made the statements voluntarily. Under the totality of the evidence, it appeared that she voluntarily chose to confess to her involvement in victim’s death. The admission of her statements “after the detectives should have advised her of her rights, but before they actually advised her of her rights,” could not be said to be harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

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