Category Archives: Self-Incrimination

State v. Mayer: Officer Gives Confusing Miranda Warnings

In State v. Mayer, the WA Supreme Court decided that a deputy sheriff inadequately advised the defendant of his Miranda rights when he initially told the defendant that a lawyer would be appointed for him prior to questioning if he could not afford one but also said that no lawyer would be appointed for him unless he was arrested, jailed, and taken to court.

Here, defendant Nicholas Mayer was suspected of robbing KC Teriyaki,  a casual restaurant in Salmon Creek, while the employees were closing the restaurant for the day. The masked gunmen pushed one of the employees inside the restaurant; pointed a gun at the employee; grabbed a bag from inside; and then fled with the bag, which contained cash from the day’s sales. The apparent motive for the robbery was because Mr. Mayer’s sister, Emily Mayer, was a disgruntled ex-employee.

Police stopped Mr. Mayer’s vehicle, detained Mayer and the vehicle’s other occupants, and transported them to the police station for questioning regarding the robbery. Deputy Tom Dennison of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office questioned Mayer in an interview room at the police station. Dennison began by reading Mayer his Miranda rights and asking if he could record the interview. Mayer initially waived his Miranda rights and agreed to the recording.Once recording began, Dennison again advised Mayer of his Miranda rights:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right at this time to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while you are being questioned. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before questioning if you wish. You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements.”

This time, however, Mayer asked Dennison to clarify how he could obtain appointed counsel:

DEPUTY DENNISON: “Do you understand each of these rights as I’ve explained them to you?”

MR. MAYER: Yes. Um, If I wanted an attorney and I can’t afford one, what — what would — ?

DEPUTY DENNISON: If you wanted an attorney– you know, if you were charged with a crime and arrested, if you wanted an attorney and couldn’t afford one, the Court would be willing to appoint you one. Do you want me to go over that with you again?

MR. MAYER: Yeah, but how would that work? Will you be– how it– how I–

DEPUTY DENNISON: You’re not under arrest at this point, right?

MR. MAYER: Oh, okay. Okay.

DEPUTY DENNISON: So, if you were, then you would be taken to jail and then you’d go before a judge and then he would ask you whatever at that point, if you were being charged, you would afforded an attorney if you couldn’t hi — you know, if you weren’t able to afford one.

MR. MAYER: All right. I understand.


MR. MAYER: Yeah.

DEPUTY DENNISON: Okay. So you do understand your rights?


After this exchange, Mayer waived his Miranda rights, agreed to speak with Dennison regarding the robbery, and made incriminating statements. Mayer admitted, among other things, that on the day of the robbery he met with his sister Emily, who drove the getaway car, and John Taylor, the other robber; they drove to the teriyaki restaurant; Mayer entered the restaurant with Taylor; Taylor was armed with a handgun, and Mayer had a knife; Mayer told the employees “give me the money”; Taylor grabbed the deposit bag containing money; Mayer ran from the restaurant with Taylor; they were picked up by Emily; and Mayer split the proceeds of the robbery with Taylor.

Based on the confession, Mayer was arrested and charged with 11 criminal counts (later reduced to 10 counts), including Robbery in the First Degree. Mayer moved to suppress the incriminating statements he made during his interview with Officer Dennison, but the superior court denied the motion after a CrR 3.5 hearing.

The jury ultimately convicted Mayer on all 10 pending counts. The trial court sentenced Mayer to 306 months of imprisonment. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the conviction and sentence in an unpublished opinion. The WA Supreme Court granted review on his Miranda challenge.

For those who don’t know, the explanation of Miranda rights must be given before any custodial interrogation, stemming largely from the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.  The person detained and interrogated must be made aware of the right to remain silent, the right to consult with an attorney and have the attorney present during questioning, and the right to have an attorney appointed if indigent. Without a Miranda warning or a valid waiver, statements might be inadmissible at trial under the exclusionary rule (e.g., they cannot be used as substantive evidence of guilt in criminal proceedings). See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436 (1966).

Here, the WA Supreme Court ruled that Mayer’s confession should have been suppressed. They reasoned that Officer Dennison’s linkage of Mayer’s right to appointed counsel to conditional future events (arrest, jail, charge, and arraignment) contradicted his earlier statements that Mayer could have access to appointed counsel “before questioning” and that he could exercise his rights “at any time.” Critically, Officer Dennison did not tell Mayer that despite the fact that no appointed attorney was immediately available, Mayer’s other Miranda rights remained in full effect and he could protect his right to the presence of counsel by remaining silent until he could speak to an attorney.

Under these circumstances, ruled the court, Officer Dennison’s explanation of Mayer’s rights was deficient, and the State has failed to meet its burden of establishing that Mayer knowingly and intelligently waived his rights. Mayer’s subsequent confession therefore should have been suppressed. However, the Court further reasoned that because any error in admitting the confession was harmless, the court affirmed Mayer’s conviction.

My opinion? Good decision. This Miranda advisement from the police officer was contradictory and confusing. The deputy should have clarified that the defendant was not obligated to respond to questions until he had the opportunity to confer with a lawyer. Again, good decision. Unfortunately for the Defendant, however, the WA Supreme Court also decided the error was harmless. In other words, he was still convicted of the charges and must serve his sentence.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

State v. Rhoden: Illegal 2-Step Confession Violates Miranda

Police Engage in Illegal Interrogation Tactics and Conviction Gets Reversed  — Jacksonville Criminal Lawyer Blog — April 13, 2018

In State v. Rhoden, the WA Court of Appeals Division II held that the trial court failed to suppress Mr. Rhoden’s statements made to police during an improper two- step interrogation procedure.

The facts were such that on February 26, 2013, the Pierce County Sheriff’ s Department served a search warrant on a residence in Puyallup. Five occupants of the residence, including Rhoden, were handcuffed.

Two interrogations happened. The first interview happened when Deputy Olesen questioned the handcuffed occupants in the living room of the home. Importantly, he failed to advise the suspects of their constitutional rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 ( 1966).

For those who don’t know Miranda warnings (often abbreviated to “Miranda“, or “Mirandizing” a suspect) is the name of the formal warning that is required to be given by police in the United States to criminal suspects in police custody (or in a custodial situation) before they are interrogated, in accordance with the Miranda ruling. Its purpose is to ensure the accused are aware of, and reminded of, various rights under the U.S. Constitution, and that they know they can invoke them at any time during the interview.

At any rate, Mr. Rhoden told Deputy Olesen there were drugs and a gun in the bedroom.  At that point, Deputy Olesen then escorted Rhoden to the kitchen and questioned him a second time and after finally advising Rhoden of his Miranda rights.

During the post –Miranda second interview, Deputy Olesen asked Rhoden the same questions that he had asked Rhoden in the living room before giving the Miranda warnings.

Mr. Rhoden said there was about a gram of methamphetamine located in the dresser on the left side of his bed and that he had been smoking methamphetamine for approximately the last two to three months. During a search, officers found several items in a dresser, including ( 1) small baggies containing a substance later tested and confirmed to contain methamphetamine, (2) an electronic scale, ( 3) glass smoking devices, and (4) documents containing Rhoden’ s name and the address of the residence being searched.

Rhoden was charged with one count of Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance (Methamphetamine) under RCW 69.50.401. Before trial, the trial court conducted a CrR 3. 5 hearing to determine the admissibility of Rhoden’ s statements to police.

The trial court held that Rhoden’ s pre-Miranda statements to police were not admissible at trial and that his post -Miranda statements to police were admissible at trial. At trial, the jury found Rhoden guilty of the charges. Mr. Rhoden appealed his conviction.

The Legal Issue

On appeal, the legal issue was whether the Miranda warnings given to Rhoden during the second interrogation were effective to inform Mr. Rhoden of his Fifth Amendment right to keep silent when he had just provided the same incriminating information in the first interrogation for which he was not given Miranda warnings.

The Rule: Missouri v. Seibert

The court looked to Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600, 604- 06, 124 S. Ct. 2601, 159 L. Ed. 2d 643 ( 2004) for guidance. In that case, the United States Supreme Court held that Miranda warnings were ineffective to inform the defendant of their right against self-incrimination in circumstances similar to these. As here, the warnings in Seibert were given only after the suspect had confessed during a custodial interrogation without Miranda warnings.

The Seibert Test

After reviewing Missouri v. Seibert, the court discussed the Seibert est. First, if a court determines that the use of the two- step interrogation procedure was deliberate, it then must ” determine, based on objective evidence, whether the midstream warning adequately and effectively apprised the suspect that he had a “genuine choice whether to follow up on his earlier admission.”

In making this determination, courts may consider whether any curative measures were taken to insure the suspect’ s understanding of his or her Miranda rights. Such curative measures may include a significant break in time and place between the pre- and post –Miranda questioning or an additional warning that the suspect’ s pre –Miranda statements could not be used against the suspect in a subsequent criminal prosecution.

The court compared the Missouri v. Seibert case to Mr. Rhoden’s facts. It reasoned that similar to Rhoden’s situation, the interrogating officers in Seibert questioned the defendant without Miranda warnings yet later gave Miranda warnings in a second interview before obtaining the suspect’ s confession without a significant break in time or place and without measures to assure the suspect that her non-Mirandized statements could not be used against her in a subsequent criminal prosecution.

Applying Seibert to the Facts

The Court then applied the two-part Seibert test the facts at hand. It reasoned that here, the police deliberately used the two- step interrogation procedure. During the initial interrogation in the living room before giving Miranda rights, Olesen asked the five handcuffed suspects whether there were any drugs in the home, and Rhoden admitted that he had a small quantity of methamphetamine in his bedroom. After completing his questioning of the group in the living room, Olesen escorted Rhoden to the kitchen, read Rhoden his Miranda rights, and repeated the same questions he had asked in the living room, to which Rhoden answered consistently with his responses given before receiving the Miranda warnings.

Thus, reasoned the court, the objective evidence of “the timing, setting and completeness of the pre-warning interrogation, the continuity of police personnel and the overlapping content of the pre and post-warning statements” all support the conclusion that the two- step interrogation procedure used here was deliberate.

The court applied the second inquiry, which examined the effectiveness of the midstream Miranda warnings. In this inquiry, the question was whether any curative measures were present, such as a significant break in time and place between the pre- and post -Miranda questioning or an additional warning that the suspect’ s pre –Miranda statements could not be used against the suspect in a subsequent criminal prosecution.

Here, the evidence at the CrR 3. 5 hearing showed that there was not a significant break in time or place between the pre- and post -Miranda interrogation. Perhaps more importantly, the evidence also showed that Olesen did not take any additional measures to insure that Rhoden understood his Miranda rights, such as advising him that his pre –Miranda statements could not be used against him. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred by failing to suppress Rhoden’ s post –Miranda statements.

Failure to Suppress Rhoden’s Statements Was Not Harmless Error

Finally, the Court of Appeals decided that the trial court’s decision to not suppress Rhoden’s statements was not harmless error. It reasoned that constitutional error is harmless if the appellate court is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that any reasonable jury would have reached the same result in the absence of the error. Here,  and under the circumstances, the Court of Appeals reasoned that it could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that any reasonable jury would have reached the same guilty finding absent evidence of Rhoden’ s challenged admissions.

My opinion? Excellent decision. The Court of Appeals acknowledged the subtle – and unlawful – “2-Part Inquiry” of the arresting officer in this case. This technique is commonly used by law enforcement to unlawfully obtain statements from defendants and simultaneously circumvent Miranda. Good work, Court of Appeals!

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

State v. Elkins: Officers Need Not Re-Advise Miranda in All Cases

How Long Do Miranda Rights Last? | Wallin & Klarich

In State v. Elkins, the WA Court of Appeals decided that whether the officers have scrupulously honored the defendant’ s right to silence and right to counsel under Miranda must be determined on a case -by -case basis, and that there is no bright-line rule requiring police officers to fully re-advise previously Mirandized suspects when reinitiating interrogation.

Yakima County deputies received a tip that defendant Eugene Elkins had killed his girlfriend Kornelia Engelmann. Yakima County deputies arrived and arrested him. He was advised of his Miranda rights. For those who don’t know, police officers must inform defendants of their Miranda rights once police place a defendant in custody and/or conduct investigations via questioning the defendant. The Miranda rights are stated as follows:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”

Miranda protects a defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights against self incrimination, and may incline defendants to stop talking and/or immediately seek the advice of an attorney. Once a defendant asserts their Miranda rights, the police MUST stop questioning the defendant. And, generally speaking, police must repeat and re-inform defendants of their Miranda rights if questioning continues at a later time; and/or defendants change their minds and want to speak to the police.

Here, at around 3;30 p.m., Yakima County deputies advised Elkins of his Miranda rights before arresting him. Elkins declined to make a statement, and the Yakima County deputies did not question him further. They took him into custody.

Later, the police again attempted to interview Elkins at about 8: 30 PM. Although they did not re-advise Elkins of his Miranda rights, police asked Elkins if he had been advised of these rights, if he remembered them, and if he understood those rights were still in effect. After Elkins confirmed that he recalled being advised of his Miranda rights and that he understood those rights were still in effect, Elkins agreed to talk to the deputies. In short, he informed the police that he and Ms. Engelmann had a verbal argument which led to a physical altercation.

When the deputies commented on the extensive bruising on Engelmann’ s body and asked Elkins if he had kicked her, hit her with something, or hit her with a closed fist, Elkins said that he did not want to talk to the deputies any longer and requested an attorney. The deputies ended the interview.

On June 7, the very next day, Elkins gave a full written statement to police after they re-advised him of his Miranda rights. In the statement, he admitted to killing Engelmann. Elkins was subsequently charged with Murder in the Second Degree.

The case proceeded to a jury trial. Before trial, Elkins moved under CrR 3.5 to suppress the statements he made to the police on June 6 and June 7. However, the trial court admitted all of Elkins’ statements. At trial, Elkins was found guilty of Murder in the Second Degree. He appealed his conviction to the WA Court of Appeals Division II.

In rendering its decision, the Court acknowledged that fully re-advising a suspect of his Miranda rights is clearly the best practice when resuming questioning of a suspect who has asserted his right to silence. However, the Court also said there is no bright-line rule that law enforcement officers must always fully re-advise a defendant of his or her Miranda rights. In addition, they said that the issue of whether a defendant’ s rights have been scrupulously honored must be determined on a case-by-case basis.

The Court further reasoned that under the totality of the circumstances, Elkins statements were not coercively obtained by police. The facts show that ( 1) the Yakima deputies ceased questioning Elkins immediately when he asserted his right to silence, (2) no law enforcement officer attempted to interrogate Elkins for a significant period of time, five hours, before his subsequent contact with the police, ( 3) no law enforcement officer engaged in any coercive tactics, and (4) the police did not interrogate Elkins until after they confirmed that he had been read his rights, that he recalled those rights, and that he understood those rights were still in effect. The court also said the following:

“[T]he subsequent interrogation is proper if the State has shown that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived those rights given the totality of the circumstances, not whether the subsequent contact was preceded by law enforcement fully re-advising the defendant of his or her Miranda rights. When this and the other factors . . . are met, the officers have scrupulously honored the defendant’ s rights.”

Finally, the Court of Appeals reasoned that Elkins’ June 6 waiver was knowing and voluntary under the circumstances. They also reasoned that his statements made during transport and June 7, 2014 statements were also admissible because Elkins initiated the relevant conversation following his assertion of his right to counsel and then knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights. The Court of Appeals upheld his conviction.

My opinion? My heart goes out to the victim’s friends and family. I sincerely hope they find comfort in the Court of Appeals’ decision. However, I disagree with the decision. When it comes to protecting people’s constitutional rights, bright-line rules work best. And its always been a time-tested rule that police MUST re-advise suspects of their Miranda rights, especially under circumstances like this.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

State v. Barry: Defendant’s In-Court Demeanor Leads to Conviction

Defendant collapses in court after guilty verdict - YouTube

In State v. Barry, the WA Supreme Court held that a lower trial court properly answered a jury’s question regarding whether it may consider observations of the defendant’s actions and demeanor during the court case as “evidence” by stating, “Evidence includes what you witness in the courtroom.”

Here, defendant Robert Barry went to jury trial facing two counts of Child Molestation in the First Degree. He did not testify. After the parties rested their cases, the jury deliberated. During deliberations, the jury asked the court whether it may consider “observations of the defendant’s actions-demeanor during the court case” as “evidence.” In response, the trial court instructed the jury that “evidence includes what you witness in the courtroom.” The court record, however, contained no references whatsoever to Barry’s in-court demeanor.

The jury convicted Barry of both counts of child molestation. He appealed, claiming that the trial court’s instruction in response to a jury question violated his Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution.

The WA Supreme Court reasoned that the Fifth Amendment does not extend to the jury’s generic reference to “actions-demeanor,” and the Sixth Amendment does not transform all evidentiary errors into errors of constitutional magnitude. Consequently, no constitutional error occurred.

Additionally, the Court said that the “silence” on Barry’s demeanor makes it impossible to determine that Barry was prejudiced. Thus, neither party can “prove” one way or another whether the error was prejudicial. The court also emphasized the following:

“The trial court instructed the jury that ‘the fact that the defendant has not testified cannot be used to infer guilt or prejudice against him in any way,’ and that its instructions are to be taken as a whole. A jury is presumed to follow the court’s instructions, and the record presents no indication that the jury failed to heed the court’s instruction regarding the defendant’s failure to testify in this case.”

 With that, the WA Supreme Court upheld the trial court and found Mr. Barry guilty.

My opinion? I agree with Justice Johnson’s dissent. Although there’s no record of Barry’s demeanor during trial, we do know that before trial began, the court advised Barry that he should refrain from any display of emotion. It advised that everyone in the courtroom remain stone-faced throughout the trial and that no one should show any reaction to the children’s testimony. The court explained to Barry that such a showing of emotion could ”backfire” on his case.

Justice Johnson reasoned that assuming Barry complied with that instruction, his observable lack of remorse throughout trial likely prompted the question from the jury.

“By then instructing that the jury could consider Barry’s demeanor throughout trial as evidence of his guilt, the court put him in the constitutionally intolerable position of either waiving his constitutional right to refuse to testify, so that he could explain his remorseless attitude throughout trial or leave the jurors to formulate their own inferences about his behavior.”

I agree. The defendant was placed between a rock and a hard place. His unenviable posititon probably may have affected the quality of his defense. Unfortunately, we don’t know because the court record says nothing about his demeanor. More than anything, it’s THIS – the lack of court record regarding the defendant’s demeanor – which is so disturbing. Justice Johnson articulated this same belief:

After the defense has rested its case, and after closing arguments, the trial court cannot instruct that those observations may be treated as “evidence” bearing on the determination of guilt or innocence when the defendant has had no opportunity to challenge or explain that evidence. This is akin to allowing a prosecutor to argue evidence not presented at trial or allowing a witness to testify privately without cross-examination, to the jury during its deliberations. It deprives the defendant his right to confront the evidence, and at the very least, it deprives Barry an opportunity to challenge the propriety of the use of this “evidence” in the determination of guilt.

Exactly. At best, this is a murky opinion. At worst, it violates the defendant’s rights at trial.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

State v. I.B.: Shaking Your Head Means “No” Under Miranda.

In State v. I.B., the WA Court of Appeals decided a juvenile suspect’s shaking of his head in the negative after police asked him, post Miranda, if he was willing to talk was an unequivocal assertion of his Fifth Amendment rights.

Here, 15-year-old defendant I.B. was taken into custody as a suspect in a Residential Burglary crime. While being interrogated, I.B. shook his head in the negative after police asked him if he was willing to talk. Nevertheless, police continued their questioning and I.B. made inculpatory statements against his best interests. The trial court suppressed I.B.’s statements at his 3.5 Hearing and concluded that I.B’s shake of the head signaled an assertion of his right to remain silent. Later, I’B’s case was dismissed. The State appealed the trial court’s suppression.

The issue before the Court of Appeals was whether I.B.’s shaking his head in the negative after being asked if he was willing to talk was an unequivocal assertion of the right to remain silent. The court decided it was.

The court reasoned that the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “[n]o person … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” To counteract the inherent compulsion of custodial interrogation, police must administer Miranda warnings. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 479. Miranda requires that the defendant “be warned prior to any questioning that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.” Once a suspect invokes his right to remain silent, police may not continue the interrogation or make repeated efforts to wear down the suspect.

Furthermore, the court reasoned a suspect need not verbally invoke his right to remain silent. In fact, Miranda sets a low bar for invocation of the right: “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.” Miranda, 384 U.S. at 473-74 (emphasis added). However, suspects must “unambiguously” express their desire to be silent. The test as to whether a suspect’s invocation of his right to remain silent was unequivocal is an objective one, asking whether'” a reasonable police officer in the circumstances would understand the statement'” to be an invocation of Miranda rights. Once a suspect has clearly invoked the right to remain silent, police questioning must immediately cease.

Here, I.B. unequivocally invoked his right to remain silent. Nothing in the circumstances leading up to I.B.’s invocation rendered his head movement ambiguous. The police officers read I.B. his Miranda rights and I.B. understood his rights. Both officers testified they understand shaking the head side to side to communicate the word ‘No.’ This affirmative conduct unambiguously signaled LB.’s desire for the questioning to cease. Consequently, the trial court properly suppressed LB.’s custodial statements.

My opinion? Good decision. In the context of interrogations, shaking one’s head side to side means no. There’s no other reasonable interpretation.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

State v. Pinson: When Prosecutors Violate a Defendant’s 5th Amendment Right

Forcing iPhone unlock violates Fifth Amendment, says Court of Appeals –  Naked Security

In State v. Pinson, the WA Court of Appeals held that a Prosecutor violated a defendant’s 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination by arguing that the defendant was guilty because he chose to not talk to police when arrested.

Mason County Sheriff Deputy Nault responded to a reported domestic violence call. He contacted Stacey Campbell, who was in a parking lot across the street from her home. She said the defendant Jarad Pinson, her boyfriend, violently assaulted her. Deputy Nault saw red marks on her neck. Deputy Nault went into the home and arrested Mr. Pinson. During the arrest, Mr. Pinson was cooperative. He said he was drinking with his friends. When asked by officers if the situation became violent with Ms. Campbell, however, Mr. Pinson did not respond. he was arrested for Assault Second Degree Domestic Violence.

At trial, the judge granted the defense attorney’s motion in limine to suppress the Prosecutor from asking whether the fight was physical. However, defense counsel asked that question during cross-examination. Because of this, the judge ruled that Pinson’s defense attorney “opened the door” and gave the Prosecutor opportunity to cross examine the defendant on whether the fight was physical.

In closing argument, the Prosecutor said Mr. Pinson’s silence during arrest was substantive evidence of guilt. Although Ms. Campbell recanted her earlier accusations of assault while testifying on the witness stand, the jury nevertheless returned a guilty verdict on the Assault Second Degree charges. The case went up on appeal.

The law on prosecutorial misconduct is straightforward. To prevail on a claim of prosecutorial misconduct, a defendant must show that “in the context of the records and the circumstances of trial, the prosecutor’s conduct was both improper and prejudicial. However, when the defendant fails to object to the challenged portions of the prosecutor’s argument, he is deemed to have waived any error unless the prosecutor’s conduct was so flagrant and ill intentioned that an instruction could not “cure” the resulting prejudice to the defendant.

The 5th Amendment in the U.S Constitution states, “no person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Similarly, Article I, section 9 of the WA State Constitution follows this language. Both Constitutions guarantee a defendant the right to be free from self-incrimination, including the right silence. A defendant has the right to remain silent both prearrest and post-arrest; i.e., both before and after a defendant is given Miranda warnings.

 Here, the Court of Appeals held that the Prosecutor’s statement was improper because in violated Mr. Pinson’s 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. More specifically, it was improper for the State to make closing arguments that infer guilt from the defendant’s silence. Even though defense counsel did not object, his failure to object did not waive the claim of prosecutorial misconduct because the conduct was so flagrant and ill-intentioned that an instruction would not have cured the prejudice.

The case was reversed and remanded for a new trial.

My opinion? Great decision. It’s a long-standing, basic principle that Prosecutors cannot infer a defendant’s silence as evidence of guilt. I’m pleased the Court acknowledged this basic principle.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

State v. Barry: Whether a Defendant’s Demeanor Spells Trouble During Trial

Demeanor, Demeanor, Demeanor - Trial Practice Tips

In State v. Barry, the WA Court of Appeals decided it does NOT violate a defendant’s Constitutional rights to allow a jury to consider the defendant’s in-court demeanor during trial.

The State charged Barry with first degree child molestation (DV). The case proceeded to trial. Important to note, Barry chose not to testify. During deliberations, the jury sent a note asking the court, “Can we use as ‘evidence for deliberation,’ our observations of the defendants actions and demeanor during the court case?” The trial court instructed the jury, “Evidence is what you witness in the courtroom.” Barry objected to the jury instruction. The jury found Barry guilty as charged. Barry appealed.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that the trial judge misstated the law in giving that instruction because the defendant did not testify; and therefore, his demeanor was not evidence presented during trial.

Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals rejected arguments that Barry’s 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination were violated. It stated, “Here, neither the State nor the trial court forced Barry to do anything with regards to his demeanor. He had full control over how he acted in the courtroom. Other than citing the Fifth Amendment, Barry does not explain how he was compelled to give evidence against himself. We hold that allowing the jury to consider the defendant’s demeanor as evidence does not violate the Fifth Amendment.”

Finally, the Court of Appeals discussed the absence of any discussion on the record regarding Barry’s demeanor. In other words, there was a lack of record on how Barry behaved. The Court said the following:

“Without any information identifying what demeanor the jury may have considered, it is impossible to know whether that consideration was favorable or unfavorable to Barry. In the abstract, a defendant’s behavior is neutral. Depending on the demeanor, a jury could draw a negative inference or a positive inference from how the defendant acts during trial. As a result, merely stating that a jury may have considered a defendant’s demeanor without any information about that demeanor cannot establish prejudice because that consideration may have favored the defendant.”

My opinion? This case is tough. I’ll agree with the Court of Appeals in saying that what we don’t know is the pink elephant in this room. I’ve had many jury trials. During preparations, I thoroughly inform defendants how to properly behave in court. And yes, it’s extremely difficult for many defendants to stay calm and stoic during trial. Most defendants are very emotional about the case, especially if they believe the State’s witnesses are lying and/or exaggerating  during testimony.

Consequently, the decision on whether to testify is a strategic one. And this decision – whatever it may be – can backfire for many reasons. Typically, jurors want to hear defendants testify. However, if a defendant does not testify, then human nature dictates that juries perceive how the defendants acts during trial.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Berghuis v. Thompkins: Miranda Applies, BUT Defendants MUST Clearly Invoke Constitutional Rights

Why Interrogation in Jail May Not Count as “Custodial”: The Supreme Court Makes New Law in Howes v. Fields | Sherry F. Colb | Verdict | Legal Analysis and Commentary from Justia

In Berghuis v. Thompkins, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a criminal suspect must specifically invoke the right against self-incrimination in order for constitutional protections to apply.

The case centered around the interrogation of Van Chester Thompkins, who was suspected of Homicide. He remained virtually silent for hours in police custody before giving a few brief responses to police questions. Most significantly, Thompkins answered “yes” when asked, “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?” The statement was introduced at trial and Thompkins was convicted.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Court held that criminal suspects who do not clearly state their intention to remain silent are presumed to have waived their 5th Amendment rights. Ironically, suspects must literally open their mouths and speak in order for their silence to be legally protected. The new rule will defer to police in cases where the suspect fails to unambiguously assert their right to remain silent.

My opinion?  Naturally, I’m concerned about any retreat from the basic principle that criminal suspects should not be compelled or coerced into incriminating themselves.  The opinion is wrong because it creates additional challenges for suspects who already understand too little about how their constitutional rights apply during police interrogations.

Fortunately, however, the Berghuis decision leaves intact the best strategy for handling any police interrogation: keeping your mouth shut. Requiring suspects with limited legal knowledge to clearly assert their rights may seem a bit strict, but it’s irrelevant if the suspect never says a word to begin with. The point of the 5th Amendment isn’t to protect you after you’ve foolishly incriminated yourself; it’s to remind you that you’re not obligated to answer police questions in the first place.

Ultimately, the burden is on each of us to understand our rights and use that information to make the best decisions. It’s unlikely that any Supreme Court decision will ever change the fact that remaining silent is your best and only strategy if police ask you incriminating questions.

I can’t stress this enough: your attorney can suppress unlawfully obtained evidence IF you clearly assert your rights.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.