As a Brockton Criminal Defense Lawyer, many times when I review a case for the first time, I see that a defendant has made a damaging admission. Often, suppression of the statement is critical to a successful defense at trial.
Because of the importance of a defendant’s Miranda rights and the incriminatory effect that a waiver of these rights might have, the State is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant waived his rights knowingly, intelligently, and willingly. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently reviewed the issue of whether a defendant who ingested cocaine two days before turning himself in on a murder charge and who alleged to have no recollection of the crime made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of his Miranda rights. In Commonwealth v. Stevie Walker, the Court considered the defendant’s waiver within the entire context in which it was made, including an examination of the defendant’s conduct, age, education, intelligence, emotional stability, criminal history, physical and mental condition, and the manner the waiver was obtained.
Walker was a suspect in the fatal stabbing of a victim in her apartment on the afternoon of November 4, 2005. Earlier that morning, Walker admitted to have been at a friend’s apartment located one floor below the victim’s apartment, smoking crack cocaine with his friend. The defendant and his friend fell asleep, and then awoke in the afternoon, at which point the defendant smoked more cocaine. After having left the apartment between 2 and 3 P.M., the defendant allegedly went up to the victim’s apartment and fatally stabbed the victim. He was discovered by the building manager in the victim’s bathroom, near the victim who was lying under a rug on the floor with a kitchen-knife protruding from her neck. The building manager wrestled with the defendant to prevent his escape, but the defendant overcame her and fled using an emergency exit.
The defendant claiming to have recently awoken with blood “all over”. The defendant told the officers he was there to turn himself in. The officers arrested the defendant and read him his Miranda rights which the defendant acknowledged understanding. The officer than asked the defendant if he had been drinking or using drugs, and the defendant responded, “Not in a while.” The defendant was read his Miranda rights two more times, and the defendant initialed a document with his rights listed, and printed his name on a waiver form, confirming that he understood he was waiving his rights.
During the interview with detectives later that morning, the defendant did not confess to stabbing the victim but claimed that he had just woken up inside a locked storage room and found blood all over him. He claimed to have had no recollection of the events since smoking cocaine at his friend’s apartment “a few days ago.” The defense sought to argue that the defendant was mentally debilitated when he waived his Miranda rights, and offered the expert testimony of two psychologists who examined the defendant and diagnosed him with having an unspecified personality disorder with paranoid and schiz-atypical attributes, as well as with cocaine dependence.
Despite the evidence presented by the defense, the Court concluded that there was no evidence that the defendant’s will was overborn when he chose to waive his Miranda rights. Defendant confirmed at the police station that he understood his rights several times, and that he had knowingly, intelligently, and willingly chosen to waive them.
The SJC also found that the officers did not observe any indication from the defendant’s conduct or speech that he was in any way impaired. Given these findings, in addition to the fact that the officers confirmed that he had eleven years of education and a prior criminal record indicating his familiarity with Miranda rights, the Court held the waiver to be valid.
Among the most important factors in the Court’s determination was the defendant’s seemingly unimpaired behavior, as observed by the police officers. The defendant had demonstrated that he was fully conscious of his surroundings and his decisions. Not only was he aware of his statements, but he was even selective in denying certain snacks and drinks offered to him during the interview. Although the defendant had a cocaine dependency had only awoken minutes before with no recollection of the past days’ events, his overall conduct was the determinative factor.