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State v. Brown

Superior Court of Maine, Kennebec

December 4, 2014

STATE OF MAINE
v.
JASON K. BROWN, Defendant

ORDER

Donald H. Marden, Superior Court Justice.

Before the court is Defendant's motion for written findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to M.R. Crim. P. 41A(d). The court made findings of fact on the record in open court. In granting the motion, the court provides these conclusions.

On August 24, 2013, the Defendant had been found in a ditch in obvious chemical or alcohol distress and was taken to the Maine General Medical Center. Sometime earlier that day there had been a structure fire. The police officer went to see the Defendant in the hospital on August 27, three days later.

The stated purpose of the visit was to check on the welfare of the defendant given his condition when found in the ditch. The officer went to the ICU and spoke with the nurse who gave him permission to talk to the patient. The nurse accompanied the officer into the room where the Defendant was sleeping. The nurse woke the Defendant and left the room. The officer asked the Defendant if he was OK and if he would talk to him. The Defendant responded that he was OK. That started a conversational interchange eighteen minutes in length which was recorded on a DVD. The court listened to the DVD in its entirety.

The officer was in casual clothing, not in uniform; he had a firearm, not displayed, a badge, and a cell phone. He did not have handcuffs, which he made know to the defendant. The Defendant asked the officer why he was there. The officer indicated that it was a welfare check and he wanted to talk about "Saturday night." After again inquiring about the condition of the Defendant, the officer told him he was not under arrest. The Defendant agreed to talk to the officer.

The Defendant was very cooperative. He was not in distress. Once the officer determined the patient was feeling OK, the officer said, "No matter what, I'm leaving, " meaning there would be no arrest. The officer then indicated to Mr. Brown that he thought that Mr. Brown knew what he was going to be talking about and he asked about "early Saturday morning." The Defendant said he was sleeping in the cemetery having consumed 20 150 mg. welbutren pills and beer. He was angry because someone had been causing him trouble and spreading rumors, identifying "Pinky", aka James McKenna. The officer advised the Defendant to be honest with him and the Defendant indicated that he was "pretty mad" and "pretty well gone." He said he "got all f-ed up" and "lit the fire." The officer asked if he used a lighter, if he was angry and what were the circumstances. The Defendant indicated that he did not remember. He was asked if used gas, the Defendant answered "no." The Defendant advised that he had been drinking with another individual and while in the cemetery was taking pills and drinking beer. Defendant indicated his last memory was at the cemetery. The officer then made the statement, "You started the fire, agreed?" The officer then said, "You know as well as 1 do that you started the fire." Mr. Brown did not respond to either comment.

The officer indicated he was going to leave and he asked the Defendant for his cell number and where he would be after leaving the hospital. The officer gave the Defendant his card and suggested he should be honest about the circumstances. The officer then stated, "Give me a call, we can work it out. Get yourself some help." He added, "Hope you get better soon." The officer testified on cross-examination that the Defendant did, in fact, call him later.

The defendant first argues that the solicitous attitude by the officer was improper and made reference to the "Reed Technique" although he did not provide any cite for such a reference.

It is defendant's assertion that he was, in fact, in custody by virtue of his presence in the ICU of the hospital. The Defendant made reference to previous decisions regarding interviews of Defendants in a hospital setting. He argued there was not a familiarity by the Defendant of his location, he had just been waken from sleep by the nurse and he was "incapacitated." The officer explained the nature of the interview and the assurance he received from the nurse that Brown was not i under an influence or in distress.

The mere fact that a suspect cannot leave the hospital as a result of injury or illness does not place that person in law enforcement custody for purposes of Miranda. State v. Grant, 2008 ME 14, 939 A.2d 93. However, in Grant, the defendant was interrogated at the hospital following surgery for injuries sustained at the scene of a truck accident, was forcibly restrained, handcuffed and in the presence of multiple officers.

A statement to a law enforcement officer may be voluntarily made even if the Defendant is injured, medicated, or in distress. State v. Lowe, 2013 ME 92, 81 A.3d 360. However, in that instance, the officer was aggressive and insistent, had excluded the 18 year old defendant's mother from the hospital room and told the defendant his friends had died in the accident.

The conditions in the instant case are dissimilar. While the Defendant was in a hospital setting unfamiliar to him, engaged in a contact initiated by a police officer and certainly was the focus of an investigation, there was no degree of restraint placed upon him by the officer. Where the defendant was somewhat immobilized by medical treatment, rather than police action, he agreed to be interviewed. See Lowe, at 17. The duration and character of the interrogation was entirely business-like. A single law enforcement officer was present who made it clear that he was not making an arrest and had no handcuffs.

There was nothing under any of the circumstances presented to suggest that the Defendant believed he was in custody. Furthermore, the nature of the interplay between the officer and the Defendant made it obvious that his statements to the officer were completely voluntary. Even though the Defendant was injured and medicated, his statements were, beyond a reasonable doubt, made in the exercise of his own free will and rational intellect. Lowe, 2013 ME 92, 81 A.3d 360. The attending nurse in the ICU gave permission to the officer to speak to the Defendant, and, indeed, woke him from a sleeping condition for that purpose.

It is the court's conclusion that there is no evidence that the Defendant was in custody and is satisfied by a preponderance of the evidence that his statements were voluntary.

The entry will be:

Defendant's motion for findings of fact and conclusions of law is GRANTED, the defendants' motion to suppress is DENIED.


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