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State v. Thomas

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

December 7, 2015

STATE OF MAINE
v.
TIMOTHY MICHAEL THOMAS

ORDER ON MOTION TO SUPPRESS

Sroyce A. Wheeler Justice, Superior Court Judge.

Introduction

Pending is Timothy Thomas' motion to suppress evidence arising out of statements made by him to Detective Dunham of the Portland Police Department on February 20, 2015 concerning sexual contact with a sixteen-year old girl. The State charged Thomas with a single count of a sexual abuse of a minor, Class C, 17-A M.R.S.A. § 254(1) (A-2. Thomas alleges in his motion that any statements he made were involuntary and made in the absence of the Miranda warnings under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436. 478-79, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed. 694 (1966). His motion raises the question about promises as a form of coercion to elicit statements that were not made voluntarily.

At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the State presented one witness, Detective Dunham, and an audio of the interview with Thomas. After considering all of the evidence, this court concludes for the reasons set forth below that the motion to suppress is denied.

Discussion

The burden is on the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hunt's statements were voluntary. See State v. Sawyer, 2001 ME 88, ¶ 8, 772 A.2d 1173. The court must consider the totality of the circumstances in determining whether a confession is voluntary. Id. at ¶ 7. "In order to find a statement voluntary, it must first be established that it is the result of defendant's exercise of his own free will and rational intellect." Id. at ¶ 8 (citation omitted). Factors to consider in doing this analysis include the following: details of the interrogation; duration of the interrogation; location of the interrogation; whether interrogation was custodial; recitation of the Miranda warnings; the number of officers involved; the persistence of the officers; police trickery; any threats, promises or inducements made; and the defendant's age, physical and mental health, emotional stability and conduct. Id. at ¶ 9. "To be voluntary, a confession must be the free choice of a rational mind, fundamentally fair, and not a product of coercive police conduct." State v. Bryant, 2014 ME 94, ¶ 16 (quoting State v. Nightingale, 2012 ME 132, 17).

The record contains these facts bearing upon voluntariness of Thomas' statement: Two officers went to Thomas' worksite at Extramart on Brighton Avenue. Thomas recognized Dunham and said hello to Dunham by name. Thomas knew Dunham from an earlier incident similar to the one under investigation. The officers were not in police attire and arrived in an unmarked police cruiser. Det. Dunham told Thomas he wanted to speak to him about an incident and asked if he would come outside. It was cold out and Dunham intended to speak with Thomas in the cruiser. Thomas sat in the back seat of the cruiser. The other detective sat in the front passenger seat. Dunham sat in the driver's seat. The back door of the police cruiser automatically locks when the door is shut. Det. Dunham took the driver's manual and told Thomas to use the manual to prevent the door from locking. This was approximately at the noon lunch hour. Det. Dunham told Thomas he was not under arrest and he would be free to leave then interview done, no matter what he says. At this early stage of the proceedings, the detectives did not intend to arrest Thomas.

Detective Dunham began the interview. He told Thomas that he wanted to talk about a young lady named Brianna. Thomas filled in her last name for Dunham. Thomas thought they were going to talk about photographs of his genitals that he sent her. Det. Dunham said, no, something else. Thomas knew that Brianna was at Thornton Academy and fifteen years old. Dunham asked, "what happened?" Initially, Thomas was reluctant to speak about anything more than the photos. Det Dunham reminded him he was not under arrest and that no matter what he tells the Detective he will not be arrested. Det. Dunham asked what else was going on. Thomas said other things happened with her. She sent a photo through messenger of her breast. Finally he said he brought her to his house, that she had a crush on him and he told her that they had to wait until she was 18 or 21 before any relationship. Thomas mentioned about keeping off of the registry. Dunham repeated that no matter what Thomas tells him, he is not under arrest.

Det. Dunham says, I know that you had consensual sex with her. Thomas asked whether it was like before with another 10 years on the registry. Det. Dunham responded, "I can only tell you that "ten years is better than life." Dunham summarized that she ha a teenage infatuation with him and as a guy he responded. Dunham repeated to Thomas that he was not under arrest. Thomas eventually conceded that he had picked her up, taken her to his apartment and had vaginal intercourse and each went down on the other. Thomas said they discussed plans for the future, having kids but he wanted her to finish high school. He admitted that if she were here right now, he would say he was sorry for putting them in this position. When asked what should happen to him, Thomas responded that he needs to get back into counseling, one on one with Steve Thomas, needs to know if this is genetic or mental. When asked if anything else, he responded, "just get me into counseling. I know I am probably going back to jail, but won't help e. Just get me in counseling and on probation." Thomas then exited the police cruiser and walked back to the store.

Initially, the Detective conducted a non-accusatory interview of Thomas and his answers disclosed how he knew Brianna, her family, and their exchange of messages with photos of her breast and his gentalia. Thomas evaded for a while explaining what took place. Detective Dunham talked about knowing that they had a sexual relationship and reminding Thomas repeatedly through out the interview that he was not under arrest and would not be arrested no matter what he told Detective Dunham. Thomas expressed concern that this is the same type of situation last time and asked whether he would have a 10-year registration. Det. Dunham did not know what it would be but said "ten years better than life."

Scrutinizing all of the circumstances surrounding the police questioning before Thomas was charged with the crime, there is no evidence of any police trickery, threats, promises or inducements.[1] Thomas walked freely out to the officer's cruiser. He was not handcuffed nor escorted to the cruiser. The officers were there to get Thomas' side of the story. Thomas knew Det. Dunham from an earlier situation. Indeed, it was Thomas who said this is the same type of situation last time and stated I would have a ten year registration. The officer didn't know but responded "ten years is better to life." Coming from the officer, Thomas may assume that the officer would know what the registration time period would be, so it is possible that this flippant answer misled Thomas, but it does not rise to the level trickery or unfair or improper questioning.

Through out the interview, Thomas appeared to be alert and rational, and he could respond to questions with appropriate answers. He answered the officer's questions albeit reluctantly, but nevertheless ultimately answered the questions. Thomas at times even chose the topic of the interview, asking about the sex registration list. The audio does not disclose any bizarre, psychotic or any drug-induced behavior. There was no indication of any impairment of Thomas's physical or mental condition. The officer was speaking with Thomas in a relaxed and conversational manner about Thomas' relationship to young woman, and his contact with her. They spoke "man-to-man". Thomas did not demonstrate any difficulty during the interview except his reluctance to discuss their sexual relationship. Considering the totality of the circumstances, the statement was voluntary and was a product of his own free will and rational intellect. The detectives interviewing techniques were fundamentally fair and Thomas' confession was not a product of coercive police conduct.

Thomas contended in his motion that the failure to advise him of his rights under Miranda requires that the court suppress any statements he made. ...


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