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State v. Hunt

Supreme Court of Maine

November 29, 2016

STATE OF MAINE
v.
TIMOTHY M. HUNT

          Argued: June 8, 2016

         On the briefs:

          Verne E. Paradie, Jr., Esq., Paradie, Sherman, Walker & Worden, Lewiston, for appellant Timothy Hunt.

          Stephanie Anderson, District Attorney, and William J. Barry, Asst. Dist. Atty., Prosecutorial District No. Two, Portland, for appellee State of Maine.

         At oral argument:

          Verne E. Paradie, Jr., Esq., for appellant Timothy Hunt.

          William J. Barry, Asst. Dist. Atty., Prosecutorial District No. Two, Portland, for appellee State of Maine.

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          GORMAN, J.

         [¶1] Timothy M. Hunt appeals from a judgment of conviction entered in the trial court (Cumberland County, Moskowitz, J.) after a jury found him guilty of six counts of gross sexual assault (Class A), 17-A M.R.S. § 253(1)(C) (2015), and six counts of unlawful sexual contact (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. § 255-A(1)(E-1) (2015). Hunt argues that the court (Wheeler, J.) erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence of inculpatory statements he made during a police interview. Although he also raises a number of issues from the trial, we need consider only the admissibility of the evidence of his confession. Because we conclude that the confession should have been suppressed, we vacate the judgment of conviction and remand the case for a new trial.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] On December 4, 2013, the Cumberland County Grand Jury issued an indictment charging Hunt with six counts of gross sexual assault (Class A), 17-A M.R.S. § 253(1)(C), and six counts of unlawful sexual contact (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. § 255-A(1)(E-1), involving an eight-year-old victim. After pleading not guilty to the charges, Hunt moved to suppress evidence of incriminating statements he made during an interview with two Scarborough Police Department detectives.

         [¶3] At the hearing on his motion, Hunt argued that his incriminating statements during the interview were motivated by improper promises of leniency and were therefore involuntary. The court (Wheeler, J.) heard testimony from a psychologist who had evaluated Hunt, from the detectives, and from Hunt. The parties stipulated to the admission of four psychological assessment reports and a recording of the police interview that included both video and audio.

         [¶4] The recording shows that the following interactions took place. During the first part of the interview, Hunt repeatedly denied touching the victim inappropriately. Throughout the interview, the detectives challenged Hunts denials with, inter alia, minimization of the moral blame associated with the alleged conduct, pleas to "do the right thing, " and urges to avoid having the victim "go through" a trial. Before he had confessed to any wrongdoing, but in response to questioning, Hunt expressed concern that admitting to "something like this could put [him] on that list, " apparently referring to the Maine Sex Offender Registry. In response, one of the detectives told him, "dont worry about that, " "dont worry about going on the list, " and "were not gonna worry about anything else outside of this room, Tim, because it will work out, it will be fine."

         [¶5] Later, during a portion of the interview led by a second detective, the second detective told Hunt:

[y]ou were worried about being on some kind of a list-not everybody ends up on the list. Ill tell you the guys that end up on the list. Those are the guys that Im talking about on the other end of the scale. The guys that hang out by schools, and they take pictures of little kids in places in public, and they put themselves in positions that they can be around kids for the sole purpose of perpetrating on a child. Those are the guys that end up on lists. Guys like you ... they don't end up [in] situations like that dramatic. They get help and they get opportunities like you're being given here today....

(Emphases added.)

         [¶6] The second detective also told Hunt that if Hunt was not being "one hundred percent truthful, " he was "harming [him]self, " and that

You need to think about it, because you dont get this opportunity twice. After today, its over. Youre not gonna have another opportunity to come in here and explain yourself to [the first detective], and hes not gonna have another opportunity to help you. Because if he thinks youre lying, after today, all hands are off.... If he knows ... youre telling ... the truth, we can work with this. You could still go home today. Okay? Nobodys said youre going to get arrested. Right? Nobodys told you that today, right? This list thing you're worried about? That's for the other end of the spectrum. That's for the people that are problematic.

(Emphases added.) The first detective returned to the interview room. Resuming the interview, he said, "I know you mentioned earlier, you know, Im worried about being on a list, but I want you not to worry about that. You know, it-it-ah, not everyone goes on a list. Okay? Not everyone does." (Emphasis added.)

         [¶7] After Hunt made some incriminating statements, the first detective asked him why he hadnt confessed earlier in the interview. Hunt explained that he "didnt know how to word it, " that "maybe the right questions wasnt coming up for the right answer, " and that his "minds slow" and "isnt like all the other minds that catch on." Hunt also said, "I dont want, you know, people to look at me in like, you know in a certain way.... Like your um, your friend, well, your partner slash friend ... like he said, that I'm not even close to being on that list, you know? That it should be fine." (Emphasis added.) Only after Hunt had incriminated himself did the first detective tell Hunt that he and his colleague were "not in control of that list."

         [¶8] In a written order denying Hunts motion, the court found that Hunt had gone willingly to the Scarborough Police Department with the detectives to be interviewed, knowing that they wanted to talk to him about information they had received from the Department of Health and Human Services about "sexual allegations." The court also found the following facts about the interview. The detectives told Hunt that he was not under arrest, that he did not have to go with them, and that they would drive him back home at any time. After bringing Hunt into an interview room, the first detective started an audio and video recording and told Hunt that the interview was being recorded. He told Hunt that he was free to leave and advised him of his Miranda rights. After stating each "right, " the first detective asked whether Hunt understood, and Hunt responded affirmatively.

         [¶9] The court further found that after the second detective left the room, the first detective "reentered and used police interrogation techniques, including minimization of the crime."[1] The court found that Hunt eventually "confessed to sexual contact" with the victim.

         [¶10] Although noting that Hunts "cognitive skills are less than average, " the court stated "there was no indication of any impairment of Hunts physical or mental condition." The suppression court had two reports from psychologists who measured Hunts cognitive capacity. One measured Hunts composite IQ as 81, with a nonverbal skills score of 92 and a verbal skills score of 75; another measured Hunts composite IQ as 75, with a nonverbal skills score of 90 and a verbal skills score of 67.

         [¶11] Although Hunt testified at the suppression hearing that he had snorted Vicodin on the day of the interview, and was taking other medications prescribed for him, namely Wellbutrin (an antidepressant) and Risperdal (an antipsychotic), the court also found that "the video does not disclose any bizarre, psychotic or . . . drug-induced behavior"; "Hunt appeared to be alert and rational, and he could respond to questions with appropriate answers."

         [¶12] In a footnote apparently directed at Hunts argument that his statements were involuntary in light of the detectives references to "the list, " the court stated that "[t]here is nothing illegal with . . . trying to narrow and shift the focus of the investigation on the critical issues, rather than possible outcomes in the case." The court concluded, "The detectives [] interviewing techniques were fundamentally fair and Hunts confession was not a product of coercive police conduct."[2]

         [¶13] As a result of the courts ruling, the recording of Hunts confession was admitted in evidence at trial, over his continuing objection.

         [¶14] The court (Moskowitz, J.) held a four-day jury trial in late July of 2015. Just before trial, the State filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude Hunts proposed expert testimony regarding police interrogation techniques and risk factors associated with false confessions. After the parties conducted a voir dire of the expert, the court granted the States motion, concluding that the testimony was inadmissible pursuant to M.R. Evid. 702 based on its findings that "it ha[d]nt been demonstrated in the voir dire that there is a reliable scientific basis for determining some causal relationship" between certain interrogation techniques and unreliable confessions, and "the subject matter of the proposed testimony is really not beyond the common knowledge of a lay juror."

         [¶15] The jury found Hunt guilty of all twelve charges. The court entered a judgment on the verdict and sentenced Hunt to twenty-five years of unsuspended imprisonment for each of the gross sexual assault charges and five years of unsuspended imprisonment for each of the unlawful sexual contact charges, all to be served concurrently, ...


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