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State v. Ames

Supreme Court of Maine

February 7, 2017

Wallace W. Ames III

          Argued: December 13, 2016

          Mark J. Peltier, Esq. (orally), Rioux, Donahue, Chmelecki & Peltier, LLC, Portland, for appellant Wallace W. Ames III

          Andrew Robinson, District Attorney, Lisa Bogue, Asst. Dist. Atty., and Andrew Matulis, Asst. Dist. Atty. (orally), Prosecutorial District III, Lewiston, for appellee State of Maine


          MEAD, J.

         [¶1] Wallace W. Ames III appeals from a judgment of conviction of burglary (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. § 401(1)(A) (2016), and theft by unauthorized taking or transfer (Class E), 17-A M.R.S. § 353(1)(A) (2016), entered in the trial court (Androscoggin County, Mathews, /.) on his conditional guilty plea. Ames argues that the court (L. Walker, /.) erred in denying his motion to suppress statements, made during an interview with police while he was detained in the Androscoggin County Jail awaiting a court appearance for a probation violation on an unrelated charge, because he was not given Miranda warnings prior to what he asserts was a custodial interview. We affirm the judgment.

          I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] Viewed in the light most favorable to support the suppression court's decision, the record on the motion to suppress supports the following facts. See State v. Ntim, 2013 ME 80, ¶ 2, 76 A.3d 370; see also State v. Bryant, 2014 ME 94, ¶ 2, 97 A.3d 595. On June 3, 2015, Detective Tyler Michaud of the Lewiston Police Department was assigned to investigate a burglary reported to have occurred at a restaurant in Lewiston on May 29, 2015. During the course of his investigation, he learned that Ames had been an employee at the restaurant and had keys to the building. At that time, Ames was on probation for a domestic violence assault conviction. On June 4, 2015, Ames was arrested on a probation violation arising from a positive drug test, taken into custody, and held at the Androscoggin County Jail.

         [¶3] On June 8, 2015, Detective Michaud and Detective Carly Conley, also from the Lewiston Police Department, went to the jail to interview Ames about his involvement in the burglary. The officers were not in uniform and not wearing duty belts, and they left their firearms at a secure location when they entered the jail. Their interview with Ames took place in the visitation room, which is a large, well-lit room with windows. A long table with chairs on both sides was located in the middle of the room. During the interview, Ames sat on one side of the table and the officers sat on the other side; Ames and the officers were a few feet apart at a "normal conversational distance." The detectives did not sit between Ames and the door, and there were no obstacles between Ames and the door. There was no one else in the room and no guard at the door. The interview was recorded.

         [¶4] At the outset of the interview, Detective Conley introduced herself and Detective Michaud and confirmed with Ames that he was currently in jail on a probation violation because his urine tested positive for drugs. She told Ames that "what we want to talk to you about has nothing to do with that, " that he was "here on [his] own free will, " and that he was free to leave and go back to his cell at any time because jail was his "home" for the time being. She asked Ames if he felt comfortable speaking to them, and Ames said he was "interested in hearing what you have to say." Ames was not given Miranda warnings.

         [¶5] The detectives mentioned that they had talked to Ames's probation officer and it had seemed like Ames was doing well on probation until he tested positive for drugs. Detective Michaud said that what happens with probation is "not our business right now" and he had "no idea what they're trying to do, " but he encouraged Ames to "clear the table" and "put this behind us, " so that it doesn't "come[] back up to bite you." Detective Michaud told Ames that "there's really no doubt in my mind that you went in and took some money, " and encouraged Ames to cooperate, because otherwise, "we're going to end up proving it . . . and then what will happen is you'll be back on track with probation and we're going to have to derail you again instead of just addressing it right now and moving forward." Ames continued to deny involvement.

         [¶6] Ames asked what sentence a theft carries. Detective Michaud explained that it could be a fine, and suggested that from his experience, courts consider whether the theft was related to a drug problem. Ames confessed immediately thereafter, saying, "I did it. It was me." The confession occurred approximately fifteen minutes into the interview. The detectives continued to speak with Ames regarding the details of the crime and some wholly unrelated matters for another fifteen minutes.

         [¶7] On August 4, 2015, Ames was indicted on one count of burglary (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. § 401(1)(A), and one count of theft by unauthorized taking or transfer (Class E), 17-A M.R.S. § 353(1)(A). On December 7, 2015, Ames filed a motion to suppress the incriminating statements he made during the interview, arguing that he should have been given Miranda warnings because he was in custody at the time of the interview. A hearing on the motion was held on December 30, 2015, at which Detective Michaud testified, and the audio recording of the interview was admitted in evidence. On January 7, 2016, the court denied the motion to suppress.

         [¶8] On February 10, Ames filed a motion for findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to M.R.U. Crim. P. 41A(d) that the court granted pending ...

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