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State v. Sousa

Superior Court of Maine, Waldo

January 26, 2018



          Robert E. Murray, Justice, Maine-Superior Court

          Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress contending, among other issues, that he did not execute a knowing and intelligent Miranda waiver and that statements he made to the police were involuntary. A hearing was held before the Court on October 23, 2017, At the hearing, the trooper involved, Thomas Bureau of the Maine State Police, and Dr. Robert Riley, [1]a clinical neuropsychologist and forensic examiner, provided testimony for the Court's consideration. The video of Trooper Bureau's interrogations of the Defendant was also admitted into evidence. Both the State and the Defendant provided the Court with post-hearing memoranda.


         Based upon the testimony and evidence presented at the hearing, the Court finds the following:

         In November 2016, Defendant was experiencing serious mental health problems, which led to his parents seeking to have him admitted to the Acadia Hospital in Bangor. At the suppression hearing, testimony was introduced through Dr. Riley that indicated Defendant had been admitted to Acadia Hospital from November 2 through November 10, when he was then released. The staff at Acadia Hospital determined Defendant was suffering from schizophrenia spectrum psychotic disorder during this stay, which included delusional religious statements.

          Though he was released on November 10, he was quickly readmitted on November 12.

         During this second stay, he continued to be diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum psychotic disorder, and Dr. Riley testified that the hospital records showed Defendant attempted to microwave his clothing. Dr. Riley also indicated the hospital deemed Defendant to fit the qualifications for involuntary commitment during this second stay. It was during this stay that Defendant escaped from Acadia Hospital on November 15, and began his journey from Bangor to Brooks, which led to the events for which Defendant is being prosecuted by the State. The evidence from medical records reviewed by Dr. Riley suggests that Defendant continued to experience delusions even after he was returned to Acadia Hospital on November 18.

         On the evening of November 17, Trooper Thomas Bureau of the Maine State Police was working his normal patrol when he was dispatched to 65 Arsenault Road in Brooks, Maine. Dispatch informed Trooper Bureau that they had received a call from a woman at that address who reported her son had arrived at home, after escaping from Acadia Hospital in Bangor, with no clothes on, and was "not in his right mind." That woman was Catherine Sousa, Defendant's mother. By the time Trooper Bureau arrived at the Sousa household, lie verified Defendant had in fact escaped from Acadia Hospital. Because of this and because Trooper Bureau knew Defendant had traveled from Bangor to Brooks in the middle of November, possibly with no clothes on, he made sure Emergency Medical Services ("EMS") would be present at the scene to evaluate Defendant for injuries, Trooper Bureau testified at the suppression hearing that he was aware people had described Defendant as being in the middle of a mental health crisis.

         When Trooper Bureau, the sole law enforcement officer at the scene, arrived at the Sousa household, he was greeted at the door by Edward Sousa, Defendant's father. Catherine Sousa was also present. Mi-. Sousa let Trooper Bureau into the house where Trooper Bureau found Defendant sitting naked in a chair in the back corner of a room, wrapped only in a blanket or a comforter. Trooper Bureau asked Defendant to put some clothes on. While EMS was evaluating Defendant, Trooper Bureau returned to his cruiser and learned Detective Joel Nadeau from the Bangor Police Department wanted to speak with Defendant. Trooper Bureau learned from Detective Nadeau that Defendant was a person of interest for an incident that occurred in Bangor on November 15, the same evening Defendant had escaped from Acadia Hospital. Trooper Bureau testified that Defendant had informed Trooper Bureau that Defendant had not been taking all of his prescribed medications at Acadia Hospital, though Trooper Bureau was not aware what medications Defendant had been prescribed at the time. Defendant also informed Trooper Bureau that he had walked the thirty-five miles from Bangor to Brooks while naked in the middle of November, which caused Trooper Bureau think that "there was definitely something different there" in relation to Defendant's mental health state.

         Once EMS cleared Defendant medically, Trooper Bureau told Defendant he needed to be transported to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor for an evaluation, which Trooper Bureau understood to be a mental health evaluation. Trooper Bureau handcuffed Defendant, but before securing Defendant in the police cruiser, Trooper Bureau allowed Defendant to hug his parents.

         After Defendant said goodbye to his parents, Trooper Bureau placed Defendant, still handcuffed, in the front seat of the police cruiser. Trooper Bureau then turned on the audio and video recording devices in his cruiser. While the cruiser was still parked in the driveway at the Sousa household, Trooper Bureau told Defendant that because "you're not free to leave, I'm going to read you your rights, " and proceeded to read Defendant his Miranda rights. Trooper Bureau then asked if Defendant would answer some questions, but Defendant responded "I think not, probably not." Because of this response, Trooper Bureau immediately stopped questioning Defendant and testified at the suppression hearing that he believed Defendant had invoked his right to remain silent. Trooper Bureau did follow up Defendant's initial refusal to answer questions by saying "if you change your mind, let me know. I'll read it to you again, if you want to talk Defendant said "thank you, " but ceased speaking to Trooper Bureau after that. Trooper Bureau stopped the audio and video recording shortly after Defendant's refusal to answer questions, and they started driving to Bangor.

         At the suppression hearing, Trooper Bureau testified that five to seven minutes had passed when Defendant attempted to engage Trooper Bureau in conversation. Trooper Bureau informed Defendant he had invoked his light to remain silent and that Trooper Bureau could not speak with him because of this. Defendant then told Trooper Bureau that he had changed his mind and he wanted to talk. This caused Trooper Bureau to find a safe location off the road where he could reread Defendant his Miranda rights. The cruiser video then resumes and shows the cruiser pulling into the Jackson Fire Department parking lot. Once in the parking lot, Trooper Bureau asked Defendant, "so now you've changed your mind, right?" Defendant responded affirmatively.

         Trooper Bureau then informed Defendant of the following: he had the right to remain silent; anything he said could and would be used against him in a court of law; he had the right to the advice of a lawyer before questioning and to the presence of a lawyer during questioning; if he could not afford a lawyer, one would be provided to him for free before any questioning if he desired; and if he started answering questions, he had the right to stop at any time until he could talk to a lawyer. After Trooper Bureau informed Defendant of each right he possessed, he asked Defendant if Defendant understood that right and Defendant affirmatively responded each time with "yeah" or "yes" and a nod. Then Trooper Bureau asked Defendant if Defendant wished to answer questions, and Defendant answered with a "yeah" and a nod. Before asking Defendant any questions, Trooper Bureau clarified with Defendant that Defendant had originally invoked his rights and asked Defendant if Trooper Bureau was correct in understanding Defendant changed his mind and was waiving his right to remain silent. Defendant responded affirmatively, and Trooper Bureau then asked Defendant if he was coerced or forced into changing his mind, to which Defendant responded "no." Following this, Defendant proceeded to implicate himself in a number of criminal acts.

         He told Trooper Bureau about his failed attempt to steal a car from a woman, his subsequent successful attempt to steal a truck that was unlocked and had the keys inside. Defendant explained to Trooper Bureau that he drove the truck for some distance and then ditched it on the Loop Road in Searsport. Trooper Bureau was later able to confirm the accuracy of much of what Defendant told him.

         In the midst of making these incriminating statements, Defendant explained his motivation in eloping from Acadia Hospital was that he had to save his cat, Juniper. In follow up, Trooper Bureau asked where Juniper was, and Defendant said, "she's dead right now, I think, but, I don't know. Maybe I've already saved her." Defendant then described how she "physically perished" a few weeks prior, but that he had been trying to figure out a way to resurrect her spirit ever since. Later in Trooper Bureau's questioning, Defendant detailed how he burned his parents barn down with kerosene because he wanted to rid himself of the possessions that were "weighing him down." At the suppression hearing, Trooper Bureau testified that after the video ended, Defendant continued to talk. Trooper Bureau elaborated that Defendant described cutting a different cat's throat with a knife he had sharpened, and then told Trooper Bureau he did all of this because he was "Jesus Christ, Son of God."

         Based on his review of the medical records from Defendant's sojourns at Acadia Hospital in November 2016, Dr. Riley opined that he believed Defendant was experiencing a significant mental health crisis in November 2016, which was characterized by detailed and complex psychotic symptoms, including delusions. More specifically, he described Defendant's interactions with Trooper Bureau as being characterized by psychotic thought processes, including the relatively quick decision to change his mind and speak with Trooper Bureau. Dr. Riley testified it was possible for Defendant to appeal- to be acting rationally but still be subject to psychotic beliefs. In addition to reviewing the medical records from Defendant's stays at Acadia in November 2016, Dr. Riley met with Defendant a number of months later in March 2017. During that interview, Dr. Riley found Defendant to exhibit symptoms consistent with those reflected in the medical records from November 2016. When Dr. Riley met with Defendant, he asked Defendant about his interactions with Trooper Bureau. Defendant explained to Dr. Riley that he changed his mind and decided to speak with Trooper Bureau because not doing so would make him a "filthy wedding garment, " which Dr. Riley believed to be consistent with other religious themes Defendant expressed in November 2016.


          The resolution of this Motion requires an application of the facts surrounding Trooper Bureau's interrogations of Defendant to a familiar constitutional doctrine, that which proscribes the government from introducing into evidence at trial a defendant's statements if made involuntarily. There are a number of interrelated issues that must be addressed before reaching the ultimate voluntariness issue.

         I. Custodial Interrogation, Defendant's Invocation of the Right to Remain Silent, and Whether Trooper Bureau "Scrupulously Honored" Defendant's Invocation of His Right to Remain Silent.

          The State concedes-and the Court also finds-that Defendant was subject to custodial interrogation, which means the prophylactic rule of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), applies. See State v. Ames, 2017 ME 27, ¶ 12, 155 A.3d 881. Defendant was handcuffed, placed in the front seat of Trooper Bureau's police cruiser to be transported to Bangor for a mental health evaluation, and told by Trooper Bureau that Trooper Bureau wanted to ask Defendant some questions. Trooper Bureau even told Defendant that because "you're not free to leave, I'm going to read you your rights, " and proceeded to read Defendant his Miranda rights. This qualifies as custodial interrogation for the purposes of Miranda, see State v. Jones, 2012 ME 126, ¶ 22, 55 A.3d 432, and Trooper Bureau properly informed Defendant of his Miranda rights and received an affirmative response to each during the initial attempt to question Defendant.

         Defendant also unambiguously invoked his right to remain silent after Trooper Bureau's first reading of the Miranda warnings. "[I]n order to assert one's right to 'cut off questioning' an individual must articulate a desire 'sufficiently clearly that a reasonable police officer in the circumstances would understand the statement' to be" an invocation of the right to remain silent. Slate v. King,1998 ME 60, ¶ 9, 708 A.2d 1014 (quoting Davis v. U.S.,512 U.S. 452, 459 (1994)). Defendant seemed to equivocate when he stated "I think not, probably not" after Trooper Bureau asked if Defendant wanted to answer questions. However, Trooper Bureau stopped questioning Defendant and also testified at the ...

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