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State of Idaho v. Chris Allen Stone

May 14, 2013

STATE OF IDAHO,
PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
CHRIS ALLEN STONE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District, State of Idaho, Canyon County. Hon. Renae J. Hoff, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwartzman, Judge Pro Tem

2013 Opinion No. 27

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

Order denying motion to suppress, affirmed.

Chris Allen Stone appeals from his judgment of conviction entered following his conditional plea of guilty to second degree murder, Idaho Code §§ 18-4001, 18-4002, 18- 4003(g). Specifically, Stone challenges the district court's order denying his motion to suppress statements he made to police officers. We affirm.

I.

FACTS AND PROCEDURE

Police officers were dispatched to a residence to investigate a shooting. Upon arrival, officers made contact with Stone who told the officers that "it was self-defense, she had stabbed him and that he had to do it." Officers then discovered Stone's estranged wife slumped in the back of a van in the driveway with two gunshot wounds in the back of her head. The officers read Stone his Miranda*fn1 warnings and Stone responded that he understood his rights. Stone then volunteered information about himself, including that he was forty-nine years old, he was a speech pathologist, he had a concealed weapon permit, he had never been arrested, and he had never previously shot anyone or been stabbed.

An ambulance arrived and transported Stone to a hospital for treatment of a stab wound. An officer accompanied Stone in the ambulance and stayed with him at the hospital. During the ambulance ride, and while at the hospital, Stone continued to volunteer information to the officer and medical staff. He told the officer that his wife went to his house to pick up some belongings, stabbed him with a knife, and then he pulled a gun out of his pocket and shot her twice. Stone also said his wife only married him "for a green card."

While at the hospital, a detective arrived and, again, read Stone his Miranda warnings. Stone reiterated that he understood his rights. The detective also informed Stone that he was not under arrest or in custody. Stone then proceeded to tell the detective the same story he told the officer. Eventually, Stone received a CT scan, the results of which indicated to the detective that Stone was not stabbed by his wife, but instead the stab wound was likely self-inflicted. After being confronted with this information, Stone altered his story slightly. He told the detective that he and his wife engaged in a verbal altercation and his wife told him that she only married him for a green card. Stone told the detective that after hearing those words, he pulled out his gun and threatened her. She then allegedly stabbed him and he then shot her twice. Stone was placed in custody following his medical treatment. While in jail, Stone called his mother and told her the same story he told the detective.

Stone was charged with second degree murder. He filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained: (1) during the interrogation at his residence; (2) during the interrogation in the ambulance; (3) during the interrogation at the hospital; and (4) during his telephone conversation with his mother while he was in jail. At the suppression hearing, defense counsel called two expert witnesses to testify. The first expert, a sociology professor, testified about police interrogation techniques and how those techniques were applied during Stone's interrogation. The second expert, Dr. Beaver, a neuropsychologist, testified regarding Stone's psychological makeup and Stone's medical status during the interrogation. The State objected to this testimony in its entirety on the grounds of relevance. The district court deferred its ruling on the objection until after hearing the testimony. Following testimony, the district court ruled that it would consider Dr. Beaver's testimony regarding Stone's medical status, but it would not consider his testimony regarding Stone's psychological makeup.

Following the hearing, the district court denied Stone's motion to suppress. Stone entered a conditional guilty plea to second degree murder, reserving his right to appeal the district court's denial of his motion to suppress. The district court imposed a unified term of twenty years, with nine years determinate. Stone appeals.

II.

ANALYSIS

Stone claims that the district court erred when it denied his motion to suppress. Specifically, Stone argues that: (1) the district court erred in concluding that Stone's statements were voluntary; and (2) the district court erred by declining to consider the entire testimony of Dr. Beaver. The standard of review of a suppression motion is bifurcated. When a decision on a motion to suppress is challenged, we accept the trial court's findings of fact that are supported by substantial evidence, but we freely review the application of constitutional principles to the facts as found. State v. Atkinson, 128 Idaho 559, 561, 916 P.2d 1284, 1286 (Ct. App. 1996). At a suppression hearing, the power to assess the credibility of witnesses, resolve factual conflicts, weigh evidence, and draw factual inferences is vested in the trial court. State v. Valdez-Molina, 127 Idaho 102, 106, 897 P.2d 993, 997 (1995); State v. Schevers, 132 Idaho 786, 789, 979 P.2d 659, 662 (Ct. App. 1999).

A. Voluntariness of Statements

Stone claims that police conduct during interrogation became coercive and undermined his free will when officers: (1) made implied promises of leniency; (2) used the "false friend" interrogation technique; and (3) employed minimization techniques. Stone claims that such tactics constitute police coercion and require suppression. Stone also contends that even if this conduct is not sufficient on its own to merit suppression, the totality of the circumstances demonstrate that the officers' interrogation caused his will to be overborne, resulting in an involuntary confession. To support this contention, Stone maintains that: (1) his Miranda warnings were downplayed; (2) he had no prior experience with law enforcement; (3) he was questioned over an eight-hour period; (4) he was in a highly stressful environment; (5) he was in pain resulting from his stab wound; (6) he had a high blood glucose level; (7) he had been administered Dilaudid; (8) he was unable to meet with his parents; and (9) he was highly suggestible. Based on these factors, Stone contends that the totality of the circumstances show that his statements were involuntary and should be suppressed.

1. Police coercion

In State v. Valero, 153 Idaho 910, 285 P.3d 1014 (Ct. App. 2012), we stated:

The United States Supreme Court has recognized that a non-custodial interrogation might in some situations, by virtue of some special circumstance, be characterized as one where a defendant's confession was not given voluntarily. See Beckwith v. United States, 425 U.S. 341, 347-48 (1976); see also State v. Troy, 124 Idaho 211, 214, 858 P.2d 750, 753 [(1993)]. In order to find a violation of a defendant's due process rights by virtue of an involuntary confession, coercive police conduct is necessary. Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 167 (1986); State v. Whiteley, 124 Idaho 261, 268, 858 P.2d 800, 807 (Ct. App. 1993). The state must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant's statements were voluntary. Whiteley, 124 Idaho at 268, 858 P.2d at 807.

The proper inquiry is to look to the totality of the circumstances and then ask whether the defendant's will was overborne by the police conduct. Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279, 287 (1991); Troy, 124 Idaho at 214, 858 P.2d at 753. In determining the voluntariness of a confession, a court must look to the characteristics of the accused and the details of the interrogation, including:

(1) whether Miranda warnings were given; (2) the youth of the accused; (3) the accused's level of education or low intelligence; (4) the length of the detention;

(5) the repeated and prolonged nature of the questioning; and (6) deprivation of food or sleep. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 226 (1973); Troy, 124 Idaho at 214, 858 P.2d at 753.

Id. at 911-12, 285 P.3d at 1015-16 (quoting State v. Cordova, 137 Idaho 635, 638, 51 P.3d 449, 452 (Ct. App. 2002)). If the defendant's free will is undermined by threats or through direct or implied promises, then the statement is not voluntary and is inadmissible. Valero, 153 Idaho at 912, 285 P.3d at 1016; State v. Wilson, 126 Idaho 926, 929, 894 P.2d 159, 162 (Ct. App. 1995).

We start by addressing Stone's contention that police coercion--using implied promises of leniency, the "false friend" interrogation tactic, and minimization techniques--requires suppression by itself. First, Stone argues that the detective made implied promises of leniency, as demonstrated by the following statements by law enforcement officers:

The difference between me and a judge, you know, I've got the powers to investigate. I've got the powers to make recommendations and I've got the powers to keep people safe but, ultimately, he's the decision maker.

Who do you think the judge is going to be more lenient, going to be more--going to want to work with more, okay?

I had every intention of doing--honoring exactly what I told you but once you started lying to me about this stuff, you know, all bets are off. I can't.

From my experience, somebody who wants to bullshit the system versus somebody who takes accountability, there seems to be some disparity between the sentence, okay?

Stone claims that these statements were designed to implicate that confession would lead to leniency, and denying guilt would lead to severe punishment. Promises of leniency, especially vague assurances of leniency, do not necessarily render a confession involuntary. State v. Radford, 134 Idaho 187, 192, 998 P.2d 80, 85 (2000); Wilson, 126 Idaho at 929, 894 P.2d at 162. "Rather, they are only a factor to be considered under the totality of the circumstances." Radford, 134 Idaho at 192, 998 P.2d at 85. "The reviewing court must determine whether the statements made to the defendant were sufficient to undermine the defendant's free will." Wilson, 126 Idaho at 929, 894 P.2d at 162. "Promises made by law enforcement officers without the authority to fulfill such promises may render a confession involuntary." Valero, 153 Idaho at 915, 285 P.3d at 1019.

The district court found that any promise of leniency was not sufficiently compelling to undermine Stone's will. We agree. The detective's statements were vague assurances of leniency, if anything. His statements were not connected to a promise of a specific benefit. Thus, unlike State v. Kysar, 114 Idaho 457, 459, 757 P.2d 720, 722 (Ct. App. 1988), where the officer told the defendant he would be out of jail before his baby was born, the detective never promised Stone a specific sentence. The only representation the detective made was that the judge could provide a shorter sentence if he cooperated. Further, the detective informed Stone that the judge was the ultimate decision maker. See Whiteley, 124 Idaho at 269, 858 P.2d at 808 (holding that one ...


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