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North Carolina v. Jeffries

Filed: January 5, 1982.


Appeal by defendant from Ferrell, Judge. Judgment entered 22 April 1980 in Superior Court, Catawba County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 14 September 1981.

Hill, Judge. Chief Judge Morris and Judge Vaughn concur.


Defendant brings forward seven assignments of error. The trial of the case as well as the issues on appeal are complex. We have considered all of defendant's assignments, and find no error in the trial.


Defendant first contends that his right against self-incrimination was violated when the trial court admitted into evidence incriminatory statements which defendant made to law enforcement officers. Defendant contends that these statements were made without the requisite constitutional warnings and that they were induced by misleading police statements and false police promises that the statements would be kept in confidence.

In Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694, 86 S. Ct. 1602 (1966), the Supreme Court held that the prosecution may not use either exculpatory or inculpatory statements which result from custodial interrogation of a defendant unless the prosecution can show the use of procedural safeguards which effectively secure the privilege against self-incrimination. "[B]y custodial interrogation, we mean questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way." Id. However, "[p]olice officers are not required to administer Miranda warnings to everyone whom they question. Nor is the requirement of warnings to be imposed simply because the questioning takes place in the station house, or because the questioned person is one whom the police suspect." Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 50 L. Ed. 2d 714, 97 S. Ct. 711 (1977). In Mathiason, custody was characterized as a restriction on one's freedom or detention in a "coercive environment".

Our Supreme Court has analyzed custody by applying an objective test which involves determining whether a reasonable person would believe under the circumstances that he is free to leave the place in which he is being questioned. State v. Perry, 298 N.C. 502, 259 S.E.2d 496 (1979). Citing Mathiason, supra, the Court focused on three time frames to determine whether a reasonable person would believe that he was free to leave the place of interrogation.

[1] events occurring prior to the questioning, including the fact that the defendant had voluntarily appeared in response to a written request; [2] events happening during the questioning, including the fact that defendant was told at the outset he was not under arrest but that he was a suspect; and [3] events taking place after the questioning, including the fact that defendant was allowed to leave the parole office unhindered even though he had confessed to the burglary.

State v. Perry, supra.

In light of the foregoing principles, we conclude that Jeffries was not in custody when he made his inculpatory statements. When the State sought to introduce statements which the defendant had made to S.B.I. Agent Stout, the defendant objected, and an extensive voir dire was conducted. Upon defendant's motion,

the trial judge ordered each State witness for the voir dire sequestered. Evidence adduced on voir dire tended to show that defendant came voluntarily and unaccompanied to the Law Enforcement Center in Shelby. He submitted to a polygraph test, and even though not in custody, was read his rights by Agent Stout. Defendant signed a waiver acknowledging that he was free to end the test and to leave at any time. His meeting with Stout lasted from shortly after 9 o'clock a.m. until approximately 11:45 a.m. Stout testified that defendant's appearance was good and that he did not seem to be under the influence of drugs. Defendant was offered and given coffee twice. After completing the polygraph test, Stout informed defendant that, in his opinion, defendant was not telling the truth. At this point, the defendant made his statement to Stout. After defendant made the statement to Stout, Agent Lee again advised defendant of his constitutional rights.

According to Agent Lee's testimony on voir dire, the defendant was not under arrest during his questioning on 31 May 1979. When Lee told defendant that he and Agent Bradley wanted to talk to him but that the defendant could leave anytime, defendant indicated he wanted to talk to them. When Lee told defendant that he had to advise him of his rights, defendant said it was not necessary. After Lee indicated to defendant that he might be arrested for the fire, defendant gave his statement. When Agent Lee was ready to leave, defendant made a request to talk to Agent Bradley with whom Lee left him. At 2:30 p.m., Lee checked to see if the defendant needed anything and to tell the defendant he could leave if he wanted to. The defendant did not leave, nor did he request anything. At 4:00 p.m., Lee returned to the room and asked the defendant if he were ready to leave, and at this time the three men left and walked to defendant's car in the parking lot. The defendant was not arrested until some three weeks later.

No threats, no promises of rewards or hope for rewards were made to defendant. Neither was there any promise or commitment that defendant's statement would be held in confidence. Defendant was not deprived of sustenance. The evidence on voir dire shows no "coercive environment". Defendant, free to leave at any time, was not in custody when he made his inculpatory statements.

The officers questioning defendant advised him several times of his constitutional rights, as would have been necessary in a custodial environment. Prior to administering the polygraph test, Agent Stout informed defendant of his rights, and defendant, a college graduate, signed a waiver which read, in pertinent part:

I, James E. Jeffries, being 32 years of age and of sound mind voluntarily without threats, duress, coercion, force, promises of immunity or reward and understandingly agree and stipulate to take a polygraph examination for the mutual benefit of myself, the State Bureau of Investigation and Shelby Police Department, I fully realize that I am not required to take this examination, I may first consult with an attorney or anyone I wish before either signing this form or taking the examination, I have the right to remain silent the entire time that I am here, anything I may say can be used against me in any court of law.

I have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before answering any questions and to have him present during questioning. If I cannot afford an attorney and desire one, an attorney will be appointed for me before any questioning if I wish. If I decide to answer questions now without a lawyer present, I will still have the right to stop answering at any time. I also have the right to stop answering at any time until I have talked to a lawyer, and I have the opportunity to exercise all these rights at any time I wish during the entire time I am here. Nevertheless, I voluntarily request and authorize A.S. Stout to proceed with the examination.

I do hereby authorize the State Bureau of Investigation, its officers, and/or employees to disclose both orally and in writing the examination results and opinions to employees and/or representatives of the Shelby Police Department. I have had the above read to me and fully understand the true contents thereof.

Witness by myself and signed by Mr. Jeffries. This examination was concluded at 11:45 a.m. on the above date. I completely reaffirm my above agreement. I knowingly and intelligently continue to waive all rights, including those listed in the second paragraph above and I willingly made all statements that I did. I also certify that during the entire time I was well treated, submitted myself freely to the examination

knowing that I could stop at any time so desired by merely saying I wished to stop or that I wished to consult an attorney. I remained of my own free will knowing that I could leave this room at any time I so desired and that there were no threats, promises, or any harm done to me during the entire period I have been here, either in connection with the examination or the signing of this consent.

After the test, Agent Lee offered to read defendant his rights, but he indicated then to Lee and later to Richardson that he understood those rights.

Defendant also contends that the statements he made to the law enforcement officials were involuntary and should have been suppressed. We must also disagree with this contention.

In ruling on the admissibility of an inculpatory statement, the trial judge should focus on "the question whether the behavior of the State's law enforcement officials was such as to overbear petitioner's will to resist and bring about confessions not freely self-determined . . .". Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 5 L. Ed. 2d 760, 81 S. Ct. 735 (1961). When defendant claims that he made a statement involuntarily, it is the duty of an appellate court to examine the record and to make a determination on the ultimate issue of voluntariness. Beckwith v. United States, 425 U.S. 341, 48 L. Ed. 2d 1, 96 S. Ct. 1612 (1975). We recognize that a person's will may be overcome by hope or fear, or by physical or psychological coercion. In the instant case, however, we find no evidence that defendant's will to resist was overcome by coercion or other devious means.

Defendant came voluntarily to the Law Enforcement Center. He submitted voluntarily to a polygraph test, and, when he was told that the person administering the test did not believe he was telling the truth, defendant made the first of three similar statements. The evidence was uncontradicted that defendant was reminded generally of his rights, that he actively declined to have them read to him again, and that he declined to exercise those rights. Defendant was neither threatened nor offered any reward or hope of reward. While the defendant makes much of the length of time he remained at the Center, there was evidence that he was told on several occasions that he could go. He was offered

food and drink, and he appeared normal. He was free to leave and did so, finally, at 4:00 p.m.

Defendant also argues that Lee's partner Bradley coerced him into making statements in confidence and that, thereafter, the defendant was coerced into repeating the statement to Agent Stout. In response to this, we note first that the trial court refused to allow the State to introduce the statement made to Bradley. Secondly, defendant's theory that such "confidence" carried into his statement to Stout is unsupported by the evidence. These assignments are overruled.


We next consider defendant's two broad assignments of error relating to the admission of evidence. He first assigns as error the admission of "exhibits and related testimony arising out of discovery materials which the prosecution failed to timely and meaningfully furnish to the defense in compliance with the court's pretrial discovery orders and by sanctioning [the] prosecutorial concealment of exculpatory material". Defendant notes 108 exceptions he took to the introduction of such evidence which included cans of vinyl flooring, tests conducted by witnesses ...

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