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North Carolina v. Johnson

Filed: January 12, 1982.

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
JAMES RAY JOHNSON



Defendant appeals from judgment of Strickland, J., 5 January 1981 Criminal Session, New Hanover Superior Court.

Huskins, Justice.

Huskins

Defendant first assigns as error the denial of his motion to suppress his statement without finding beyond a reasonable doubt that the State had sustained its burden of proving that defendant's statement was voluntarily given.

The United States Constitution forbids the admission in a criminal trial of a confession coerced from a defendant. Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 5 L. Ed. 2d 760, 81 S. Ct. 735 (1961). In North Carolina, the legislature has statutorily specified the procedures for determining whether a defendant's statements are voluntarily made. When the prosecution seeks to use a defendant's statement in his criminal trial, the defendant may challenge the admissibility of this evidence by a motion to suppress. G.S. 15A-972. The statement must be suppressed if its exclusion is required by the United States Constitution or the North Carolina Constitution, i.e., if it was obtained by coercion. G.S. 15A-974. In determining the admissibility of the statement, the trial court must follow the procedures outlined in G.S. 15A-977. These include conducting a hearing, making findings of fact and conclusions of law, and setting forth in the record the findings and conclusions. G.S. 15A-977(d)(f). The findings of fact must include findings on the issue of voluntariness. State v. Barfield, 298 N.C. 306, 259 S.E.2d 510 (1979), cert. denied, 448 U.S. 907, 65 L. Ed. 2d 1137, 100 S. Ct. 3050 (1980). The State must affirmatively show that a defendant was fully informed of his rights and voluntarily waived them. State v. Biggs, 289 N.C. 522, 223 S.E.2d 371 (1976).

The quantum of proof required to establish the voluntariness of a statement is not specified in G.S. 15A-977 and has never been articulated by this Court. Defendant urges the adoption of a requirement that the State prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant's statement was voluntarily given.

Defendant's argument was considered and rejected by the United States Supreme Court in Lego v. Twomey, 404 U.S. 477, 30 L. Ed. 2d 618, 92 S. Ct. 619 (1972). The Court there held that the United States Constitution requires a showing of voluntariness by a preponderance of the evidence. The decision left the states free, however, to adopt a higher standard pursuant to their own laws.

Several states have adopted the reasonable doubt standard. See People v. Jimenez, 21 Cal. 3d 595, 147 Cal. Rptr. 172, 580 P. 2d 672 (1978); Magley v. State, 263 Ind. 618, 335 N.E. 2d 811 (1975); State v. Johnson, 327 So. 2d 388 (La. 1976); State v. Tardiff, 374 A. 2d 598 (Me. 1977); Younger v. State, 301 So. 2d 300 (Miss. 1974); State v. Phinney, 117 N.H. 145, 370 A. 2d 1153 (1977); State v. Whittington, 142 N.J. Super. 45, 359 A. 2d 881 (App. Div. 1976); People v. Brown, 44 A.D. 2d 769, 354 N.Y.S. 2d 263 (1974); State v. Aschmeller, 87 S.D. 367, 209 N.W. 2d 369 (1973); Valerio v. State 494 S.W. 2d 892 (Tex. Crim. App. 1973); Blaszke v. State, 69 Wis. 2d 81, 230 N.W. 2d 133 (1975). One jurisdiction has adopted an intermediate "clear and convincing evidence" test. State v. Bello, R.I. , 417 A. 902 (1980). The majority of jurisdictions considering the question have adhered to the preponderance test set out in Lego. See Thomas v. State, 393 So. 2d 504 (Ala. Ct. App. 1981); McMahan v. State, 617 P. 2d 494 (Alaska 1980); State v. Osbond, 128 Ariz. 76, 623 P. 2d 1232 (1981); Harris v. State, 271 Ark. 568, 609 S.W. 2d 48 (1980); People v. Fordyce, Colo. , 612 P. 2d 1131 (1980); State v. Hawthorne, 176 Conn. 367, 407 A. 2d 1001 (1978); Mealey v. State, 347 A. 2d 651 (Del. Super. 1975); Finley v. State, 378 So. 2d 842 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1979); Gates v. State, 244 Ga. 587, 261 S.E.2d 349 (1979), cert. denied, 445 U.S. 983, 63 L. Ed. 2d 772, 100 S. Ct. 1332 (1980); People v. Cozzi, 93 Ill. App. 3d 94, 416 N.E. 2d 1192 (1981); State v. Jacoby, 260 N.W. 2d 828 (Iowa 1977); State v. Stephenson, 217 Kan. 169, 535 P. 2d 940 (1975); Tabor v. Commonwealth, 613 S.W. 2d 133 (Ky. 1981); State v. Kidd, 281 Md. 32, 375 A. 2d 1105, cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1002, 54 L. Ed. 2d 498, 98 S. Ct. 646 (1977); State v. Young, 610 S.W. 2d 8 (Mo. App. 1980); State v. Davison, Mont. , 614 P. 2d 489

(1980); Commonwealth v. Farrington, 270 Pa. Super. Ct. 400, 411 A. 2d 780 (1979); State v. Smith, 268 S.C. 349, 234 S.E.2d 19 (1977); Griffin v. State, 604 S.W. 2d 40 (Tenn. 1980); State v. Brezmick, 134 Vt. 261, 356 A. 2d 540 (1976); Griggs v. Commonwealth, 220 Va. 46, 255 S.E.2d 475 (1979); State v. Brawn, 82 Wash. 2d 157, 509 P. 2d 742 (1973); State v. Milam, W.Va. , 260 S.E.2d 295 (1979); Raigosa v. State, 562 P. 2d 1009 (Wyo. 1977).

For the reasons enunciated in Lego, we adopt the preponderance test as the appropriate standard to be applied by trial courts in North Carolina. In Lego, the Court first noted that the due process requirement prohibiting admission of coerced confessions does not depend upon the truth or falsity of the confessions. 404 U.S. at 483-84, 30 L. Ed. 2d at 624, 92 S. Ct. at 624. "The use of coerced confessions, whether true or false, is forbidden because the method used to extract them offends constitutional principles. Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 540-41, 5 L. Ed. 2d 760, 766, 81 S. Ct. 735, 739 (1961)." Id. at 485, 30 L. Ed. 2d at 625, 92 S. Ct. at 624-25. The purpose that a voluntariness hearing is designed to serve is to prevent the use of unconstitutional methods in obtaining confessions and "has nothing whatever to do with improving the reliability of jury verdicts"; therefore the Court reasoned that judging the admissibility of a confession by a preponderance of the evidence does not undermine the holding of In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 25 L. Ed. 2d 368, 90 S. Ct. 1068 (1970). Id. at 486, 30 L. Ed. 2d at 626, 92 S. Ct. at 625. The Court ruled in Winship that an accused may be convicted only upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime charged. 397 U.S. at 364, 25 L. Ed. 2d at 375, 90 S. Ct. at 1073. The petitioner in Lego did not contend that either his confession or its voluntariness was an element of the crime charged. Therefore, his rights under Winship were not violated.

No provision in the North Carolina Constitution expressly or implicitly requires this Court to adopt a higher quantum of proof than that required by the United States Supreme Court in its interpretation of the United States Constitution. Defendant has failed to show that the rights of an accused are not adequately protected by the United States Constitution. We therefore decline to interpret the North Carolina Constitution to require proof of voluntariness ...


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