pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-30(2) from the decision of a
divided panel of the Court of Appeals, __ N.C.App. __, 785
S.E.2d 324 (2016), finding no prejudicial error after appeal
from a judgment entered on 7 February 2014 by Judge Kendra D.
Hill in Superior Court, Wake County. On 9 June 2016, the
Supreme Court allowed the State's petition for
discretionary review of an additional issue. The case was
calendared for argument in the Supreme Court on 14 February
2017, but was determined on the briefs without oral argument
pursuant to N.C. R. App. P. 30(d).
H. Stein, Attorney General, by Amy Kunstling Irene, Special
Deputy Attorney General, for the State-appellee/appellant.
M. Cooley for defendant-appellant/appellee.
MARTIN, Chief Justice.
Thomas Knight allegedly raped and assaulted T.H., the victim,
at her home in October 2012. Wearing only a shirt, T.H.
eventually escaped and ran to a neighbor's house to get
help. Her neighbor gave her a pair of pants to wear and
called the police. Evidence that the police recovered from
T.H.'s home was consistent with her account of the
events. The police soon apprehended defendant at a nearby gas
station. When the police found defendant, he was carrying two
cell phones, one of which belonged to T.H.
police took defendant to a police station for questioning.
Detective Jeff Wenhart began questioning defendant at around
10:30 or 10:45 p.m. that evening. In the video-recorded
interrogation, which lasted under forty minutes, defendant
acknowledged spending time with T.H. at her home earlier in
the evening but vehemently denied having sexual relations
with her and denied any wrongdoing.
was charged with common law robbery, assault on a female,
interfering with emergency communication, second-degree rape,
second-degree sexual offense, and first-degree kidnapping. He
was tried before a jury, with the Honorable Reuben F. Young
presiding. Defendant moved to suppress the custodial
statements that he made to Detective Wenhart at the police
station, claiming that the State had not proved that he had
understood his Miranda rights or that he had
explicitly waived them. Judge Young granted defendant's
motion and suppressed the statements. At the close of
evidence, the trial court dismissed the common law robbery
charge and the interfering-with-emergency-communication
charge. The jury found defendant guilty of assault on a
female but could not reach a unanimous verdict on the other
three charges that remained. As a result, the trial court
sentenced defendant for his assault-on-a-female conviction
and declared a mistrial on the other three charges.
six months later, defendant was retried before a new jury,
with the Honorable Kendra D. Hill presiding, on those three
charges-namely, second-degree rape, second-degree sexual
offense, and first-degree kidnapping. At defendant's
second trial, defendant again moved to suppress the custodial
statements that he made to Detective Wenhart. Judge Hill held
a voir dire hearing, heard the arguments of the parties,
viewed the video recording of defendant's custodial
interrogation, and ruled that defendant's custodial
statements were admissible.
findings of fact that supported her ruling, Judge Hill noted
that, when Detective Wenhart began to read defendant his
Miranda rights and told defendant that he had a
right to remain silent, "[d]efendant immediately said[,
] are you arresting me?" Judge Hill also explained that,
at the time, defendant "was clearly detained, and yet
the reading of the rights triggered in the defendant's
mind that this was an arrest, which to the [trial] [c]ourt
provides some indication of knowledge" and
"understanding about Miranda to some
extent." Plus, "[c]lear language was used [by
Detective Wenhart] here." "The defendant, "
moreover, was "an adult . . . in his 30s at the time of
this" interrogation and gave "no indication to the
[trial] [c]ourt" that he had "any cognitive
problems." In addition, Judge Hill observed that
"[d]efendant ha[d] a prior criminal history" and
thus had "some knowledge and familiarity with the
criminal justice system." Finally, "the discussion
prior to the full reading of the rights made it clear that
the defendant was seeking information . . . and wanted to
provide information with regard to his indication of what had
been done here." Judge Hill concluded that the
discussion "indicat[ed] a willingness for the defendant
to speak to" Detective Wenhart and noted that defendant
"actually sa[id] to the officer[, ] I want to be frank
with you, I want to explain this to you."
on these findings of fact, Judge Hill found, under the
totality of the circumstances, that there was "enough to
determine that the defendant understood his Miranda
rights" and that, "through his continued
discussion[, ] . . . he voluntarily waived those rights in
providing a statement to Detective Wenhart." At the
close of defendant's second trial, the jury found him
guilty of second-degree rape and first-degree kidnapping and
not guilty of second-degree sexual offense. Defendant gave
oral notice of appeal.
the Court of Appeals, defendant argued, among other things,
that Judge Hill erred when she denied defendant's motion
to suppress his custodial statements. The Court of Appeals
unanimously agreed that Judge Hill had erred because the
State had not shown that defendant actually understood his
Miranda rights State v Knight, __NC App.__, __, __,
785 S.E.2d 324, 333-36, 338-40 (2016); Id. at__, 785
S.E.2d at 340 (Stroud, J, concurring in part and dissenting
in part) The Court of Appeals therefore concluded that
defendant had not knowingly and intelligently waived his
rights Id. at__, 785 S.E.2d at 336 (majority
opinion); Id. at__, 785 S.E.2d at 340 (Stroud, J,
concurring in part and dissenting in part). A majority of the
panel nevertheless held that Judge Hill's purported error
was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and thus found no
prejudicial error in defendant's second trial.
Id. at__, __, 785 S.E.2d at 336-38, 340 (majority
opinion). A dissenting judge disagreed and would have granted
defendant a new trial. Id. at__, 785 S.E.2d at
340-41 (Stroud, J., concurring in part and dissenting in
appealed to this Court based on the dissenting opinion. The
State filed a petition for discretionary review of an
additional issue, namely, whether the Court of Appeals'
ruling that defendant did not understand his Miranda
rights and therefore did not knowingly and intelligently
waive them was correct. We allowed the petition. By consent
of the parties, the case was submitted for decision on the
briefs under Rule 30(d) of the North Carolina Rules of
Fifth Amendment, which applies to the states through the
Fourteenth Amendment, see Griffin v. California, 380
U.S. 609, 611, 615 (1965), provides that no person
"shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness
against himself, " U.S. Const. amend. V. To protect this
right, the Supreme Court of the United States has formulated
a set of prophylactic warnings that criminal suspects must
receive for any custodial statements that they make to be
admissible in court. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384
U.S. 436, 478-79 (1966). The substance of those warnings has
not changed over the last fifty years. See Berghuis v.
Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370, 380 (2010).
defendant may, however, waive his Miranda rights as
long as he waives them voluntarily, knowingly, and
intelligently. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444; State
v. Simpson, 314 N.C. 359, 367, 334 S.E.2d 53, 59 (1985).
A court's waiver inquiry has two distinct dimensions.
Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 421 (1986). First, a
court must determine whether the waiver was "voluntary
in the sense that it was the product of a free and deliberate
choice rather than intimidation, coercion, or
deception." Id. Second, a court must determine
that the waiver was knowing and intelligent-that is, that it
was "made with a full awareness of both the nature of
the right being abandoned and the consequences of the
decision to abandon it." Id.
waiver can be either express or implied. See State v.
Connley, 297 N.C. 584, 586, 256 S.E.2d 234, 235-36
(order on remand) (citing North Carolina v. Butler,
441 U.S. 369, 373 (1979)), cert. denied, 444 U.S.
954 (1979). "An express written or oral statement of
waiver of the right to remain silent or of the right to
counsel is usually strong proof of the validity of that
waiver, but is not inevitably either necessary or sufficient
to establish waiver." Id. at 586, 256 S.E.2d at
235 (quoting Butler, 441 U.S. at 373). A court may
properly conclude that a defendant has waived his
Miranda rights only if the totality of the
circumstances surrounding the defendant's interrogation
show both that he adequately understands them and that he was
not coerced into waiving them. Moran, 475 U.S. at
421; see also State v. Fincher, 309 N.C. 1, 19, 305
S.E.2d 685, 697 (1983). Whether a defendant has knowingly and
intelligently waived his Miranda rights therefore
"depends on the specific facts and circumstances of each
case, including the [defendant's] background, experience,
and conduct." Simpson, 314 N.C. at 367, 334
S.E.2d at 59 (citing, inter alia, Edwards v.
Arizona, 451 U.S. 477, 482 (1981)). And although the
Supreme Court has stated that the State bears a "heavy
burden" in proving waiver, Miranda, 384 U.S. at
475, the Court later clarified that "the State need
prove waiver only by a preponderance of the evidence, "
Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 168 (1986),
cited in Berghuis, 560 U.S. at 384.
recently, in Berghuis v. Thompkins, the Supreme
Court addressed whether a defendant who was "[l]argely
silent" during a nearly three hour custodial
interrogation had invoked his Miranda rights, and
also addressed whether he had waived them. See 560
U.S. at 375 (brackets in original; internal quotation marks
omitted); id. at 380-87. After receiving his
Miranda warnings, Van Chester Thompkins, the
defendant in Berghuis, gave only "a few limited
verbal responses" to the police officers' questions,
"such as 'yeah, ' 'no, ' or 'I
don't know.' " Id. at 375. "About
2 hours and 45 minutes into the interrogation, " one of
the interrogating police officers asked Thompkins if he
believed in God. Id. at 376. He replied, "Yes,
" and "his eyes welled up with tears."
Id. (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted).
The officer asked Thompkins if he prayed to God, and he
replied, "Yes." Id. The officer then asked
him if he prayed to God "to forgive [him] for shooting
that boy down, " and he "answered 'Yes' and
looked away." Id.
Court held that Thompkins had not invoked his right to remain
silent under Miranda. Id. at 382. It ruled
that a suspect must invoke his right to remain silent
unambiguously, and that Thompkins had not done so. See
id. at 381-82 (citing, inter alia, Davis v. United
States, 512 U.S. 452, 458-62 (1994)). The Court also
held that Thompkins waived his right to remain silent.
Id. at 385, 387. It found that he had understood his
Miranda rights, that he ...