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State v. Saldierna

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

July 18, 2017

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
FELIX RICARDO SALDIERNA

         On remand from the Supreme Court of North Carolina in accordance with their opinion, __ N.C. __, 794 S.E.2d 474 (2016). Previously heard by this Court on 2 June 2015, __ N.C.App. __, 775 S.E.2d 326 (2015), from appeal by defendant from order entered 20 February 2014 by Judge Forrest D. Bridges and judgment entered 4 June 2014 by Judge Jesse B. Caldwell in Mecklenburg County Superior Court, Nos. 13 CRS 201161, 201164, 202210, 202213, The issue addressed on remand is the validity of defendant's waiver of his statutory and constitutional rights.

          Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Assistant Attorney General Jennifer St. Clair Watson, for the State.

          Goodman Carr, PLLC, by W. Rob Heroy, for defendant.

          BRYANT, Judge.

         Where the totality of the circumstances shows that the juvenile defendant did not knowingly, willingly, and understandingly waive his rights pursuant to the State and federal constitutions or N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-2101(d), the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion to suppress his statement made to an interrogating officer, and we reverse, vacate, and remand.

         Juvenile defendant Felix Ricardo Saldierna was arrested on 9 January 2013 at his home in South Carolina in connection with incidents involving several homes around Charlotte that had been broken into on 17 and 18 December 2012.[1] Before questioning, the detective read defendant his rights and asked whether he understood them. Defendant ultimately signed a Juvenile Waiver of Rights form, of which defendant had been given two copies-one in English and one in Spanish. After initialing and signing the English language form, Felix, who was sixteen years old at the time, asked to call his mother before undergoing custodial questioning by Detective Kelly of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. The call was allowed, but defendant could not reach his mother. The custodial interrogation then began. Over the course of the interrogation, defendant confessed his involvement in the incidents in Charlotte on 17 and 18 December 2012.

         On 22 January 2013,

[d]efendant was indicted . . . for two counts of felony breaking and entering, conspiracy to commit breaking and entering, and conspiracy to commit common law larceny after breaking and entering. On 9 October 2013, defendant moved to suppress his confession, arguing that it was illegally obtained in violation both of his rights as a juvenile under N.C. G.S. § 7B-2101 and of his rights under the United States Constitution. After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied the motion in an order entered on 20 February 2014, finding as facts that defendant was advised of his juvenile rights and, after receiving forms setting out these rights both in English and Spanish and having the rights read to him in English by [Detective] Kelly, indicated that he understood them. In addition, the trial court found that defendant informed [Detective] Kelly that he wished to waive his juvenile rights and signed the form memorializing that wish.
. . . .
On 4 June 2014, defendant entered pleas of guilty to two counts of felony breaking and entering and two counts of conspiracy to commit breaking and entering, while reserving his right to appeal from the denial of his motion to suppress. The court sentenced defendant to a term of six to seventeen months, suspended for thirty-six months subject to supervised probation.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's order denying defendant's motion to suppress, vacated the judgments entered upon defendant's guilty pleas, and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. The Court of Appeals recognized that the trial court correctly found that defendant's statement asking to telephone his mother was ambiguous at best. . . . [but it] held that when a juvenile between the ages of fourteen and eighteen makes an ambiguous statement that potentially pertains to the right to have a parent present, an interviewing officer must clarify the juvenile's meaning before proceeding with questioning.

Saldierna, __ N.C. at __, 794 S.E.2d at 476-77 (footnote omitted) (citations omitted). The Supreme Court of North Carolina granted the State's petition for discretionary review. Id. at __, 794 S.E.2d at 477.

         In reviewing this Court's opinion in Saldierna, the Supreme Court reasoned that "[a]lthough defendant asked to call his mother, he never gave any indication that he wanted to have her present for his interrogation, nor did he condition his interview on first speaking with her." Id. at __, 794 S.E.2d at 479. As a result, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals "[b]ecause defendant's juvenile statutory rights were not violated[.]" Id. However, in doing so, the Supreme Court noted that "[e]ven though we have determined that defendant's N.C. G.S. § 7B-2101(a)(3) right [(to have a parent present during questioning)] was not violated, defendant's confession is not admissible unless he knowingly, willingly, and understandingly waived his rights." Id. (citing N.C. G.S. § 7B-2101(d)). Thus, the case was remanded to this Court "for consideration of the validity of defendant's waiver of his statutory and constitutional rights." Id.

         As the Supreme Court of North Carolina has determined that defendant's N.C. G.S. § 7B-2101(a)(3) right was not violated as "defendant's request to call his mother was not a clear invocation of his right to consult a parent or guardian before proceeding with the questioning[, ]" Saldierna, __ N.C. at __, 794 S.E.2d at 475, the question before us now on remand is whether defendant knowingly, willingly, and understandingly waived his rights under section 7B-2101 of the North Carolina General Statutes and under the constitutions of North Carolina and the United States, so as to make his confession admissible. We conclude that he did not.

"The standard of review in evaluating the denial of a motion to suppress is whether competent evidence supports the trial court's findings of fact and whether the findings of fact support the conclusions of law." State v. Biber, 365 N.C. 162, 167-68, 712 S.E.2d 874, 878 (2011) (citing State v. Brooks, 337 N.C. 132, 140-41, 446 S.E.2d 579, 585 (1994)). Findings of fact [as to whether a waiver of rights was made knowingly, willingly, and understandingly] are binding on appeal if [they are] supported by competent evidence, State v. Cooke, 306 N.C. 132, 134, 291 S.E.2d 618, 619 (1982) (citations omitted), while conclusions of law [regarding whether a waiver of rights was valid and a subsequent confession voluntary, ] are reviewed de novo, State v. Ortiz-Zape, 367 N.C. 1, 5, 743 S.E.2d 156, 159 (2013) (citing Biber, 365 N.C. at 168, 712 S.E.2d at 878), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 2660, 189 L.Ed.2d 208 (2014).

Id. at __, 794 S.E.2d at 477.

         "In order to protect the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self- incrimination, suspects, including juveniles, are entitled to the warnings set forth in Miranda v. Arizona, prior to police questioning." In re K.D.L., 207 N.C.App. 453, 457, 700 S.E.2d 766, 770 (2010) (citing 384 U.S. 436, 478-79, 16 L.Ed.2d 694, 726 (1966)). Thus,

[t]he North Carolina Juvenile Code provides additional protection for juveniles. Juveniles who are "in custody" must be advised of the following before questioning begins:
(1) That the juvenile has the right to remain silent;
(2)That any statement the juvenile does make can be and may be used against the juvenile;
(3)That the juvenile has a right to have a parent, guardian, or custodian present during questioning; and
(4)That the juvenile has a right to consult with an attorney and that one will be appointed for the juvenile if the juvenile is not represented and wants representation.

Id. at 457-58, 700 S.E.2d at 770 (quoting N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-2101(a)(1)-(4) (2009)). "Previous decisions by our appellate division indicate the general Miranda custodial interrogation framework is applicable to section 7B-2101." Id. at 458, 700 S.E.2d at 770 (citing In re W.R., 363 N.C. 244, 247, 675 S.E.2d 342, 344 (2009)); see id. at 459, 700 S.E.2d at 771 ("[W]e cannot forget that police interrogation is inherently coercive-particularly for young people." (citations omitted)).

         "Before admitting into evidence any statement resulting from custodial interrogation, [2] the court shall find that the juvenile knowingly, willingly, and understandingly waived the juvenile's rights." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-2101(d) (2015); State v. Oglesby, 361 N.C. 550, 555, 648 S.E.2d 819, 822 (2007) ("Before allowing evidence to be admitted from a juvenile's custodial interrogation, a trial court is required to 'find that the juvenile knowingly, willingly, and understandingly waived the juvenile's rights.' " (quoting N.C. G.S. § 7B-2101(d))).[3]

         "Whether a waiver is knowingly and intelligently made depends on the specific facts and circumstances of each case, including the background, experience, and conduct of the accused." State v. Simpson, 314 N.C. 359, 367, 334 S.E.2d 53, 59 (1985) (citations omitted). "When determining the voluntariness of a confession, we examine the 'totality of the circumstances surrounding the confession.' " State v. Hicks, 333 N.C. 467, 482, 428 S.E.2d 167, 176 (1993) (quoting State v. Barlow, 330 N.C. 133, 140-41, 409 S.E.2d 906, 911 (1991)), abrogated by State v. Buchanan, 353 N.C. 332, 543 S.E.2d 823 (2001). Furthermore, "an express written waiver, while strong proof of the validity of the waiver, is not inevitably sufficient to establish a valid waiver." Simpson, 314 N.C. at 367, 334 S.E.2d at 59 (emphasis added) (citation omitted).

         "The State must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant made a knowing and intelligent waiver of his rights and that his statement was voluntary." State v. Flowers, 128 N.C.App. 697, 701, 497 S.E.2d 94, 97 (1998) (citing State v. Thibodeaux, 341 N.C. 53, 58, 459 S.E.2d 501, 505 (1995)). Indeed, "the burden upon the State to ensure a juvenile's rights are protected is greater than in the criminal prosecution of an adult." In re M.L.T.H., 200 N.C.App. 476, 489, 685 S.E.2d 117, 126 (2009) (citing In re T.E.F., 359 N.C. 570, 575, 614 S.E.2d 296, 299 (2005)); see also Simpson, 314 N.C. at 367, 334 S.E.2d at 59 ("The prosecution bears the burden of demonstrating that the waiver was knowingly and intelligently made[.]" (citation omitted)).

         Here, in denying defendant's motion to suppress his confession, the trial court found and concluded in relevant part as follows regarding defendant's waiver of his juvenile rights:

         FINDINGS OF FACT

1. That Defendant was in custody.
2. That Defendant was advised of his juvenile rights pursuant to North Carolina General Statute § 7B-2101.
3. That Detective Kelly of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department advised Defendant of his juvenile rights.
4. That Defendant was advised of his juvenile rights in three manners. Defendant was advised of his juvenile rights in spoken English, in written English, and in written Spanish.
5. That Defendant indicated that he understood his juvenile rights as given to him by Detective Kelly.
6. That Defendant indicated he understood his rights after being given and reviewing a form enumerating those rights in Spanish.
7. That Defendant indicated he understood that he had the right to remain silent. Defendant understood that to mean that he did not have to say anything or answer any questions. Defendant initialed next to this right at number 1 on the English rights form provided to him by Detective Kelly to signify his understanding.
8. That Defendant indicated he understood that anything he said could be used against him. Defendant initialed next to this right at number 2 on the English rights form provided to him by Detective Kelly to signify his understanding.
9. That Defendant indicated he understood that he had the right to have a parent, guardian, or custodian there with him during questioning. Defendant understood the word parent meant his mother, father, stepmother, or stepfather. Defendant understood the word guardian meant the person responsible for taking care of him. Defendant understood the word custodian meant the person in charge of him where he was living. Defendant initialed next to this ...

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