raised in the supplemental briefs heard on 13 June 2017.
review pursuant to order of this Court entered on 10 June
2016 following oral argument on 18 May 2016 in session in the
Old Burke County Courthouse in the City of Morganton pursuant
to N.C. G.S. § 7A-10(a), in which the Court vacated the
opinion of the Court of Appeals in State v.
Hammonds, ___ N.C.App. ___, 777 S.E.2d 359 (2015),
vacated an order denying defendant's motion to suppress
entered on 24 July 2014 by Judge Tanya T. Wallace in Superior
Court, Union County, and certified the case to the trial
court for a new hearing and entry of a new order on
defendant's motion to suppress. State v.
Hammonds, 368 N.C. 906, 789 S.E.2d 1 (2016). The Court
ordered the parties to submit supplemental briefs after
certification of the new order to this Court.
H. Stein, Attorney General, by Joseph E. Elder, Assistant
Attorney General, for the State.
Gerding, Appellate Defender, by Anne M. Gomez, Assistant
Appellate Defender, for defendant-appellant.
are asked to decide whether the trial court properly
concluded that defendant was not subjected to a custodial
interrogation as defined in Miranda v. Arizona, 384
U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), when police
questioned him while he was confined under a civil commitment
order. After considering the totality of the circumstances,
we conclude that defendant was in custody for
Miranda purposes. Therefore, the failure of police
to advise him of his rights under Miranda rendered
inadmissible the incriminating statements he made during the
interrogation. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's
order denying his motion to suppress those statements.
Because this error was prejudicial, we vacate defendant's
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
evening of 10 December 2012 in Monroe, North Carolina, a man
stole Stephanie Gaddy's purse in a parking lot while
threatening her with a handgun. Shortly after 1:00 p.m. on 11
December 2012, Defendant Tae Kwon Hammonds was taken to the
emergency room at a local hospital following an intentional
overdose. An involuntary commitment order was issued at 3:50
p.m. upon a finding by a Union County magistrate that
defendant was "mentally ill and dangerous to self or
others." As directed in the order, the Union County
Sheriff's Office took defendant into custody at 4:32 p.m.
that same day.
using surveillance footage to identify defendant as a suspect
in the robbery, investigators learned that he was confined at
the hospital under the involuntary commitment order. In the
early evening of 12 December, while defendant was
hospitalized under that order, he was questioned by Detective
Jonathan Williams and his supervisor, Lieutenant T.J.
Goforth, both of the Monroe Police Department, for about an
hour and a half. Without informing him of his
Miranda rights, the officers elicited
self-incriminating statements from defendant during the
interview. Defendant was discharged from the hospital later
that evening and transported to a treatment facility.
February 2013, the Union County Grand Jury indicted defendant
for robbery with a dangerous weapon. On 30 June 2014,
defendant moved to suppress all statements he made to police
during the 12 December 2012 interview. In support of his
motion, defendant asserted that (1) he was in custody when
the statements were taken and was not informed of his
Miranda rights at that time, and (2) even if he was
not in custody, his statements were not made voluntarily.
was tried during the criminal session of Superior Court,
Union County, that began on 30 June 2014 before Judge Tanya
T. Wallace. After hearing defendant's motion to suppress,
the trial court denied the motion on 1 July 2014. The court
also denied defendant's motion to dismiss at the close of
the State's evidence. A jury convicted defendant as
charged, and the court sentenced him to sixty to eighty- four
months of imprisonment. The court also ordered defendant to
pay, inter alia, fifty dollars in restitution to the
victim. On 24 July 2014, the court entered a written order on
the motion to suppress in which it made findings of fact and
conclusions of law.
appealed to the Court of Appeals, which on 20 October 2015
issued a divided opinion that found no error in the
guilt-innocence portion of defendant's trial but vacated
the portion of the trial court's judgment ordering
defendant to pay restitution to the victim and remanded the
case for a new hearing on that issue. State v.
Hammonds, ___ N.C.App. ___, ___, 777 S.E.2d 359, 371-72
(2015). Regarding defendant's challenge to the trial
court's denial of his suppression motion, the majority
(1) concluded that "the trial court properly considered
all of the factors to determine if defendant was in custody
and did not err in its conclusion of law that based on the
totality of the circumstances, defendant was not in custody
at the time he was interviewed, " and (2) held that
"the trial court's findings of fact support its
conclusion of law that defendant's confession was
voluntary." Id. at ___, ___, 777 S.E.2d at 368,
dissenting judge, however, concluded that the trial
court's findings of fact did not reflect consideration of
whether defendant "was physically restrained from
leaving the place of interrogation" or whether he
"was free to refuse to answer questions."
Id. at ___, 777 S.E.2d at 374 (Inman, J.,
dissenting) (quoting State v. Fisher, 158
N.C.App. 133, 145, 580 S.E.2d 405, 415 (2003), aff'd
per curiam, 358 N.C. 215, 593 S.E.2d 583 (2004)). The
dissenting judge stated that she would reverse the trial
court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress and
remand "for reconsideration of the motion and the entry
of findings and conclusions based upon all pertinent
factors." Id. at ___, 777 S.E.2d at 375.
Defendant filed his appeal of right, and on 28 January 2016
this Court allowed defendant's petition for discretionary
review to consider additional issues.
June 2016, this Court vacated the opinion of the Court of
Appeals and the trial court's orders denying
defendant's motion to suppress, and we instructed the
trial court to hold a new hearing on the motion to suppress.
State v. Hammonds, 368 N.C. 906, 789 S.E.2d 1
(2016). We directed the trial court to "apply a totality
of the circumstances test" when rehearing the motion and
to consider all factors, including "whether the
involuntarily committed defendant 'was told that he was
free to end the questioning.' " Id. at
907-08, 789 S.E.2d at 2 (quoting Howes v. Fields,
565 U.S. 499, 517, 132 S.Ct. 1181, 1194, 182 L.Ed.2d 17, 32
taking additional evidence at a new suppression hearing, the
trial court entered an order on 27 September 2016 that again
denied defendant's motion to suppress. As directed by
this Court, the trial court made new findings of fact and
conclusions of law in its order. The matter is now back
before this Court for review.
appeal, in addition to challenging several of the trial
court's findings of fact, defendant argues that the
court's undisputed findings do not support its
conclusions of law that (1) he was not in custody for
purposes of Miranda during his 12 December 2012
interrogation, and (2) his statements to police during that
interrogation were voluntary.
standard of review in evaluating a trial court's
"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. Jackson, 368 N.C. 75, 78, 772
S.E.2d 847, 849 (2015) (quoting State v. Otto, 366
N.C. 134, 136, 726 S.E.2d 824, 827 (2012)). "[T]he trial
court's findings of fact 'are conclusive on appeal if
supported by competent evidence, even if the evidence is
conflicting.' " State v. Buchanan, 353 N.C.
332, 336, 543 S.E.2d 823, 826 (2001) (quoting State v.
Brewington, 352 N.C. 489, 498, 532 S.E.2d 496, 501
(2000), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1165, 121 S.Ct. 1126,
148 L.Ed.2d 992 (2001)).
of law are fully reviewable on appeal. State v.
Greene, 332 N.C. 565, 577, 422 S.E.2d 730, 737 (1992).
"[T]he trial court's conclusions of law must be
legally correct, reflecting a correct application of
applicable legal principles to the facts found."
Buchanan, 353 N.C. at 336, 543 S.E.2d at 826
(alteration in original) (quoting State v. Golphin,
352 N.C. 364, 409, 533 S.E.2d 168, 201 (2000), cert.
denied, 532 U.S. 931, 121 S.Ct. 1379, 149 L.Ed.2d 305
(2001)). A trial court's determination of whether an
interrogation is conducted while a person is "in
custody" for purposes of Miranda is a
conclusion of law and thus fully reviewable by this Court.
Id. at 336, 543 S.E.2d at 826.
reasons set forth below, we hold that the trial court's
conclusion that defendant was not in custody for purposes of
Miranda reflected an incorrect application of legal
principles to the facts found by the trial
Miranda the United States Supreme Court recognized
the "inherently compelling pressures" exerted upon
an individual during an in-custody interrogation by law
enforcement officers. 384 U.S. at 467, 86 S.Ct. at 1624, 16
L.Ed.2d at 719. As a result, the Court prescribed procedural
safeguards designed "to combat these pressures and to
permit a full opportunity to exercise the [Fifth Amendment]
privilege against self-incrimination." Id. at
467, 86 S.Ct. at 1624, 16 L.Ed.2d at 719. These safeguards
require that a defendant "be warned prior to any
questioning that he has the right to remain silent, that
anything he says can be used against him in a court of law,
that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and
that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed
for him prior to any questioning if he so desires."
Id. at 479, 86 S.Ct. at 1630, 16 L.Ed.2d at 726.
Miranda warning is only required, however, when an
individual is subjected to a "custodial
interrogation." Barden, 356 N.C. at 337, 572
S.E.2d at 123 (citing, inter alia, Miranda,
384 U.S. at 444, 86 S.Ct. at 1612, 16 L.Ed.2d at 706). A
"custodial interrogation" occurs when
"questioning [is] 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." Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444, 86 S.Ct. at
1612, 16 L.Ed.2d at 706. In determining whether an individual
was subjected to a custodial interrogation, courts consider
whether, "based on the totality of the circumstances, .
. . there was a 'formal arrest or [a] restraint on
freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal
arrest.' " Buchanan, 353 N.C. at 339, 543
S.E.2d at 828 (quoting State v. Gaines, 345 N.C.
647, 662, 483 S.E.2d 396, 405, cert.
denied, 522 U.S. 900, 118 S.Ct. 248, 139 L.Ed.2d 177
Two discrete inquiries are essential to [this] determination:
first, what were the circumstances surrounding the
interrogation; and second, given those circumstances, would a
reasonable person have felt he or she was [not] at liberty to
terminate the interrogation and leave. Once the scene is set
and the players' lines and actions are reconstructed, the
court must apply an objective test to resolve the ultimate
inquiry: was there a formal arrest or restraint on freedom of
movement of the degree associated with formal arrest.
J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 564 U.S. 261, 270, 131
S.Ct. 2394, 2402, 180 L.Ed.2d 310, 322 (2011) (quoting
Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112, 116 S.Ct.
457, 465, 133 L.Ed.2d 383, 394 (1995) (brackets, internal
quotation marks, and citations omitted)). Custody for
Miranda purposes "depends on the objective
circumstances of the interrogation, not on the subjective
views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the
person being questioned." Stansbury v.
California, 511 U.S. 318, 323, 114 S.Ct. 1526, 1529, 128
L.Ed.2d 293, 298 (1994) (per curiam). That is, "the only
relevant inquiry is how a reasonable man in the suspect's
position would have understood his situation."
Id. at 324, 114 S.Ct. at 1529, 128 L.Ed.2d at 299
(quoting Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 442, 104
S.Ct. 3138, 3151, 82 L.Ed.2d 317, 336 (1984)).
United States Supreme Court has recently clarified, however,
"[n]ot all restraints on freedom of movement amount to
custody for purposes of Miranda."
Fields, 565 U.S. at 509, 132 S.Ct. at 1189, 182
L.Ed.2d at 28. Rather, "the freedom-of-movement test
identifies only a necessary and not a sufficient condition
for Miranda custody." Id. at 509, 132
S.Ct. at 1190, 182 L.Ed.2d at 28 (quoting Maryland v.
Shatzer, 559 U.S. 98, 112, 130 S.Ct. 1213, 1224, 175
L.Ed.2d 1045, 1058 (2010)). Therefore, when a suspect's
freedom of movement is already restricted because of
conditions unrelated to the interrogation-such as civil
commitment, criminal confinement, or
hospitalization-reviewing courts must consider "all of
the features of the interrogation" to determine
"whether the relevant ...