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Sasha Bowen v. State of Florida

December 7, 2011


Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County; Michael L. Gates, Judge; L.T. Case Nos. 08-10785 CF10A and 07-19296 CF10A.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Damoorgian, J.

Sasha Bowen timely appeals his conviction and sentence for first-degree murder. Bowen raises four issues on appeal. First, he contends the trial court erred when denying his motion for mistrial based on the prosecutor's closing arguments. Second, he submits the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress statements he made to the police. Third, he asserts the trial court erred in admitting a text message exchange into evidence. Fourth, he argues the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal. We find merit to Bowen's second point on appeal and reverse. We affirm the remaining points raised on appeal without discussion.

Before trial, Bowen moved to suppress all statements made to law enforcement during their investigation into the murder. At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the following facts were adduced: The morning after the murder, detectives went to Bowen's home. The detectives were looking for associates of co-defendant Jose Gordon, who was on scene when the shooting occurred and now was in police custody. Through a series of conversations with one of the detectives, Bowen voluntarily agreed to go to the station. He was taken to the station by the detective, but was never handcuffed.

Once at the station, Bowen waited in the break room unaccompanied. He did not ask for his parents or a lawyer. He was later escorted to an interview room, where two detectives spoke with him. These detectives had information that Bowen may have been involved in the murder based on his girlfriend's statements to them. One of the detectives acknowledged Bowen was a suspect or a person of interest. They interviewed him, and obtained two recorded statements.

During the first statement, Bowen was not advised that he was under arrest or in custody. However, the detectives admitted at the hearing that Bowen was not going home that night. In addition, he was never told he was free to leave. At first, they questioned Bowen about how he knew Gordon and Derek Martin - co-defendants who were later charged in the same indictment. Then they began questioning Bowen about the murder. The detectives confronted Bowen with the fact that Gordon was in custody. He was also confronted with the detectives' knowledge of his whereabouts prior to the murder. He was asked if he had been hanging out with Gordon that night, and about a cut above his eyebrow. Bowen alleged that he had stopped by Gordon's house to say hello and then went home. He claimed the cut on his eyebrow was from hitting a cabinet. The detectives insisted that it "would be so much easier" if Bowen told them who he had been with and where he had actually been.

They accused him of leaving Gordon on the scene, and suggested that Gordon had gotten Bowen and Martin involved. Bowen denied involvement. When detectives confronted him with their theory that the homicide had resulted from a robbery that went wrong and his participation, Bowen stated "Straight up. . . . I need a lawyer." The interview continued, whereupon he made a statement that he was at the scene of the crime but had nothing to do with it. At the conclusion of the first statement, Bowen was placed under arrest.

Before the second statement, Bowen was read his Miranda rights, after which he invoked them. The trial court concluded that "[Bowen] was not in custody for the purposes of Miranda until he unequivocally invoked his right to counsel" during the first statement and suppressed all statements made after that point. The statements made before the invocation were introduced at trial. After a jury trial, Bowen was found guilty of murder in the first degree, and this appeal followed.

The Florida Supreme Court has clarified that Miranda*fn1 warnings need to be given only when the person is in custody. Ramirez v. State, 739 So. 2d 568, 573 (Fla. 1999), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1131 (2000). "The question of whether a suspect is in custody is a mixed question of law and fact." Ramirez, 739 So. 2d at 574. "The 'in custody' requirement under Miranda is subject to de novo review, accepting the court's factual findings if supported by competent, substantial evidence." D.B. v. State, 34 So. 3d 224, 226 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010) (citations omitted).

The test to determine custody for Miranda purposes is whether "'a reasonable person placed in the same position would believe that his or her freedom of action was curtailed to a degree associated with actual arrest.'" Meredith v. State, 964 So. 2d 247, 250 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007) (quoting Ramirez, 739 So. 2d at 573)). Courts consider four factors when making this determination:

"(1) the manner in which police summon the suspect for questioning; (2) the purpose, place, and manner of the interrogation; (3) the extent to which the suspect is confronted with evidence of his [or her] guilt; and (4) whether the suspect is informed that he or she is free to leave . . . ."

State v. C.F., 798 So. 2d 751, 754 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001) (quoting Mansfield v. State, 758 So. 2d 636, 644 (Fla. 2000)).

Applying the four-part test to our facts, we conclude Bowen was "in custody" when he made his statements at the station. He was interrogated by detectives at the police station in an official interview room. The purpose of the interview was to obtain incriminating responses, and the interview was conducted in an adversarial manner. For example, before Bowen exercised his right to counsel, detectives confronted Bowen about his whereabouts on the night of the murder and their accusations as to his involvement with the murder. Finally, Bowen was never told he was free to leave and the detectives admitted at the hearing on the motion to suppress that Bowen was not free to go home that night.

Under the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in the same position would not believe he was free to leave. Thus, Bowen was "in custody" at the start of the questioning in the interview room, and Miranda warnings were required. The failure to provide them required suppression of all statements made in the official interview room. Although the trial court articulated the proper four-factor test, it erred by determining that Bowen was not "in custody" for Miranda ...

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