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Wilson v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

April 4, 2018

ANDRE LAMONT WILSON, JR., Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Highlands County; J. Dale Durrance, Judge.

          Howard L. Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Carol J.Y. Wilson, Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Brandon R. Christian, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.

          CASANUEVA, JUDGE.

         Andre Lamont Wilson, Jr., appeals his judgments for burglary of an occupied structure while armed with a firearm, robbery with a firearm, aggravated battery with a firearm, and two counts of armed kidnapping with a firearm. Mr. Wilson was sentenced to fifteen years in prison on the aggravated battery count and consecutive life sentences with a ten-year minimum mandatory term for the remaining counts. Each conviction factually stemmed from a robbery of a Pizza Hut on December 12, 2012.

         The issue presented by Mr. Wilson is whether the conduct of law enforcement officers during his interrogation violated protections afforded him by the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida and, more specifically, those protections provided by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Based on our review of the record, including the audio and video recording of the interrogation, we conclude that the confession given by Mr. Wilson, elicited prior to the administration of Miranda warnings, was obtained improperly. The trial court erred in denying Mr. Wilson's motion to suppress, and this error was not harmless.

         We are required to reverse and remand for further proceedings and note that "[t]he disadvantage of the Miranda rule is that statements which may be by no means involuntary, made by a defendant who is aware of his 'rights, ' may nonetheless be excluded and a guilty defendant go free as a result." Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428, 444 (2000).

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On December 18, 2012, Mr. Wilson agreed to meet with officers of the Sebring Police Department at a park near his home. He had contacted the officers at the request of a friend. When the officers arrived at the park, they asked if Mr. Wilson would be willing to talk with them at the station. He agreed, and the officers gave him a ride in their vehicle.

         At the beginning of the interview, Mr. Wilson did not know what the officers wanted to discuss with him. Mr. Wilson stated that he needed to leave by 3:30 p.m. to meet someone. The officer responded, "[Y]ou won't be here that long. And like I said, we'll ride you home whenever you're ready." They also told him where the exits were and told him he was free to leave at any time.

         The interview was held in a small room with a closed door at the station. It began around 2 p.m. and ended just after 5:30 p.m. Minutes into the questioning, Mr. Wilson was told, "Well, the reason we're here to talk to you today is we've had a series of robberies in which you have become a suspect."

         Mr. Wilson denied any involvement, but the officers were not deterred. The officers stated that they had collected evidence from the scene and that they knew he was involved. The officers stated they were willing to work with him, but he needed to "stop playing games" and "start either coming clean or you're going to end up taking the ride." The officers pressed him with increasing details of evidence implicating him in the crime, including DNA and fingerprints found on items linked to the robbery. These items were found at the house of his friend, Terrell. They stated they had GPS data and phone call recordings and could place Mr. Wilson at that house just after the robbery. After some time, Mr. Wilson acknowledged he may have touched a gun that was at the friend's house, but he denied using the gun, denied owning a cell phone, and denied any involvement in the robbery.

         The officers responded that it was obvious he was not telling the truth "because the gun that you've tied yourself to was used in an armed robbery. . . . So all this stuff that you're giving is just tying you more and more and more to the armed robbery." They went on to tell him, "I can look you in the eye and without a shadow of a doubt, all right, through forensics and DNA and other evidence and other statements put you in Pizza Hut" at the time of the robbery. "I know the last thing you want is another armed robbery with a firearm charge. . . . Without us talking to the State Attorney, that will send you up for a number of Christmases and a number of your birthdays."

         They told him that a shot was fired from a gun during the robbery, making it "a 10/20/Life[1] case." They also stated that they had his DNA on a gun that was fired and that they recovered a projectile and casing from the scene. After further denials, one officer stated: "We know pretty much what's happened. All right. We wanted to give you the opportunity to be forthcoming, so we can tell the State Attorney that you need a second chance." After explaining that they had "a stack of evidence" against Mr. Wilson, one officer stated: "When it comes down, it's going to come down so hard until there's nothing that we can do for you. . . . We're giving you the opportunity to continue your life."

         Mr. Wilson was told that they could have arrested him already and, if he continued to deny his involvement, "when we present it to the State Attorney, all right, they are going to issue a warrant for your arrest. And you're going to go to jail." However, they offered him a way out and stated they were willing to recommend probation if he would tell them the truth, but this was a one-time offer.

         The officers explained that they believed he was the driver for the robbery and they could track him to Terrell's house where the stolen money and employees' cell phones were found, along with face masks and guns. After giving him a bottle of water, they explained that they believed he was worth saving, and so they wanted to give him a second chance at life if he would tell the truth. The officers then explained that they would be willing to recommend that his prior robbery charge and the instant case be lumped together and that he receive a total of eight years of probation. When Mr. Wilson questioned the impact of a recommendation, one officer reassured him: "I've been a cop 16 years. . . . I have never seen the State not go with the recommendations that we make." The officers agreed to "stand up" for Mr. Wilson and recommend no prison time. When Mr. Wilson stated, "I don't want to go to prison, " one officer offered to put on the record, "I promise you I will go to the State Attorney and recommend that you catch probation. No prison time." The other two officers agreed, and they told him that they needed to get the truth from him that day: "In other words, you can't leave here today and think about it and call us tomorrow. . . . [I]t's all or nothing right here right now."

         Mr. Wilson expressed interest in the plan, asked for a pen and paper to get the officers' names, and then asked to use the phone. Mr. Wilson stated, "I just want to get my lawyer's opinion on this. . . . I just want to get my lawyer's opinion of it." The officer said that was fine, it was his right, but it would end the discussion. Mr. Wilson said, "I just want to just like see if that's-that's even possible what you guys are telling me." Then the officer presented an alternative to Mr. Wilson calling his lawyer, stating: "I'll do you one better. . . . I'll bring you our boss in. All right. And you can ask him."

         The other officers exited, and the boss came in and spent some time answering Mr. Wilson's questions one-on-one. He explained that the officers would make a recommendation based on his cooperation and, while they could not give a guarantee, he could very possibly get house arrest. He explained that he was getting this offer before any of the other suspects and told Mr. Wilson that it could not hurt him in any way to work with the officers.

         At the end of this consultation, Mr. Wilson seemed reassured and stated, "I just wanted to get it from another opinion." The sergeant reiterated, "You ain't got nothing to lose." The steps of the plea negotiations were explained, the three officers further assured Mr. Wilson, "[W]e're going to go to bat for you, " and Mr. Wilson then gave his confession that was later placed, as evidence, before the jury.

         After giving his recorded statement confessing to his involvement in the armed robbery, Mr. Wilson was in fact permitted to go home, and it was not until a follow-up interview the next day that Mr. Wilson was advised of his constitutional rights, commonly known as the Miranda warnings.

         On April 2, 2014, Mr. Wilson filed a motion to suppress his statement, asserting that it was obtained during an improper custodial interrogation, that it was obtained by coercion, and that he had invoked his right to counsel which was ignored. Counsel for Mr. Wilson and for the State stipulated that the trial court would review the recording of the interview off the record and thereafter rule on the motion to suppress. Later, when asked by the parties if the trial court had an opportunity to review that evidence, the trial court indicated that it had, and the motion to suppress was denied with no oral or written findings of fact.

         The case went to trial in March 2015, and the State presented testimony that three masked men with guns robbed the Sebring Pizza Hut. Police located cash, a key from the restaurant, guns, and the employees' cell phones at Terrell's house. They found a projectile and casing at the Pizza Hut matching one of the guns, but no prints of value were found on the firearms or plastic bags containing the stolen items. Over defense objection, the State played for the jury Mr. Wilson's statement in which he admitted that he drove to the Pizza Hut in a mask, held a revolver, got a worker to open the back door, and stayed at the back of the restaurant while two others went inside to get the money. None of the evidence referenced during the interrogation was used to link Mr. Wilson to the robbery, and none of the witnesses identified him as being a participant in the robbery or at Terrell's house that night; the State's case was based primarily on Mr. Wilson's confession.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         In reviewing a trial court's decision on a motion to suppress, we afford a presumption of correctness to the trial court's findings of facts, but the application of those facts to the law is reviewed de novo. Wyche v. State, 987 So.2d 23, 25 (Fla. 2008). This court must interpret the evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence in a manner most favorable to sustaining the trial court's ruling. Martin v. State, 107 So.3d 281, 298 (Fla. 2012) (citing Pagan v. State, 830 So.2d 792, 806 (Fla. 2002)).

         B. Custodial Interrogation

         Here, the motion to suppress sought to exclude the statements made by Mr. Wilson while being questioned at the station. We pause to note that neither the United States Constitution nor the Florida Constitution requires the exclusion of all statements of confession made by an accused. "Indeed, far from being prohibited by the Constitution, admissions of guilt by wrongdoers, if not coerced, are inherently desirable." United States v. Washington, 431 U.S. 181, 187 (1977). What is prohibited is the admission of governmentally compelled statements.

         We look to the language of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States to determine the parameters of its field of protection. It provides, in pertinent part, that "[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." U.S. Const. Amend. V. These protections apply to the States by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment. Maryland v. Shatzer, 559 U.S. 98, 103 (2010) (citing Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 6 (1964)). The protection against self-incrimination is also set forth in article I, section 9, of the Florida Constitution, and this fundamental right must be broadly construed. Myers v. State, 211 So.3d 962, 966 (Fla. 2017) (citing State v. Horwitz, 191 So.3d 429, 439 (Fla. 2016)).

         "Statements obtained from a defendant in violation of the right against self-incrimination (also known as a 'privilege') cannot be used against the defendant at trial." Cuervo v. State, 967 So.2d 155, 160 (Fla. 2007). A suspect who is subjected to a custodial interrogation must be made aware of his or her constitutional right against self-incrimination, and this is accomplished through Miranda warnings. Myers, 211 So.3d at 971; see Ramirez v. State, 739 So.2d 568, 573 (Fla. 1999) (noting Miranda enunciates a "bright-line rule to guard against compulsion and the coercive nature and atmosphere of custodial interrogation"). "Under Miranda . . ., statements made to the police in the course of a 'custodial interrogation' must be suppressed if the police have not informed the suspect of his constitutional rights prior to the interrogation." State v. Pitts, 936 So.2d 1111, 1123 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006); see also State v. McAdams, 193 So.3d 824, 833 (Fla. 2016) (citing Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600, 608 (2004), and Deviney v. State, 112 So.3d 57, 79 (Fla. 2013)).

         In Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 306-07 (1985), the Supreme Court set forth the ...


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