Criminal Law Blog

Questionable Conduct: Detective’s Interrogation Tactics Create Impermissible Risk That Waiver of the Right to Counsel Was Not Intentional

David T. Robinson v. United States (decided July 14, 2016).

Players: Associate Judges Fisher and Blackburne-Rigsby and Senior Judge Pryor.  Opinion by Judge Fisher.  PDS for Mr. Robinson. Trial Judge: Stuart G. Nash. 

Facts 1:  On May 11, 2012, following David Robinson’s arrest for violating probation, Detective Anthony Patterson went to Mr. Robinson’s interrogation room and told Mr. Robinson that he believed he was involved in the unrelated murder of Howard Sampler.  Det. Patterson said that it might help if Mr. Robinson were to talk but that he needed to be advised of his rights. When Mr. Robinson said that he would like to talk, Det. Patterson brought him to a different interrogation room.   

After a brief exchange during which Robinson claimed to have acted in self-defense, Det. Patterson read Mr. Robinson his Miranda rights from a PD-47 “advice of rights” form, adding “we don’t provide you a lawyer here.  But if . . . we ask you something and you don’t want to talk about it you can say look, I don’t have anything to say about that.”  Per the first three questions on the PD-47, Det. Patterson had Mr. Robinson acknowledge (1) that he had read or had read to him his rights, (2) that he understood those rights, and (3) that he wished to answer questions.  However, Det. Patterson purposely omitted the fourth question: “Are you willing to answer any questions without having an attorney present?”  At the suppression hearing, he testified, “Once [Mr. Robinson] agreed to talk to me I didn’t see any point in asking him if he wanted to talk to me without a lawyer present.”  In the ensuing interrogation, Mr. Robinson admitted to carrying a .40 caliber pistol and firing it at Howard Sampler multiple times in self-defense. 

Issue 1:  Whether the May statement should have been suppressed for Det. Patterson’s failure to issue proper Miranda warnings or his failure to obtain a valid waiver of Miranda rights?

Holding 1: Yes. Although the warnings were “adequate and effective,” the government failed to prove intentional relinquishment of Mr. Robinson’s known right to have a lawyer present during questioning.  There was no express waiver because Det. Patterson did not ask for one.  Further, “this court is entitled to be skeptical [of implied waiver] in a case like this, where an officer [1] deliberately pursues some express waivers but purposefully fails to complete the PD-47” and [2] “apparently fails to appreciate the distinction” between the desire to answer questions and the willingness to do so without counsel present.  Det. Patterson’s failure to appreciate this distinction creates “obvious concern” that Mr. Robinson’s waiver of counsel was not intentional (which could have easily been resolved by completing the PD-47). 

Facts 2: Following the May interrogation, Mr. Robinson was detained for violating his probation until late November.  Days after Mr. Robinson’s release, Det. Patterson called Mr. Robinson and went to his mother’s house (where Mr. Robinson was babysitting his two-year-old daughter) to speak with him.  Det. Patterson later called the child’s mother to discuss retrieving the child. 

When Det. Patterson learned that Mr. Robinson was no longer babysitting, Det. Patterson and two other officers pushed their way inside Mr. Robinson’s mother’s house to search for Mr. Robinson, without warrant or invitation.  Mr. Robinson’s mother then called and told Mr. Robinson “to go down there and take care of it and don’t come back to my house until it’s done.”  Mr. Robinson reported to the police station, where the police interviewed him in a locked interrogation room.  At no point during this interview was Mr. Robinson read his Mirandarights.

Issue 2: Whether the November statement should have been suppressed for the police’s failure to issue Miranda warnings?

Holding 2: No. Despite Det. Patterson’s persistence in urging Mr. Robinson to come to the station, he was not in custody.  His friend drove him there.  He was not physically restrained, and his movements were not restricted to the degree associated with formal arrest (although police escorted him to use the bathroom and smoke).  Although the door was closed and locked once questioning began, that would have been true for any witness “who came back to one of those interview rooms.”

The environment was not so coercive as to be custodial.  Det. Patterson told Mr. Robinson that he was not under arrest and “if you want to leave here . . . you can leave.”  Mr. Robinson stated he would act accordingly.  Det. Patterson told Mr. Robinson that the interview would probably take an hour and agreed to help him coordinate with the friend who drove him, in case the interview took longer. 

Although Mr. Robinson once asked to leave and terminate the interview, he did not actually try to do so.  Moreover, by then, he had incriminated himself.  These facts compare favorably with Spencer v. United States, 132 A.2d 1163 (D.C. 2016), in which the Court found no custody.

Of note:

  • This opinion highlights the government’s burden to prove that any supposed waiver is intentional as well as knowing.  The Court disagreed that anything Det. Patterson did or said left Mr. Robinson “uncomprehending of and inattentive to the Mirandaright to counsel” but still found unacceptable risk that he did not intentionally waive that right.  Judges and attorneys should be mindful of the government’s distinct burden in this regard. 
  • In a footnote, the Court acknowledged the possibility that the police violated the Fourth Amendment when three officers, including Det. Patterson, forced their way into Mr. Robinson’s mother’s house in November to search for Mr. Robinson and the further possibility that his November confession was the fruit of this illegal search.  The Court deemed this argument waived and disclaimed the significance of this fact for purposes of deciding whether Mr. Robinson was in custody under Miranda.
  • The Court also acknowledged the possibility that the November confession was a fruit of the May confession under the “cat-out-of-the-bag” doctrine but deemed this argument waived.  WC

Read full opinion here.