Court finds that although the defendant said he was "done," his statements were not a clear indication that he wished to stop the interview and invoke his right to remain silent.
In Herring v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals found that the defendant’s statement to the police, “Now, look, I’m done” was not sufficiently clear to indicate that he wished to terminate a police interrogation and invoke his Miranda rights. The Court held that it was not error to allow the State to use the statements the defendant made to the police during that interrogation against him at trial.
The case began with a tip from Google that an account associated with the defendant had been flagged for containing an image of suspected child pornography. This led to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) obtaining a search warrant for the defendant’s Google accounts. As a result, there were two images of suspected child pornography discovered that were saved in his account.
The GBI investigators went to the home of the defendant’s girlfriend where they observed the same rugs and other home furnishings that were depicted in the background of the two photos. So, it appeared that the photos were taken by the defendant at his girlfriend’s house. The agents spoke with the girlfriend and she confirmed that the child in the photos was their daughter.
The defendant was then charged with two counts of creating and possessing child pornography.
The defendant argued that the statements he made to the police should be excluded from trial because they were obtained in violation of his Miranda rights. He contended that, during the police interrogation, he invoked his right to remain silent when he said, “I’m done…I want this done.” His lawyer argued that, at that point, the police were required to stop the interrogation. Instead, the police continued questioning him and the State introduced those statements into evidence at trial.
The trial court held that the defendant’s very next statement actually evidenced a desire to continue with the interrogation. The defendant said, “I want this done. I want us to get through this. I want to find out who the F is doing this.” The court held that this was an indication that the defendant was, in fact, voluntarily continuing with the interview.
Although people in custody have the absolute right to terminate police questioning at any time, the law requires the person to assert this right “clearly and unambiguously.” When the person makes statements that are not so clear, like the defendant did here, the police are under no obligation to stop the questioning or confirm with the defendant whether he wishes to stop.
The Court of Appeals noted at the outset that it is required to accept the factual findings made by the trial court unless those findings were clearly erroneous. So, the Court held that it was reasonable for the trial court to find that the defendant did not clearly state that he wished to stop the interview.
Moreover, the Court also concluded that it was reasonable for the trial court to find that the defendant’s statements actually indicated that he wished to continue with the interview. However, regardless of whether that was the case, the Court only had to find that these statements were not a clear and unambiguous invocation of his right to remain silent.
The Court then provided the following examples from prior cases where a defendant’s statements were similarly found to be unclear and insufficient to invoke Miranda rights:
“I’m completely finished” [but the defendant then continued answering questions]
“I don’t want to say nothing. There’s just so much to say…”
It then distinguished these from another prior case where the Court did find that the defendant clearly invoked his rights – the defendant in that case said he “was done and [had] no more to say.” He then stood up and said, “let’s ride.”
Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling and admission of the defendant’s statements at trial.
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