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Ralph v. State

Decided: October 13, 1961.

RALPH
v.
STATE



Appeal from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County; Anderson, Pugh and Shure, JJ.

Henderson, Prescott, Horney, Marbury and Sybert, JJ. Horney, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.

Horney

The sole question presented by this appeal is whether the extra-judicial confession admitted in evidence over objection was the free and voluntary act of the appellant.

At an early hour in the morning of March 21, 1960, the prosecuting witness was raped at her home in Montgomery County by a man she could not see in the darkness but whom she could describe as having kinky hair, big thick lips and an odor like a Negro. The police were notified promptly; and, as a result of a preliminary investigation, a teletype was sent to the police department of the District of Columbia requesting it to be on the alert for a two-tone green Oldsmobile with a Maryland license operated by a Negro.

On March 26, 1960, at 3:03 a.m., William Ralph (the defendant-appellant) was arrested while sitting in an automobile (answering the teletyped description) parked on a street in the City of Washington. He was removed from the automobile and taken in a police car to a precinct station where he was "booked" at 3:30 a.m.

The accused was questioned intermittently from the time he was booked until 10:55 a.m., when he confessed commission of the rape to Lt. Robert S. Eichelberger (of the district police). At the precinct station he had been interrogated by several officers (including the lieutenant and Officer Edward

D. Merwood) for a period of from forty-five minutes to an hour and a quarter. At 6:10 he was removed to police headquarters, but enroute a stop was made at the living quarters of the accused to verify the address he had given the police. Upon arrival at headquarters at 6:40, the accused was taken to the sex squad room, but was transferred to the identification bureau to be "processed." Lt. Eichelberger resumed talking to the accused in the polygraph room from 7:30 until 10:00. And, after an interval of about thirty minutes, the accused was questioned further until 10:55, when, as stated, the confession was made.

While the accused was in the precinct station, and at a time when he was being questioned by Officer Merwood about assaults on women in general, he was told (as the officer frankly admitted) that "it would be better if he told the truth," but it does not appear why or for what purpose the statement was made or what influence the statement had on the accused.

In the course of the interrogation by Lt. Eichelberger at headquarters, the accused was given two polygraph tests. Before taking the tests he had been told that the tests would not absolutely make him guilty and was further told of a case in which an accused had been released after taking a test. The results of the tests were not disclosed. Nor was it shown what effect the giving of the tests had on the subsequently made confession.

Prior to the confession, the accused had been questioned only as to other recently committed sex offenses and housebreakings and had consistently denied participation in any of them. Not until a few minutes before the accused privately admitted to Lt. Eichelberger that he had committed the rape of the prosecutrix, had he ever been interrogated about this offense. Shortly after the accused had privately admitted the rape, he was confronted with the prosecutrix and the taking of the oral confession was begun. Lt. Eichelberger and Lt. Lloyd M. Whalen (of the county police) who was also present, asked the questions, and as the questions were answered, the prosecutrix by a nod of her head indicated whether the answers were true or false.

Before the confession was admitted in evidence, the defendant testified that when he was being taken into custody and while he was at the precinct station the police had assaulted and otherwise mistreated him by shoving him against an automobile, punching him in the abdomen and knocking him to the floor, striking the side of his head with a telephone book, grabbing the seat of his pants and "carrying" him into the interrogation room, and inflicting a number of abrasions, cuts and scratches on his face and back. In rebuttal, all of the police officers who had participated in the arrest and subsequent interrogations, although stating that they had observed some bruises and scratches on his face and neck, denied the occurrence of any of the assaults related by the defendant and further testified that no threats or force had been used. Four days after the confession had been made, the defendant had "no immediate complaints" when he was examined by the county jail physician. The doctor further testified that the appellant stated that the healed over bruise on his left cheek had been inflicted by his wife two weeks before. And while he complained of an occasional pain in his abdomen (probably caused by the ulcers he said he had) and had told the doctor that he had fainted at the police headquarters in Washington, he did not complain of any brutality, harsh treatment or violence ...


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