Argued: December 5, 2016
Court for Montgomery County Case No. 124077C
Barbera, C.J. Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Hotten, Getty,
Rodowsky, Lawrence F. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.
case we are asked to determine whether a trial judge's
ex parte communication with a juror violated
Maryland Rule 4-326(d)(2) and, if so, whether such violation
was harmless. In addition, we must determine whether a
suspect can invoke his right to counsel under
Miranda by demanding to see a lawyer while in a
holding cell before interrogation begins.
reasons that follow, we conclude that although the trial
judge did violate Rule 4-326(d)(2), that error was harmless
beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition, we hold that the
Petitioner did not invoke his Miranda right to
counsel by demanding to see a lawyer from his holding cell
before being interrogated, and therefore the circuit court
did not err in denying the Petitioner's motion to
suppress the statements he made to detectives during his
interrogation. Accordingly, we will affirm the judgment of
the Court of Special Appeals.
Saturday, October 12, 2013, Petitioner Rahul Gupta and his
girlfriend, Taylor Gould, went out to dinner in the Dupont
Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. to celebrate Mr.
Gupta's twenty-fourth birthday. After dinner, the couple
walked to a nearby bar, where they met up with two of Mr.
Gupta's friends-Mark Waugh and Josh White. Approximately
an hour later, the group moved to another nearby bar, at
which point they split up into pairs. Mr. Gupta went outside
with Mr. White, while Mr. Waugh remained inside the bar with
Ms. Gould. Mr. Gupta testified that he went outside with Mr.
White to smoke marijuana. He also testified that, during this
time, Mr. White told Mr. Gupta that he thought Ms. Gould was
flirting with him. Meanwhile, inside the bar, Ms. Gould
confided in Mr. Waugh that she felt like Mr. White was
hitting on her, and it was making her uncomfortable.
after the group had moved to a third bar, Mr. Waugh
confronted Mr. Gupta about the situation between Ms. Gould
and Mr. White, telling Mr. Gupta that Mr. White was
"trying to make a move on" Ms. Gould. Mr. White
denied the accusation, and decided at that time to return to
his apartment in the Woodley Park neighborhood of Washington,
D.C. Mr. Gupta and Ms. Gould also decided to call it a night,
and the couple took a taxi back to the apartment they shared
in Silver Spring, Maryland, accompanied by Mr. Waugh.
cameras in the Silver Spring apartment building show that the
trio arrived at 1:50 a.m. on Sunday, October 13, 2013. Once
inside the apartment, they took shots of vodka, Mr. Gupta
smoked more marijuana, and all three sat on the couch and
began playing video games. At some point, there was another
discussion about whether there had been any flirting between
Ms. Gould and Mr. White earlier in the night. Ms. Gould
testified that Mr. Waugh helped her confront Mr. Gupta about
the perceived flirting by Mr. White, while Mr. Gupta
testified that Mr. Waugh did not believe Ms. Gould's
accusation that Mr. White was "hitting on her."
Mr. Gupta and Ms. Gould claimed that they could not clearly
remember the events following this discussion, as both had
been drinking heavily throughout the night. But at 3:25 a.m.,
Ms. Gould called 911 at Mr. Gupta's direction. She told
the operator that "my friend is . . . here and I need
emergency right now, " that "he's not
breathing, " and that "there's blood
everywhere." When the operator asked Ms. Gould what had
happened, she relayed the question to Mr. Gupta, and then
responded to the operator, "I don't know what
officers arrived at the apartment at 3:36 a.m., and
encountered a "very intoxicated" Ms. Gould at the
front door. She repeated to the officer that she did not know
what happened, and they placed her in handcuffs and detained
her outside the apartment. The officers who entered the
apartment found Mr. Gupta groaning and covered in blood,
lying on the floor just to the left of Mr. Waugh's body.
When the officers asked Mr. Gupta what happened, he
responded, "They were cheating. My girlfriend was
cheating on me. My buddy and my girlfriend were cheating. I
walked in on my buddy and my girlfriend cheating. I killed my
buddy." Medical technicians on the scene confirmed that
Mr. Waugh was dead. The medical examiner testified that Mr.
Waugh had six stab wounds and five "cutting
injuries." Police recovered an eight-inch kitchen knife,
identified as the murder weapon, from under Mr. Waugh's
The Interrogation and Suppression Hearing
officers transported Mr. Gupta and Ms. Gould, separately, to
the Major Crimes Division of the Montgomery County Police
Department. Once there, they placed Mr. Gupta in a holding
cell to await interrogation. In the holding cell, at 5:05
a.m., Mr. Gupta screamed at Officer Andrew Richardson, who
was stationed nearby to keep an eye on Mr. Gupta, that he was
"going to sue the shit out of all of you." Mr.
Gupta also pounded on the door of his cell, and screamed-two
to three times-"I want a lawyer." Approximately ten
to thirty minutes later, according to Officer
Richardson's estimate, Detectives Paula Hamill and Kathy
Fumagalli arrived to speak with Mr. Gupta and Ms. Gould.
Officer Richardson relayed to the detectives Mr. Gupta's
request for a lawyer. At the suppression hearing, Detective
Fumagalli testified that she remembered receiving this
information, while Detective Hamill testified that she did
not remember learning that Mr. Gupta had requested a lawyer.
detectives spoke to Ms. Gould first. Then, at 8:10 a.m., they
moved Mr. Gupta from the holding cell into an interview room
and began questioning him. After answering some preliminary
questions about his background and current state of mind,
Detective Hamill read Mr. Gupta his Miranda rights
and asked him whether he understood those rights. Mr. Gupta
responded, "Yes." After about eight seconds of
silence, Mr. Gupta asked, "When do I get to talk . . .,
" before Detective Hamill interrupted him by stating,
"Okay, do you . . . here's the deal. We're just
trying to find out what the heck happened. You know what I
mean?" Mr. Gupta cooperated with the detectives and
answered their questions throughout the fifty-five-minute
interrogation, and did not request to see or speak to a
lawyer until approximately one hour after the interrogation
had ended. At trial, the State questioned Mr. Gupta on
cross-examination regarding some of the statements he had
made during the interrogation. The statements themselves were
not admitted into evidence.
State charged Mr. Gupta with first- and second-degree murder
in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. Prior to trial,
Mr. Gupta filed a motion to suppress the statements he made
to police officers on the morning of his arrest.
Specifically, and relevant to this appeal, Mr. Gupta argued
that the statements he made while being interrogated by
Detectives Hamill and Fumagalli should be suppressed because
they were obtained in violation of his right to have counsel
present during questioning under Miranda. Mr. Gupta
asserted that his demands to see a lawyer while he was in the
holding cell awaiting interrogation were made "in the
context of custodial interrogation" or when
interrogation was "imminent." Upon learning of
these requests, the detectives were required to cease
questioning until Mr. Gupta had a chance to speak with a
lawyer. Therefore, Mr. Gupta concluded, any statements he
made to the detectives during the interrogation must be
suppressed as being obtained in violation of his
Miranda right to counsel.
a suppression hearing on July 30 and 31, 2014, the circuit
court denied Mr. Gupta's motion to suppress. The court
found that Mr. Gupta had requested a lawyer "two to four
times . . . while in custody before interrogation took place,
" and that "that communication was passed along to
the detectives, " or at least to Detective Fumagalli, by
Officer Richardson. However, the court concluded that these
demands did not equate to an invocation of the right to
counsel under Miranda, because they were made prior
to interrogation. Furthermore, the court found that Mr. Gupta
was advised of his Miranda rights, "that he
made a knowing and intelligent waiver" of those rights,
and that he "did not assert at all, let alone without
equivocation, a desire to have counsel present."
Gupta's trial began on Monday, March 2, 2015. During jury
selection, the court advised the potential jurors that the
trial was scheduled to "take eight days to try to
completion, " meaning it would likely last until
Wednesday of the following week, March 11. The court asked if
anyone would be unable to serve during that time due to a
substantial personal or financial hardship. Prospective Juror
18A, along with many others, responded in the affirmative.
When questioned individually about her response, Juror 18A
explained that she works "for a very small non-profit,
so [her] absence for an extended period of time will be
difficult." Additionally, she stated that she had
"two children at home and no child care, " so she
would "be in a position to try to find somebody to look
after" them during the trial.
answers, along with the fact that Juror 18A stated that she
was social friends with defense counsel's partner, caused
the court concern. The court then asked if there would be any
objection to striking this juror, to which the State
responded, "No." Defense counsel did object,
however, and stated that "she's a good juror."
Juror 18A remained on the jury panel, and ultimately became a
member of Mr. Gupta's jury.
Thursday, March 5, the circuit court was closed due to snow.
At the close of proceedings on Friday, March 6, the court
told the jury that the trial was taking longer than
originally expected. Thus, the court told the jurors to
prepare to serve until the following Friday, March 13, and,
"out of an abundance of caution, some days after
that." The court instructed the jurors to make the court
aware when they returned the following Monday if they foresaw
any potential conflicts with serving during that period of
Monday, March 9, during an afternoon recess, the court
informed the parties that Juror 18A had raised a potential
conflict with continuing to serve beyond the end of that
THE COURT: [Juror 18A] had mentioned to us, I think during
voir dire that she had a conflict with next Saturday.
[THE STATE]: Oh she started to raise her hand at the tail end
of the testimony yesterday [sic].
THE COURT: Yes, so she had mentioned to my law clerk, you
know how do things look? Or she was concerned because
she's a keynote speaker at a conference in Las Vegas and
she's leaving on Saturday. So she's brought up about
3 or 4 times so I just had my law clerk-did you tell her what
I told you? I just said tell her that we'll deal with it
on Friday. That we're not going to stand in the way of
her going to her conference. My intention is that maybe
we'll be done, maybe not. If we're not we'll just
see how we look on Friday and we have everybody, all 14 still
going, my thought would be we can talk about this more later
if you want to talk about it. My thought would be to tell her
to go to Las Vegas, do your thing. Come Monday morning excuse
her once we know that we've got at least 12 or 13 people
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Do we know how long she's going to be
THE COURT: --and if we find out Monday morning that we're
in trouble without her, we may end up having to skip a few
days. She's coming back on Wednesday. So the worst case
scenario, rather than have a mistrial we'll just skip a
couple of days.
[THE STATE]: Have them continue deliberation assuming they
started something on a Wednesday instead of on a Monday.
THE COURT: Yes, well I don't know that we need to keep
her on if we're going into deliberations. I'm just
saying if we're still in trial-
[THE STATE]: If we're still presenting evidence?
THE COURT: I'm really giving you a heads up mainly to
tell you about the communication that my clerk told her you
know, this won't keep you from going to Las Vegas for
your conference, okay.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Thank you.
[DEFENSE CO-COUNSEL]: Thank you.
close of proceedings on Wednesday, March 11, the court had
another conversation with the parties regarding Juror 18A.
One of the parties asked the court about its plans for the
juror assuming the trial continued beyond that Friday. The
court thought there was a "really good chance that
deliberations are going to carry over until Monday, "
and stated that Juror 18A would not be deliberating if the
deliberations started on Friday. Defense counsel stated that
he did not want "to cut her, " and proposed
postponing deliberations until Juror 18A returned from her
conference. The court responded that the juror's keynote
speech was on Monday, and she would not return until
Wednesday. The court told the parties, "I wouldn't
hold my breath on her being on the jury."
Thursday, March 12 at 3:00 p.m., Juror 18A sent a note to the
court again expressing her concern that she would not be able
to serve on the jury the following Monday, Tuesday, or
Wednesday. The juror also stated in her note, "After
investing 2 weeks in this trial, I would like to see it
through but certainly understand if I am excused." The
court notified the parties of this note on the morning of
Friday, March 13, before delivering jury instructions and
hearing closing arguments. After reading the contents of the
note on the record, the court stated its reaction: "I
think it is inappropriate to compel her to forego her
presentations. So I'm prepared to find that she is unable
to perform her service and to place the first alternate in
her place. Does anybody need to discuss that briefly?"
Defense counsel asked to discuss the situation, and stated
that Juror 18A should not be excused. Defense counsel ...