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Brown v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

March 27, 2017


          Barbera, C.J., [*] Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, JJ.


          Hotten, J.

         The case at bar is an interlocutory appeal filed by the State[1] from an Order in the Circuit Court for Dorchester County, granting Terrance J. Brown's motion to suppress statements obtained in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602 (1966). The Court of Special Appeals, in an unreported opinion, reversed. We granted Brown's petition for writ of certiorari, and after briefing and argument, ordered that this matter be remanded, without affirmance or reversal, to the suppression court for the sole purpose of the entry of findings of fact on the issue of custody. After receipt of the suppression court's findings, supplemental briefing, and reargument, we consider one question-whether Brown was in custody for Miranda purposes during the interrogation that took place at the Cambridge Police Department before Brown was provided with Miranda warnings. We shall hold that a reasonable person in Brown's circumstances would not have felt free to terminate the interrogation and leave. The totality of the circumstances demonstrated that the restraint on Brown's freedom of movement was to the degree associated with a formal arrest. Further, Brown was subjected to an environment that contained the inherently compelling pressures of custodial interrogation, which powered the Supreme Court's decision in Miranda. Thus, Brown was in custody for purposes of Miranda during the time period at issue. The trial court properly suppressed Brown's statements.


         Brown was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and related charges in the Circuit Court for Dorchester County. The charges stemmed from a shooting that occurred outside the Elks Lodge in Cambridge, Maryland during the early morning hours of October 5, 2014. Later that day, Brown made statements to police during an interrogation at the Cambridge Police Department. Brown filed a motion to suppress those statements. At the suppression hearing, Trooper Greg Fellon, Detective Edward Howard, and Detective Chris Flynn testified for the State. Brown did not testify and called no witnesses. The factual background that follows is derived from the suppression court's factual findings, together with reference to undisputed evidence presented at the suppression hearing.[2]

         During the early morning hours of October 5, 2014, Trooper Fellon was on routine patrol and monitoring radio traffic dispatches. He learned of a reported shooting at the Elks Lodge in Cambridge. At 1:06 a.m., a Dorchester County dispatch broadcasted that an unknown male in an unknown vehicle had called 911. The unknown male stated on the 911 call that he was injured, driving from Cambridge to Hurlock Village Apartments, and he "didn't want to go to jail."[3]

         Trooper Fellon established an observation position near Hurlock Village Apartments. Trooper Fellon observed "what he believed to be the vehicle of interest[.]" Trooper Fellon observed a man exit that vehicle. After the man left Trooper Fellon's line of vision, Trooper Fellon approached the car and initiated contact with the three remaining passengers in the car. When one of the occupants opened the passenger side door, Trooper Fellon testified that he observed dried blood in the passenger area.

         Trooper Fellon asked the occupants about the man who had previously exited the car. Trooper Fellon testified that the occupants replied that they had gone to Cambridge to "pick up T.J. Brown and bring him home to his mother's [house]" in the Hurlock Village complex.

         Two additional Maryland State Police Troopers and a Dorchester County Deputy arrived at the scene. Thereafter, Brown's mother drove into the complex. Trooper Fellon requested that she ask her son to come outside to speak with him. She agreed, and Brown came outside. Trooper Fellon observed that Brown was wearing a shirt with blood on it, and he had blood dripping from his earlobe. Brown told Trooper Fellon that "he had been at a party in Cambridge when he heard gunshots. Upon hearing the gunshots . . . he began to duck and run." The police officers summoned emergency medical personnel to the scene. Regarding his observations of Brown's gunshot wounds, Trooper Fellon testified that Brown "had a nick to his earlobe[, ]" "a graze to his shoulder blade area and what appeared to be like a through and through [gunshot wound] on . . . his upper chest."

         At approximately 1:55 a.m., Brown was transported from Hurlock to Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, Maryland for treatment. The information gained during the course of Trooper Fellon's investigation, including that Brown was struck by gunfire, was communicated to members of the Cambridge Police Department. Trooper Fellon was then advised that the Cambridge Police Department had arranged for a tow truck to pick up Brown's vehicle. Within twenty minutes of Brown's transport to the hospital, the tow truck arrived and removed the vehicle to the police station. "At the request of superiors, Detective Howard of the Cambridge Police Department traveled to Peninsula Regional Medical Center[]" to meet with Brown, who was awaiting discharge.

         Detective Howard arrived at the hospital at approximately 5:40 a.m. Detective Howard testified that he "advised [Brown] that the lead investigator Detective Flynn was interested in obtaining his story for his side of the events being he was a victim of that shooting." The suppression court noted that Detective Howard further "advised [Brown] that his purpose [at the hospital] was to 'obtain'" Brown "and ask him if he would consent to coming back" to the Cambridge Police Department "to 'get[]' a statement." Detective Howard's badge and weapon were visible and his gun was secure throughout the interaction.

         Detective Howard transported Brown in a marked police car directly from the hospital to the Cambridge Police Department. Brown was seated in the rear passenger seat. Brown was not handcuffed. He was wearing disposable shirt-and-pants hospital scrubs and boots. His head was bandaged.

         The suppression court found that "Detective Howard advised [Brown] numerous times that he was not under arrest, but never advised him that he was free to refuse transportation back to the Cambridge Police Department." The court further stated:

Although [Brown] acquiesced to traveling back to Cambridge and at no time articulated that he did not want to go, he did express concern about how he would get home, especially after being advised once he was in the police car that his vehicle had been taken to the Cambridge Police Department after Tpr. Fellon found blood in the vehicle. Detective Howard assured [Brown] that the proper arrangements would be made.

         Upon arrival at the police department, Detective Howard entered through a door in the north tower located "apart from the entrance for the general public. Detectives Flynn and Curran were waiting for Detective Howard and [Brown] on the second floor." Brown was then taken to an interview/interrogation room. The suppression court described the interview/interrogation room:

[Brown] was seated in an interview/interrogation room which is located on the second floor of the Cambridge Police Department adjacent to the Criminal Investigation Division office area. The interrogation rooms are equipped with both audio and video recording. . . . The interview room is situated such that there is no view outside of the police headquarters and it is not easy to traverse from that location to the outside without guidance and in some instances the use of electronic access devices.

         The door to the interview room was closed except when police personnel entered and exited the room. The suppression court found that "[Brown] was left alone in the room for approximately 15 minutes before Detective Flynn appeared for the interview." Detective Flynn was the sole interviewer. The suppression court noted that "[a]t no time from the beginning of the interview until [Brown] was told he was being arrested for homicide was he told that he was free to leave." The interview was video-taped and transcribed.

         Eventually, Brown was issued Miranda warnings and provided a written statement. Relevant here is the exchange between Detective Flynn and Brown that occurred during the approximately six minutes of interrogation[4] that preceded the detective's issuance of Miranda warnings.[5]

         Detective Flynn began the interrogation by seeking Brown's side of the story:

Do you know why you're here? Obviously you're here, right? I just got to get your end -- your side of the story of what happened, how you got involved -- do you know what I'm saying -- what went on. So just start (inaudible) --start at the beginning and walk me through it.

         In response, Brown placed himself at the crime scene: "I'm outside chilling outside the Elks." He added that he heard "[a]bout six or seven" shots; the shots were "hitting where [he] was at[]"; and he "got the hell out of there[, ]" realizing once he was in his car that he had been shot. Detective Flynn then asked: "So where did you -- which way did you run after this whole thing?" Brown responded: "Well, I was parked -- I ran directly towards my car where my car was parked (inaudible) shooting. I was going towards the Legion where the little church is at behind the pool hall." Detective Flynn asked, "So you ran towards Cross Street?" and Brown replied, "Yeah. I got in my car." Detective Flynn asked, "You got in your car, and then you what, drove yourself to Hurlock?" And again Brown responded, "Yeah." Detective Flynn then asked: "And sometime along that [ride] -- did you call the ambulance yourself, or how did that work?" Brown answered, "Yeah. I called them myself because I didn't know if I was going to initially make it to Hurlock."

         Detective Flynn testified that, at that point, he viewed Brown as a suspect and decided to issue Miranda warnings. When Detective Flynn told Brown that he would be advising him of his rights, Brown asked, "What, I'm under arrest?" and Detective Flynn replied, "No. You're not under arrest." After the warnings were issued, Brown asked multiple times if he could go home and stated that he was tired.

         Based on the above, the suppression court made second-level, "[d]ispositional" findings:

Because [Brown], who at the very least was a person of interest in the homicide, was met by a police officer immediately upon his discharge from the hospital, placed in the backseat of a police car, delivered to police headquarters, placed in an isolated interrogation room on the second floor inside the building and never advised he was free to leave, and had no apparent means to leave, the Court finds that in light of the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in [Brown's] position would not have felt at liberty to leave and thus was in custody.

         The suppression court did not discredit any part of the detectives' testimony and none of the court's findings of fact depart in any material way from their testimony.

         The State appealed the circuit court's grant of Brown's motion to suppress statements. On direct appeal in the Court of Special Appeals, the State argued that the suppression court erred in granting suppression of the statements Brown made to Detective Flynn before the detective advised him of his Miranda rights.[6] The State contended that the suppression court had incorrectly determined that, from the outset of the interrogation, Brown was in custody for purposes of Miranda. The Court of Special Appeals agreed and reversed the ruling of the suppression court in an unreported opinion.

         Brown filed a petition for writ of certiorari, posing the following questions for our review:

1. Pursuant to the "supplemental rule of interpretation, " where a motions court makes a legal determination, such as finding custodial interrogation took place, without making factual findings, must an appellate court fill in the fact-finding gaps by giving little or no weight to the losing party's evidence, discrediting the losing party's witnesses, and resolving any ambiguities and drawing all inferences in favor of the prevailing party?
2. In reversing a suppression ruling, may an appellate court rely on a fact on which conflicting evidence was presented below or must the court accept the version of facts most favorable to the prevailing party?
3. What effect does a motions judge's failure to make factual findings to support its legal conclusion that custodial interrogation took place have on the parameters of the appellate court's review where conflicting versions of events ...

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