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Ford v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

December 20, 2017


         Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County Case No. C-02-CR-15-33

          Graeff, Berger, Krauser, Peter B. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.


          BERGER, J.

         Following a jury trial in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, appellant David Leander Ford ("Ford") was convicted of second degree murder and was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison with all but twenty years suspended. The circuit court further ordered that Ford be placed on probation for five years following his release.

         On appeal, Ford raises four questions for our review, which we have rephrased as follows:

1. Whether the circuit court erred in denying Ford's motion to suppress his statements to police.
2. Whether the circuit court abused its discretion in allowing the State's witnesses to testify regarding the victim's character for peacefulness.
3. Whether the circuit court erred or abused its discretion in allowing a State's witness to testify regarding Ford's reaction to being told that he had to leave her house.
4. Whether the circuit court abused its discretion in limiting Ford's cross-examination of a State's witness.

         For the reasons stated herein, we shall affirm.


         We set forth the facts in the light most favorable to the prevailing party below. On the evening of July 8, 2015, Mohamed Eltahir ("Eltahir") was sitting on a park bench with Everett Kane ("Kane"). Ford arrived holding some grocery bags, which he put down at the end of the walkway before sitting on the bench with Eltahir and Kane. Eltahir and Kane were drinking alcohol, but Kane testified that Eltahir did not appear to be drunk. Barbara McQueen ("McQueen") and her friend, Kathy, were sitting on another bench.

         Two women walked by the bench where Ford was sitting, and Ford made a lewd comment about Eltahir's sister. An argument ensued and quickly escalated. Ford hit Eltahir first, and Eltahir struck back. At some point during the altercation, Ford drew a knife and stabbed Eltahir in the chest. Ford asked Kane to grab his bags, and the two of them fled the scene. Although Ford had a cut on his arm, nobody had seen Eltahir use a knife, and there was no evidence that Eltahir was in possession of a knife. Eltahir died from the wound in his chest inflicted by Ford.

         Thereafter, Ford went to the house of Sheila Brown ("Brown"), his former girlfriend, to avoid the police. Brown let him stay the night, but the next morning she told him to leave. Ford cursed her and left, slamming the front door. When he exited the building, he was tackled by police in the front parking lot.

         After Ford was arrested, he was placed in the unmarked vehicle of Detective William Ballard ("Detective Ballard"). Detective Ballard did not ask Ford any questions about the reasons for his arrest. As detectives approached Brown's residence, Ford said that "they had nothing to do with this, " that the detectives were "not going to find anything, " and that he "hid the knife in the county." When Ford told Detective Ballard that he had not eaten and that he had low blood sugar, Detective Ballard stopped to get Ford some food. Later, Ford began to talk about the incident again, saying, "[h]e cut me, " at which point Detective Ballard advised Ford of his Miranda rights. Ford did not say anything else to Detective Ballard.

         Detective Ballard took Ford to an interrogation room at the Criminal Investigation Division ("CID"). Ford was left in the room, where he ate his breakfast and fell asleep. One hour and nine minutes later, Detective Kelly Harding ("Detective Harding") and Detective Jason McNemar ("Detective McNemar") entered the room. Ford told the detectives that he was cold, and they turned down the air-conditioning. When Detective Harding asked Ford about the cut on his arm, he told her that he needed stitches. Detective Harding read Ford his Miranda rights and began to question him. At one point, Ford told the detectives that he is "schizophrenic with bipolar, seizures, and everything" and that he had not taken his medication. The detectives also learned that Ford had not taken his medication for diabetes in a couple of days. Ford made a number of incriminating statements to Detectives Harding and McNemar. Indeed, Ford exclaimed, "Lord, forgive me for what I've done, help me." Recounting the altercation with Eltahir, Ford said, "That's when I told him, 'You done messed up, ' and I cut him." Ford also told the detectives where he hid the knife.

         We shall set forth additional facts as necessitated by our discussion of the issues on appeal.

         I. The Circuit Court Did Not Err In Admitting Ford's Statements to Police.

         Ford argues that the statements he made in custody were involuntary due to his "weakened and distressed mental and physical state." Ford further contends that the confession he made during his interrogation at CID was improperly induced in exchange for medical treatment. Although Ford waived his Miranda rights, Ford claims that his waiver was neither knowing nor voluntary. Based on our review of the record, we hold that Ford spoke voluntarily to the police at all times and that the waiver of his Miranda rights was knowing and voluntary.

         In reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress evidence, "we confine ourselves to what occurred at the suppression hearing, " which we view "in a light most favorable to the prevailing party on the motion." Lee v. State, 418 Md. 136, 148 (2011); see also Daniels v. State, 172 Md.App. 75, 87 (2006). Although we defer to the trial court's factual findings "unless they are shown to be clearly erroneous, " we will undertake "our own independent constitutional appraisal, by reviewing the relevant law and applying it to the facts and circumstances of this case." Id. at 148-49. The constitutional question of voluntariness is a mixed question of law and fact and, therefore, subject to de novo review on appeal. Smith v. State, 220 Md.App. 256, 272 (2014); see also State v. Tolbert, 381 Md. 539, 557 (citing Winder v. State, 362 Md. 275, 310 (2001)), cert. denied, 543 U.S. 852 (2004).

         "In Maryland, when the State intends to use a confession or admission given by the defendant to the police during custodial interrogation, the prosecution must, upon proper challenge, establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the statement satisfies the mandates of Miranda v. Arizona, and, that the statement is voluntary." Tolbert, supra, 381 Md. at 557. A suspect's waiver of Miranda rights is valid if "the totality of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation reveals both an uncoerced choice and the requisite level of comprehension." Lee, supra, 418 Md. at 150 (internal quotations marks omitted) (citing Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 421 (1986)). In Lee, the Court of Appeals articulated the standard as follows:

First, the relinquishment of the right must have been voluntary in the sense that it was the product of a free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation, coercion, or deception. Second, the waiver must have been made with a full awareness of both the nature of the right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon it.

Id. (citing Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 421 (1986)).

         A. Ford's Unsolicited Remarks to Detective Ballard Were Voluntary.

         Ford concedes that his remarks to Detective Ballard were unsolicited and, therefore, not subject to Miranda. Ford contends, however, that his remarks were involuntary due to his "weakened and distressed mental and physical state." In our view, the record of the suppression hearing does not support this conclusion.

         Under federal and Maryland constitutional law, a statement is involuntary if it results from "police conduct that overbears the will of the suspect and induces the suspect to confess." Lee, supra, 418 Md. at 159. Under Maryland non-constitutional law, a statement is involuntary when a suspect "is so mentally impaired that he does not know or understand what he is saying, or when the confession is induced by force, undue influence, improper promises, or threats." Rodriguez v. State, 191 Md.App. 196, 224 (2010) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Hoey v. State, 311 Md. 473, 482-83 (1988)). To determine whether a suspect's statement was voluntary, the trial court must consider the totality of the circumstances, including, inter alia, "the length of the interrogation, the manner in which it was conducted, the number of police officers present throughout the interrogation, and the age, education and experience of the suspect." Winder v. State, 362 Md. 275, 307 (2001).

         In the case sub judice, Ford's remarks to Detective Ballard were voluntary notwithstanding his mental and physical ailments. Although Ford suffers from mental illness, the circuit court found that Ford was not exhibiting any symptoms on the day of the arrest. Detective Ballard observed Ford walking on the street and testified that he was "walking fine." Later, Ford had no trouble walking from the patrol car into CID. Although Ford complained of low blood sugar, Detective Ballard testified that Ford was responsive and appeared to be "coherent and awake." Indeed, Ford stopped talking after receiving his Miranda warnings from Detective Ballard, suggesting that he could understand the information and act accordingly. The record reflects that Ford knew what he was saying and that his will was not overborne by Detective Ballard's conduct.

         B. Ford's Statement to the Police at CID Was Voluntary.

         Ford also claims that his statement to the detectives at CID was involuntary. We disagree. As a preliminary matter, we observe that the general location and manner of Ford's interrogation was neither intimidating nor coercive. The interrogation room at CID is seven feet by ten feet in size, with three chairs, a table, and a window. Ford was handcuffed, and one of his ankles was shackled to the ground. The detectives were unarmed, and Detective Harding was dressed in business attire. The interrogation lasted about an hour, and Ford concedes that Detective Harding did not mistreat him or threaten him.

         Ford argues that his physical and mental condition at the time of the interrogation rendered his statement involuntary. Detective Harding and Detective McNemar testified, however, that Ford appeared coherent. Although Ford reported feeling cold -- a possible symptom of low blood sugar -- he was provided with soda upon request. As for his injured arm, Ford did not report any pain until much later in the interview, when the detectives were already preparing to call a paramedic. Based on the video of the interrogation and the detectives' testimony, the circuit court found that Ford "was coherent and aware" during the interrogation and that he "had a basic understanding of his rights." The circuit court further found "no signs that [Ford] was experiencing any side effects from low blood sugar" or "that he was so impaired at the time of the interrogation that he was unaware of what he was saying." Because we cannot say that these findings were clearly erroneous, we hold that Ford's confession at CID was voluntary.

         Ford contends, nonetheless, that his confession at CID was the result of improper inducement. A statement obtained by threat or promise of advantage is involuntary under Maryland law regardless of the other circumstances, "unless the State can establish that such threats or promises in no way induced the confession." Hill, supra, 418 Md. at 75-76. An improper inducement occurs when the following conditions are satisfied:

(1) any officer or agent of the police force promises or implies to a suspect that he will be given special consideration from a prosecuting authority or some other form of assistance in exchange for the suspect's confession, and (2) the suspect makes a confession in apparent reliance on the police officer's explicit or implicit inducement.

Id. at 76 (citing Hillard v. State, 286 Md. 145, 153 (1979)).

         Turning to the case at hand, the record shows that Detective Harding and Detective McNemar made no threats or promises during their interrogation of Ford. Ford rests his ...

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