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State v. William Sawyer Jr.
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	2001 ME 88
Docket:	Ken-00-466
on Briefs:	January 18, 2001
Decided:	June 13, 2001




	[¶1]  The State appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Augusta,
Vafiades, J.) suppressing, as involuntary, a statement made by William
Sawyer, Jr.  We vacate the judgment.
	[¶2]  The officer testified to the following facts at the suppression
hearing.   In December of 1999, at approximately 1 a.m., an officer on
routine patrol observed a truck heading toward him passing another vehicle. 
To avoid a collision, the officer was forced to pull over into the breakdown
lane.  The officer clocked the truck at 73 mph in a 50 mph zone, proceeded
to turn on his blue lights, and turned his cruiser around to follow the
vehicles.  While following the vehicles, the officer passed a driveway and saw
two sets of taillights.  He turned around a second time and pulled into a
residential driveway.  The court found that "[t]he red truck was parked up
the driveway, the white vehicle was behind the truck and partially to the
left," and "the officer parked behind the white car."  The officer stated that
he was conducting an investigatory stop based on a civil violation, and the
court determined that the officer "thought it was important to talk to the
driver of the vehicle regarding his dangerous pass and his speed."{1}
	[¶3]  The officer observed four males in the driveway, including
Sawyer who was standing by the front fender of the truck.  The court found
that the officer requested that Sawyer come talk to him, asked Sawyer if he
was the driver of the truck, and Sawyer answered affirmatively.  Next, the
officer requested Sawyer's license and conducted a field sobriety test,
during which Sawyer told the officer he had been drinking too much.  The
officer agreed, placed him in handcuffs, and placed him in the cruiser.  The
officer did not administer Miranda warnings prior to questioning Sawyer.
	[¶4]  Sawyer was charged with criminal OUI pursuant to 29-A M.R.S.A.
§ 2411 (1996),{2} and pleaded not guilty.  Sawyer filed a motion to suppress
the statements and arrest,{3} and a hearing was held at which only the officer
testified.  The court made the following determinations: the officer was
justified in making an investigatory stop, the officer subjected Sawyer to an
interrogation, Sawyer was not in custody, Miranda warnings were not
required, Sawyer's statement that he was the driver of the truck was not
made voluntarily, and Sawyer's statement that he had been drinking too
much was a spontaneous statement made voluntarily.  As a result, the court
suppressed Sawyer's involuntary admission to operating the truck and
suppressed the arrest because probable cause for the arrest was partially
based on Sawyer's involuntary statement.  The State's motion for
reconsideration was denied, and the State filed this timely appeal pursuant
to 15 M.R.S.A. § 2115-A (1980) and M.R. Crim. P. 37B.
	[¶5]  The State contends the court reached two legally inconsistent
conclusions by using similar facts to determine that Sawyer was not in
custody but his admission that he was the driver was involuntary.  The State
further contends the court erred in its factual findings and its application of
the law.  Sawyer contends the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable
doubt that his admission to operating the truck was voluntary.
	[¶6]  In concluding that Sawyer's admission to operating the truck was
involuntary, the court made the following findings:
The burden is on the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt
that the defendant's statements were voluntary.  The court finds
that the defendant's vehicle was blocked by the officer's, the
officer had arrived with his blue lights on, the officer was
directing the defendant's movements and asking questions. 
Based on the State's questioning of its own witness, the officer
clearly stated that when he approached the defendant to ask
him for information, the defendant was not free to walk away. 
Based on these facts, the court concludes that a reasonable
person would believe that he had no choice but to answer the
officer's questions.  The court finds that the defendant's
statement that he was the driver of the vehicle was not
voluntarily made.
(citation omitted) (emphasis added).
	[¶7]  The "suppression judge must consider the totality of the
circumstances in determining whether a confession is voluntary . . . ."  State
v. Coombs, 1998 ME 1, ¶ 7, 704 A.2d 387, 389.  "Although findings of fact
are reviewed deferentially, the application of legal principles to those
findings is reviewed independently."  Id. ¶ 8, 704 A.2d at 390.  "[T]he
dispositive issue of the voluntariness of a confession, although based on all
the facts and circumstances surrounding the confession, is a legal issue
warranting independent appellate review."  Id. ¶ 9, 704 A.2d at 390.  Thus,
we determine whether the court's factual findings warrant the legal
conclusion that Sawyer's admission to operating the truck was involuntary.
	[¶8]  "A confession is admissible in evidence only if voluntary, and the
State bears the burden of establishing voluntariness beyond a reasonable
doubt."  Id. ¶ 10, 704 A.2d at 390.  "In order to find a statement voluntary,
it must first be established that it is the result of defendant's exercise of his
own free will and rational intellect."  State v. Rees, 2000 ME 55, ¶ 3, 748
A.2d 976, 977 (citing State v. Caouette, 446 A.2d 1120, 1123-24 (Me.
1982)).  "[T]he voluntariness requirement gives effect to three overlapping
but conceptually distinct values: (1) it discourages objectionable police
practices; (2) it protects the mental freedom of the individual; and (3) it
preserves a quality of fundamental fairness in the criminal justice system." 
State v. Mikulewicz, 462 A.2d 497, 500 (Me. 1983).
	[¶9]  In applying a totality of the circumstances analysis to determine
voluntariness, we have considered both external and internal factors, such
as:  the details of the interrogation; duration of the interrogation; location of
the interrogation; whether the interrogation was custodial; the recitation of
Miranda warnings; the number of officers involved; the persistence of the
officers; police trickery; threats, promises or inducements made to the
defendant; and the defendant's age, physical and mental health, emotional
stability, and conduct.  We have applied these factors to determine the
situations in which the totality of the circumstances indicate that a
defendant's admission is no longer the result "of his own free will and
rational intellect."  See Rees, 2000 ME 55, ¶ 3, 748 A.2d at 977.  For
example, in Rees, the defendant's statements were involuntary because the
record clearly indicated he suffered from dementia.  Id. ¶¶ 1-2, 748 A.2d at
977.  In Mikulewicz, the defendant's statements were involuntary because of
his age, his nakedness throughout the interrogation, his illness, the length
of the continuous interrogation, the number of officers involved, and the
officers' use of alcohol to encourage him to talk.  Mikulewicz, 462 A.2d at
498-99, 501.  Similarly, in Caouette, although the deputy told the defendant
he did not want to discuss the case and that anything he said could be used
against him, the defendant's statements were involuntary because he was
incarcerated, vomiting, crying, frightened, emotionally upset, and had no
conscious intent to discuss the case.  Caouette, 446 A.2d at 1121, 1124.
	[¶10]  In contrast, in Coombs, the defendant's statements, made 
while she was crying and intermittently handcuffed to a pole in the
interrogation room during a two to three hour interrogation, were voluntary
beyond a reasonable doubt when the officer testified that she was not
threatened nor promised anything in exchange for her confession (other
than his willingness to dispose of some marijuana found in her vehicle). 
Coombs, 1998 ME 1, ¶¶ 5-6, 11-12, 704 A.2d at 389, 391.  Likewise, in
State v. Theriault, 425 A.2d 986 (Me. 1981), the defendant's statements,
made after the officers stated that "it would be better to tell us (the truth)"
and "people would think more of [you] if [you] got it off [your] chest," were
voluntary and not elicited by a promise of leniency.  Id. at 990.
	[¶11]  The findings made at the suppression hearing are as follows:
Sawyer's vehicle was blocked by the officer's, the officer arrived with his
blue lights on, the officer directed Sawyer's movements and asked
questions, and the officer was of the opinion that Sawyer was not free to
walk away.  The court determined that Sawyer was not in custody,{4} and the
officer testified that in communicating with Sawyer, he did not have his gun
drawn and did not speak in a threatening manner.  Because the court placed
great importance on the irrelevant subjective belief of the police officer, as
to whether Sawyer was free to walk away, we must vacate the suppression
and remand for a reevaluation of the circumstances.{5}
	The entry is:
Judgment vacated.  Remanded to the Disrict
Court for further proceedings consistent with
this opinion.

Click here for the dissenting opinion.