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United States v. Bell

November 04, 1999

UNITED STATES, APPELLANT,
V.
JASMINE A. BELL, APPELLEE.



Before Steadman, Ruiz and Reid, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steadman, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

(Hon. Henry F. Greene, Motions Judge)

Argued June 10, 1999

In this pretrial government appeal, we review the trial court's suppression of an audiotaped statement given to the police by appellee Jasmine Bell. Slightly less than six hours after his arrest, Bell signed a card waiving his Miranda *fn1 rights. Under our case law, that waiver also constituted a waiver of his right under Super. Ct. Crim. R. 5(a) to prompt presentment after the arrest. Bell was then questioned by the police and ten hours later gave the taped statement, incorporating what he had told the police during the questioning period. Presentment, however, did not occur until an additional thirty-eight hours had passed (caused in part by a fire that resulted in the closing of the courthouse). Because the trial judge erroneously concluded that the delay in presentment rendered Bell's statement involuntary as a matter of law, we reverse the suppression.

I.

Bell, along with two co-defendants, was indicted for first-degree murder and related charges. In a pretrial motion, Bell sought to suppress a taped statement (not a confession but, for the most part, an alibi claim) that he had given to the police. After a four-day hearing, the trial court granted the motion in an extensive oral ruling from the bench. The government took a timely expedited appeal to this court pursuant to D.C. Code § 23-104(a)(1)(1996).

A.

The only two witnesses at the suppression hearing were Detective Konstantinos Giannakoulias, a Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) detective who was investigating the shooting death, and Bell himself. Bell had been identified as a suspected shooter and a warrant had been issued for his arrest. Detective Giannakoulias then gave the following testimony about the ensuing events.

On January 28, 1998, Detective Giannakoulias was in court on an unrelated matter when he was notified at 2:00 p.m. that Bell had turned himself in to the MPD's Seventh District and had been placed under arrest. When Detective Giannakoulias returned to the Seventh District at approximately 4:00 p.m. that afternoon, he saw Bell sitting handcuffed to a chair in the main office area of the homicide office. Bell did not appear to be in any discomfort, he was not crying, and he did not appear to be physically injured.

Detective Giannakoulias told Bell that he was under arrest on a warrant and explained that the police would "advise [Bell] of his rights" and give him a chance to speak with them "if he wanted to" after he prepared some paperwork. At 4:20 p.m., in the presence of Detective Giannakoulias, another detective advised Bell of his Miranda rights. Bell's handcuffs were removed and he was not restrained in any way for the rest of the time he spent at the Seventh District. Bell signed the usual PD-47 form indicating that he was waiving his Miranda rights and that he was willing to answer questions without an attorney.

After Bell signed the card, Detective Giannakoulias began to interview him. The interview lasted from approximately 4:20 p.m. until the point at which Bell agreed to give a taped statement, at approximately 2:30 a.m. During the interview, Bell was not handcuffed, he was sitting near the detective's desk, and there were plenty of people around. Breaks were taken during the interview while detectives checked on the legitimacy of the alibi information Bell was providing, got something for Bell to eat or drink, or walked Bell to the bathroom.

At approximately 2:30 a.m., Bell agreed to give an audiotaped statement. The taped interview lasted until 3:24 a.m. At the beginning of the tape, Bell acknowledged that he was "giving [the] statement voluntarily," that the police had read him his rights earlier the day before, that he had answered yes on all of the questions on the PD-47 card and signed the card, and that he understood that he was charged with murder. Detective Giannakoulias testified that during the taped interview Bell was allowed to talk freely, did not complain about what was happening during the taking of the statement, and did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. No promises were made to Bell in exchange for giving the taped statement.

In the taped statement, Bell for the most part provided alibi information, claiming that he was in a different location with his friends at the time the decedent was killed. He said that a friend had told him about the murder on the night of the incident but that he did not learn who was killed until the next day. Bell acknowledged that the decedent had robbed him on a prior occasion and that, on yet another ...


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