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In re M.A.C.

October 27, 2000

IN RE M.A.C.,
APPELLANT.



Before Wagner, Chief Judge, and Ruiz, Associate Judge, and Pryor, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wagner, Chief Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

(Hon. Jose M. Lopez, Trial Judge)

Argued February 24, 1999

Appellant, M.A.C., appeals from an adjudication of delinquency based upon the trial court's finding that he was guilty of first degree murder. M.A.C., who was fifteen-years-old at the time of the offense and his arrest, contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress his confession. He contends that, because of his intellectual limitations, he did not voluntarily and knowingly waive his Miranda rights. *fn1 He also argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress identification testimony of an eyewitness, which he contends was unduly suggestive and unreliable because it was secured by coercive investigatory police tactics. We conclude that the trial court's rulings denying the motion to suppress M.A.C.'s statement and admitting the identification evidence is supported by the record. Therefore, we affirm.

I. Factual Background

On May 13, 1995, at about 6:30 p.m., William Zimmerman, Jr. was shot and killed in the 3100 block of Waclark Street, S.E. as he was returning to a car where friends were waiting. He had just walked his girlfriend, Kevette Holmes, to her door. Ms. Holmes testified that she looked back toward Zimmerman and saw "a boy just shooting at him." A police officer, Sean Martin, on security duty at the Mayor's home a short distance away, heard the gunshots and reported the incident to a dispatcher. Less than a minute after hearing the shots, Officer Martin saw M.A.C. walking hurriedly from the 3300 block of Brothers Place into Highview Street and removing his white shirt, exposing a white tank top. The officer called to M.A.C., who continued to remove his shirt and ran down Highview Street and into an alley in the 3400 block of Brothers Place. Officer Martin chased M.A.C. and broadcast a description for a black man wearing blue jeans, a white tank top, and white shirt running down Brothers Place. When the officer reached the mouth of the alley, he saw that M.A.C. had been stopped by two other officers, Whittington and Bruce.

Officer Whittington had heard the broadcast and stopped M.A.C., who matched the look-out description. Officer Martin identified M.A.C. as the person he had been chasing. Sergeant Joseph Thomas, testified that he went to the scene of the shooting and met the decedent's friend, Ms. Holmes. Sergeant Thomas had another officer bring M.A.C. toward a cruiser where Ms. Holmes was seated to see if she could identify him. Sergeant Thomas said that he asked her if she recognized anyone who committed the offense, and as she looked at M.A.C., "she said, it looks like him." When the sergeant asked if she was sure, he said that she responded negatively, "but she continued to say it looks like him as she nodded her head yes. And then she said that she was scared." He said that as M.A.C. was brought closer to the witness, "she really said it looks like him." When he asked her if she was sure, she responded "no," but nodded her head as if to say, "yes." Ms. Holmes described the shooter as wearing black jeans and a white shirt.

Ms. Holmes also spoke with Detective Robert Alder at the crime scene at about 7:15 p.m. She told him that she saw the shooter who had looked right at her, as he shot Zimmerman. She described the lighting conditions as good and said that she was paying attention. After the show-up, she told Detective Adler that M.A.C. looked like the shooter, but she thought the shooter had a darker complexion and was slightly taller. Later that night, while at the homicide office, Ms. Holmes said that she was 100% certain that M.A.C. was the shooter, but she had been afraid he would see her identifying him at the show-up.

Another witness, Gregory Peck, was in the area of the shooting that evening and heard the gunshots that night. He looked into the alley and saw M.A.C. pull a revolver from his pocket, climb up on a dumpster and place the weapon inside the dumpster. Later that evening, he identified M.A.C. as the person who had placed the gun in the dumpster.

M.A.C., who was fifteen years of age at the time, was taken to the a homicide branch office in the 7th District shortly before 8:00 p.m. There, he was held in an interrogation room, with his left hand secured to the floor from a two foot long chain. At 12:47 a.m., Detective Gutherie read M.A.C. his Miranda rights from a PD 47 rights card, after learning that M.A.C. could not read. M.A.C. signed the card, agreeing to waive all the Miranda rights. M.A.C.'s principal challenge on appeal concerns whether, given his mental limitations and the circumstances under which he gave the statement, the trial court could find that he voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his Miranda rights. We turn to consideration of this issue and elaborate further on the pertinent factual details in the next section of this opinion.

II. Motion to Suppress Statements

M.A.C. argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress statements he made while in police custody because he did not knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waive his right to remain silent and his right to counsel. He contends that as a fifteen-year-old youth, who is mildly mentally retarded, he was incapable of waiving his privilege against self-incrimination without discussing the decision with counsel, a parent or guardian. The government argues that the trial court properly applied the relevant factors for assessing whether M.A.C. made a valid waiver of his rights after the police administered Miranda warnings. *fn2

In Miranda, the Supreme Court established that statements made by an accused while in police custody are inadmissible, at least in the government's direct case, *fn3 unless the police, prior to questioning, warn him that he "has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires." Miranda, supra note 1, 384 U.S. at 479; Lewis v. United States, 483 A.2d 1125, 1127 (D.C. 1984) (citations omitted). The accused may waive Miranda rights and provide a statement to the police. See In re C.L.W., 467 A.2d 706, 709 (D.C. 1983); In re F.D.P., 352 A.2d 378, 380 (D.C. 1976) (citing In re J.F.T., 320 A.2d 322, 324 (D.C. 1974)). When a defendant challenges the admissibility of such a statement, the government has the burden of proving that the waivers of the ...


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