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Crook v. United States

April 12, 2001

RASHEED CROOK, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



Before Steadman, Farrell and Glickman, Associate Judges.

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

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

Hon. William M. Jackson, Trial Judge

Argued December 18, 2000

Police arrested appellant after seeing him holding a gun while in close proximity to a man bleeding from the waist. As appellant was being handcuffed, the officer observed that appellant himself was suffering from a bullet wound. Thus realizing that other armed individuals might be in the vicinity, the officer asked several questions about the cause of the wounds. Appellant incriminated himself in one of his answers.

The only issue in this appeal is whether the trial court erred in denying appellant's motion to suppress the incriminating answer. Appellant asserts that the questioning was not preceded by the warning required by Miranda *fn1 for custodial interrogation. We think the government is correct that the questioning here fell within the "public safety" exception to the Miranda requirement. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment. *fn2

I.

The suppression hearing consisted of the testimony of Officer Milton Norris, a ten-year veteran, which was fairly summarized in the government's brief as follows. *fn3 While passing by in a car, Norris observed a man on the sidewalk bleeding from the waist area with a lot of blood on his shirt. He also observed appellant walking several feet in front of that man and trying to conceal a pistol in his left hand. Norris stopped the car and, with the help of another officer in the car, promptly arrested and handcuffed appellant. Norris at that point noticed that appellant himself also had a bleeding hole in his elbow. He asked appellant whether he had been shot and the appellant said yes. The police immediately sent for an ambulance to take care of both appellant and the man with the bloody shirt.

At that point, Norris "tried to get information from [appellant] and the other guy that was shot so we [could] broadcast a lookout for the other subjects . . . who did the shooting of these two[.]" More specifically, Norris said, "I asked [appellant] who were the guys that shot them and why and where were they." Appellant said, according to Norris:

[he] and his friend [were] walking down the street and they saw three males, black males, in the street as they walked. As they looked at the males the three males looked at them funny so they looked back at the males. And shortly after that the males produced a [sic] handguns and starting shooting at [appellant] and his friend. And then he told me that he retrieved his gun *fn4 and shot back. *fn5

Appellant and his wounded companion said the incident had "just happened and that the guys were right in the area[,]" and gave a brief description of who had shot them, and where they were. Based on this information, the police on the scene broadcast a lookout and sent officers in search of the suspects.

On cross-examination, Norris expanded on his frame of mind and purpose in the questioning. He explained that he did not write down any of appellant's statements because "I didn't feel that they were . . . statements [with] regards to what we're here for today. My main objective was to ask some questions in regards to the guy - the subject who shot them." He acknowledged that no Miranda warnings were given because "I wasn't really concerned with him being placed under arrest at that time." Thus, he did not ask appellant why he had the gun or "anything pertaining to that gun." Instead, "I asked him who shot him. I asked him did he know the guys, why he was shot. And where - where did - where was he shot at, the area where he was shot." At that time, Norris thought appellant was "treated as a victim, not as a criminal."

The trial court credited Norris's testimony. The court found that the questions "appeared to be quintessential investigatory questions not designed to build a case against [appellant] but rather to find out about how the [appellant] had gotten shot[,]" and that the officer's actions were fully consistent with an intent "not to elicit incriminating statements but . . . to investigate and apprehend the people who were responsible for shooting ...


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