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Jones v. United States

August 16, 2001

ELTON R. JONES, APPELLANT
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE



Before Wagner, Chief Judge, Terry, Steadman, Schwelb, Farrell, Ruiz, Reid, Glickman, and Washington, Associate Judges, and Mack, Senior Judge.

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

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Ronna L. Beck, Trial Judge)

On Rehearing En Banc

Argued May 22, 2001

Following a bench trial, Elton R. Jones was convicted of one count of unlawful possession of cocaine, in violation of D.C. Code § 33-541 (d) (1998). Jones filed a timely notice of appeal, contending that the trial judge had committed reversible error by denying Jones' motion to suppress, on Miranda grounds, *fn1 an incriminating statement that Jones had made to the police at the scene of the offense.

On March 4, 1999, a division of this court reversed Jones' conviction. Jones v. United States, 726 A.2d 186 (D.C. 1999) (Jones I). The court held that Jones was in police custody at the relevant time, that the words and actions of the police which led to Jones' incriminating statement were the "functional equivalent of questioning," and that Jones' statement was therefore the product of "custodial interrogation" as that term was used in Miranda and in Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 300-01 (1980). Jones I, supra, 726 A.2d at 188-90. Because Jones had not been advised of his rights in conformity with Miranda, the division held that his statement should have been suppressed; accordingly, the division reversed Jones' conviction. Id. at 190.

The United States filed a petition for rehearing or rehearing en banc, contending that Jones was not in custody at the time that he made the incriminating statement and that, even if he was, the statement sought to be suppressed was not made in response to police interrogation. On March 2, 2000, the division issued a revised opinion on rehearing in which it elaborated on its prior analysis but adhered to its disposition in Jones I. Jones v. United States, 747 A.2d 558 (D.C. 2000) (Jones II). One judge dissented. Id. at 563-64.

On February 13, 2001, we granted the government's petition for rehearing en banc addressed to the decision in Jones II. Jones v. United States, 770 A.2d 66 (D.C. 2001) (en banc) (per curiam) (Jones III). We now conclude that there was no Miranda violation. Accordingly, we affirm Jones' conviction.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Testimony at the hearing on Jones' suppression motion revealed that the events which led to Jones' prosecution occurred in the 600 block of Newton Place, N.W. in Washington, D.C. on November 10, 1995. Officer Diane Groomes of the Metropolitan Police Department testified that on the evening in question, she drove into the area in a scout car. Upon arrival, she observed three men standing on the sidewalk. Officer Groomes testified that she saw one of the men, later identified as appellant Elton R. Jones, drop two ziplock bags to the ground. Two other officers who were in the scout car apparently also observed the drop. Officer Groomes stopped the car, and she and the other officers approached Mr. Jones and directed the other two men to go across the street.

The officers then focused their attention on Mr. Jones. One of the officers picked up the two ziplock bags that were lying at Jones' feet. The bags contained a white rock substance that later proved to be crack cocaine. The officers asked Jones "for his ID, if he had ID at that time, or if he didn't have his ID what is his name, address, where he lives, things like that." After these questions were posed to him, Jones stated that "all he does is drink" and that "he was holding for those two guys." At the time that he made these comments, Jones had not been advised of his rights under Miranda. *fn2

After a field test of the suspected drugs indicated the presence of cocaine, Jones was placed in the police cruiser and transported to a police station; he was then released on citation. A week later, the United States Attorney filed an information charging Jones with misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance.

Through counsel, Jones filed a pretrial motion to suppress the incriminating statement that he had made at the scene, namely, that he was holding the drugs for someone else. On July 10, 1996, an evidentiary hearing was held on Jones' motion. During the presentation of the evidence, *fn3 the trial judge declared that, in her view, Jones was "in custody" for Miranda purposes at the time that he made the incriminating statement. After the parties had completed the presentation of their evidence, the judge found, in conformity with the testimony, that the police had not advised Jones of his rights pursuant to Miranda. Nevertheless, the judge denied Jones' motion to suppress:

I credit the testimony of the police officer to the effect that prior to Mr. Jones making the statements that he made, that he had not been interrogated, and that the statements were spontaneous. That he volunteered this information about the fact that he was just drinking and that he was holding for someone else, and that it was not in response to police interrogation that those statements were made.

I credit the officer's testimony that once the drugs had been seized by one of her colleagues, that the only questions that were asked of Mr. Jones related to his identification[,] to his name. And that no questions - although at some point questions were asked about the drugs, according to [the officer's] testimony those questions were asked after the defendant had made the statements that are at issue here.

After the judge denied Jones' motion, the case proceeded to a non-jury trial on the merits. The trial judge found Mr. Jones guilty as charged and sentenced him to imprisonment for sixty days. Jones filed a timely notice of appeal.

II. LEGAL DISCUSSION

The only issue before the en banc court is whether Jones' admission that he was holding the drugs was the product of custodial interrogation, and therefore subject to suppression on account of the failure of the police to advise Jones in advance of his rights pursuant to Miranda. The requirements of Miranda apply only if custodial interrogation has taken place; there must be both "custody" and "interrogation" at the same time. See, e.g., California v. Beheler, 463 U.S. 1121, 1123-25 (1983) (per curiam). The government contests each of these elements of "custodial interrogation"; it argues that Jones was not in "custody," as that term is used for Miranda purposes, *fn4 and that, even if he was, the statement in question was volunteered and was not made in response to interrogation. We do not reach the question whether Jones was in custody, for we agree with the government that, even if he was, the incriminating statement was not a product of police interrogation. We further conclude that there was ample evidentiary support for the judge's finding that Jones' admission that he was holding the drugs for others was volunteered and spontaneous.

A. The Standard of Review.

In reviewing the trial judge's denial of a motion to suppress statements on Miranda grounds, we defer to her findings of evidentiary fact. In re E.A.H., 612 A.2d 836, 838 (D.C. 1992). "[W]e review findings of historical fact only for clear error, and give due weight to inferences drawn from those facts by resident judges." United States v. Guiterrez, 92 F.3d 468, 471 (7th Cir. 1996). Moreover, "the facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom" must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party that prevailed in the trial court. Peay v. United States, 597 A.2d 1318, 1320 (D.C. 1991) (en banc). As the government argues in its brief, "this [c]court must defer to Judge Beck's findings of fact, which establish what happened and determine the sequence of events." (Quotation marks omitted.)

But in this type of case, as in any other, this court must "determine the ultimate question of law de novo." E.A.H., supra, 612 A.2d at 838. "Whether, on the duly established facts, [Jones] was subjected to custodial interrogation without the benefit of Miranda warnings is a question of law." Reid v. United States, 581 A.2d 359, 363 (D.C. 1990). More particularly, "[t]he question whether [Jones'] rights were scrupulously honored, including whether police conduct constitutes interrogation, is a question of law." Stewart v. United States, 668 A.2d 857, 863 (D.C. 1995) (quotation marks omitted). "Accordingly, we review de novo the [trial] judge's ...


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