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Little v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

November 12, 2015

Jalonte Little, Appellant,
United States, Appellee.

Argued April 15, 2014

Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF3-22821-08) (Hon. Ronna L. Beck, Trial Judge)

Debra L. Soltis, with whom Paul Y. Kiyonaga was on the brief, for appellant.

L. Jackson Thomas, II, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald Machen Jr., United States Attorney at the time the brief was filed, Roy W. McLeese III, Assistant United States Attorney at the time the brief was filed, and Heather L. Carlton, Elizabeth Danello, Chrisellen R. Kolb, Jeffrey Pearlman, Thomas Rees, and Elizabeth Trosman, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the briefs, for appellee.

Before Blackburne-Rigsby and Beckwith, Associate Judges, and Belson, Senior Judge.

Beckwith, Associate Judge.

For nearly two hours of stationhouse questioning, in the face of false reports that several witnesses had identified him, a false claim that his fingerprints were found in the vehicle, and persistent illusory promises of favorable treatment if he confessed, eighteen-year-old Jolonta[1] Little remained steadfast in his denials that he was involved in the carjacking of which he was later convicted in this case. Things began to change, however, when a detective goaded him about the prospect of being sexually assaulted when he arrived at the D.C. Jail if he did not confess and thus give police "an opportunity to help [him] instead of incarcerate [him]." As Mr. Little began to waver, the detectives then proposed the idea of meeting with a lawyer to work out a deal. Under intensifying pressure, and having heard the detective mention a lawyer, Mr. Little inquired, "So where my attorney at?" and stressed that he was "trying to have that meeting set up." There would be no such meeting with his lawyer unless Mr. Little put some "meat . . . on the table" and confessed, the officer said: "I got to have a reason for that to happen, and that reason is going to have to be you telling me what happened that day when that lady got robbed." At this point, in the face of a threat of being raped in jail, a confusing statement about when he could see a lawyer, and a statement that conditioned a meeting with a lawyer upon his confessing to the carjacking in this case, Mr. Little's resolve collapsed and he confessed.

The firmness of Mr. Little's denials during disquieting tactics and the persistence of those denials as the pressure increased help persuade us that when he finally did speak in the immediate wake of the most coercive tactics mentioned above, his statements were not made "freely, voluntarily, and without compulsion or inducement of any sort." Haynes v. Washington, 373 U.S. 503, 513 (1963); In re J.F., 987 A.2d 1168, 1177 (D.C. 2010). On this ground, we hold that Mr. Little's motion to suppress his confession should have been granted, and we reverse Mr. Little's convictions[2] and remand for a new trial.


The charges against Jolonta Little stem from a September 19, 2008, incident in which a woman named Camilla Deline was standing near her Toyota Highlander outside her daughter's apartment on T Street N.W. when she was grabbed from behind and choked by one man while another man demanded her keys. Ms. Deline's daughter, Marisa Deline, arrived to find a young man in the driver's seat of her mother's car, another young man running around to the passenger side of the car, and her mother lying unconscious in the street. When Marisa yelled, the two men fled on foot. After a cell phone found in the vehicle was traced to Jolonta Little, police arrested Mr. Little on a juvenile absconder warrant and brought him to a Metropolitan Police Department station for questioning eight days after the incident. The interrogation was videotaped, and Mr. Little confessed to the carjacking at issue in this case approximately two hours into the more than five-hour-long videotape.

A. The Interrogation

As one detective put it, Jolonta Little's day began on September 27, 2008, when police "bang[ed] [his] door down at 7:00 in the morning and drag[ged] [him] out of bed while [he was] still in [his] drawers." By 8:37 a.m., Mr. Little, who had just turned eighteen the month before, was sitting alone in a small interrogation room, on a metal chair, with one wrist chained to the floor and both feet shackled, fidgeting and seeming to try to find a position in which he could sleep.

Several minutes into the videotape Detective Joe Crespo entered the room, followed some time later by Detective Dailey. Near the beginning of the interrogation, Detective Crespo read Mr. Little his Miranda[3] rights. Before doing so, he told Mr. Little that this interrogation was "bigger than [the] absconder warrant" that he was picked up on, that "people are calling us telling us it was you" and "telling us what . . . you've done, " that he had been identified as the perpetrator in some "robberies, " and that Detective Crespo was "already straight on [his] case." "If we don't work it out, " Detective Crespo said, "we're going to go through with what we're doing and you're going to get hit with every one we got . . . [u]nless you're able to offer some sort of explanation and alibi"-like explaining more about the money his mother gives him every month, as "not everybody has that, so that's a good thing for you." Mr. Little could refuse to answer any questions, the detective told him, "or you can say, you know, I want to talk to you because I want to find out more about what we know, you know what I mean? Because maybe we're wrong, who knows." But "this will be a unique opportunity for you to find out exactly what we got, " and to "offer an explanation" or "offer . . . something" that would convince the detectives they are wrong.

Detective Crespo read Mr. Little his rights, then told him that "if you want to find out more about what we think we know, you're going to have to agree to answer questions." Mr. Little hesitated, then said he would agree "as long as you all let me stop when I say I ain't ready-I don't want to talk, " to which Detective Crespo responded:

That's cool. We can't make you do nothing because believe me when I tell you, this is an opportunity for you. This is not just-if we went through what we got already, we would have got a warrant for you already, but I knew that there has to be some sort of explanation because we both have been doing this for a long time. There had to be an explanation for what's been going on, and we are offering you the opportunity to explain something because typically, nine times out of ten, we get the warrant and lock you up and that's it.

After Detective Crespo instructed him to sign the form waiving his rights- "and I need you to sign it right there. What position you play in football?"-Mr. Little signed the form and the two then discussed football. At other points throughout the interrogation, the detectives talked to Mr. Little about other topics besides the offenses they suspected him of committing, including his son, his girlfriend, his Muslim religion, his hope to get his GED, his mother-"[Y]our mom loves you to death . . . and now she doesn't have a son"-and the money his mother regularly gave him from a monthly check she received that somehow pertained to Mr. Little's learning disability. The ...

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