This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Heidi Marie Banks,
Filed April 1, 2003
Scott County District Court
File No. 0117561
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Thomas J. Harbinson, Scott County Attorney, Diane M. Hanson, Michael Groh, Assistant County Attorneys, 200 Fourth Avenue West, Shakopee, MN 55379-1220 (for appellant)
David B. Boyce, Ramstad, Kennedy & Boyce, 525 First Avenue East, Shakopee, MN 55379 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges a pretrial order suppressing the confession of respondent Heidi Banks, who was charged with third- and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. Because we conclude that the district court clearly erred in its ruling that the confession was not voluntary, we reverse and remand.
In August 2001, respondent was working as an overnight staff person at Safe Haven Home for Youth. The complaint alleges that respondent, who was then 31 years old, engaged in sexual activity on two different nights with R.T.C., a 16-year-old male resident of Safe Haven. When the Safe Haven staff questioned R.T.C. and the other juvenile about respondent’s allegations, the other juvenile alleged that respondent had led the boys in games of spin-the-bottle and truth-or-dare that led to sexual activities in which respondent was a willing participant. R.T.C. did not report these encounters to the group home or to police. He was questioned by police only after respondent reported being sexually threatened by R.T.C. and another male juvenile resident.
R.T.C. told police that on August 17, 2001, he and respondent kissed and engaged in sexual contact. R.T.C. stated that on August 31, he had a second sexual encounter with respondent at Safe Haven that culminated in digital penetration and oral sex.
Shortly after respondent had reported being sexually threatened, Detective Chris Olson approached respondent as she arrived for work. Olson asked respondent if she would go to the police station to make a statement about allegations that had been made at the home. Respondent agreed to go to the station and talk to Olson.
At the beginning of the interview, Detective Olson told respondent that he wanted to talk to her not only about the allegations that she had made but also about allegations made by one of the boys “that alarmed us, concerned us, involving activities that occurred under your watch at Safe Haven.” Olson explained that the interview would cover both subjects and told respondent that she was under no obligation to talk to him.
The videotaped interview lasted over two hours. No Miranda warning was given, either before or during the interview. Respondent was not told that the interview was being recorded until the end, and, when she was advised, respondent objected strongly to not being given that information. Respondent became distraught at a few points during the interview. There were two very brief interruptions in the questioning when Detective Olson left the room. Respondent was offered water at one point in the questioning and was offered a Kleenex at another time.
Detective Olson confronted respondent with the statements related by the juveniles of sexual activities at the group home and a sexual relationship that respondent allegedly had with one of the boys. Respondent eventually admitted sexual contact with R.T.C., but claimed that the boys had a weapon and that she acted out of fear for her own safety. Later, respondent admitted that there was no weapon involved and that she had concocted the allegation of being sexually threatened in order to deter the boys from reporting her misconduct.
Prior to trial, respondent moved to suppress her statement. The district court ruled that the confession was not voluntary and must be suppressed, citing five factors:
(1) concealment of the real reason for the interview;
(2) failure to inform respondent that the interview was being recorded;
(3) statements implying that it was in respondent’s best interests to talk to police and that no charges would be brought;
(4) respondent’s obvious emotional distress during the interview; and
(5) respondent’s unfamiliarity with the criminal justice system.
This appeal follows.
In order to prevail on an appeal from an order suppressing evidence, the state must demonstrate “clearly and unequivocally” that the order (1) will critically affect the state’s ability to successfully prosecute the defendant and (2) constitutes error. State v. Scott, 584 N.W.2d 412, 416 (Minn. 1998) (quotation omitted). The “critical impact” prong of this test must be resolved before moving to the question of error. Id. To show “critical impact,” the state need not show that the suppression of the evidence in question will completely destroy the state’s case. Id. However, the absence of the evidence must “significantly reduce” the state’s likelihood of successful prosecution. Id. (quoting State v. Kim, 398 N.W.2d 544, 551 (Minn. 1987)). Generally, the suppression of a confession will critically impact the prosecution’s case. Scott, 584 N.W.2d at 416; State v. Ronnebaum, 449 N.W.2d 722, 724 (Minn. 1990).
Without the confession in this case, the state is left with the statements of juvenile residents of a group home for troubled youth. Although it is doubtful that the juveniles’ delinquency adjudications or other legal problems would be admissible at trial, respondent’s testimony as an adult staff person could be more credible to a jury. See generally Minn. R. Evid. 609(d). Moreover, respondent could repeat at trial her initial allegations against the boys without the state being able to use an involuntary statement to impeach her. See State v. Slowinski, 450 N.W.2d 107, 111 (Minn. 1990). Therefore, we conclude that the state has shown the suppression of respondent’s confession does have “critical impact.”
The state has the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that, in light of the surrounding circumstances, a confession was voluntary. State v. Anderson, 404 N.W.2d 856, 858 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. June 25, 1987). This court relies on the facts as found by the district court that are not clearly erroneous in determining if the state has satisfied its burden. Id. But we independently determine, based on a review of the record, whether the confession was voluntary. State v. Riley, 568 N.W.2d 518, 525 (Minn. 1997).
In reviewing the voluntariness of a confession, this court must consider the totality of the circumstances, including the subjective factors that focus on the characteristics of the defendant and those factors that focus on the interrogation process. State v. Marshall, 642 N.W.2d 48, 54 (Minn. App. 2002), review denied (Minn. May 28, 2002). The subjective factors, which the district court did not significantly rely on here, include the defendant’s age, maturity, intelligence, education, and experience with the criminal justice system. Id.
Respondent was 31 years old at the time of her interrogation by Detective Olson. She had completed two years of college, along with some vocational training and was employed in a supervisory position at Safe Haven. Although she had never been charged with a crime, her initial allegations against the juvenile residents, as well as her discussion with Detective Olson about the risks of dealing with juvenile delinquents, and the nature of her job itself, reflected some understanding of the criminal justice system.
The district court focused, first, on Detective Olson’s concealment of the real reason for the interview with respondent. But Detective Olson’s first statement to respondent was an attempt to clarify for the respondent that he would also be questioning her about allegations made against her. And respondent, having made serious allegations against the juvenile residents in order to conceal her own alleged acts, must have known that any police follow-up could extend beyond her allegations. In Scott, the supreme court held that a defendant first questioned about a crime to which he was a witness nevertheless validly waived his Miranda rights when the questioning shifted to the charged offense. 584 N.W.2d at 418-19.
Detective Olson was very candid with respondent at an early stage, quickly informing her that he might have to refer to the county attorney “allegations I’m hearing from the kids.” The record negates any claim of significant misleading by police in this regard that would cast doubt on the voluntariness of the confession.
The district court also emphasized the failure of Detective Olson to inform respondent that the interview was being tape-recorded. But, given respondent’s age, education and maturity, she could not have believed that she could confess to criminal behavior without any record of her statement being made. That is particularly so, given Detective Olson’s statement early in the interview that he might have to “refer reports to the County Attorney’s Office.” Although respondent was quite upset when finally told the interview had been tape-recorded, her later objection to being taped does not call into question her earlier willingness to confess.
The district court also found that Detective Olson “strongly implied” that it was in respondent’s best interests not to end the interview and that a reasonable person “could easily conclude” that if she cooperated no charges would be brought. But a police suggestion that it is in a suspect’s best interests to talk to them is not the type of inducement that is so coercive as to make a confession involuntary. See generally Riley, 568 N.W.2d at 525 (holding that coercive police activity must be present before a statement will be considered involuntary); In re Welfare of D.S.N., 611 N.W.2d 811, 814 (Minn. App. 2000) (holding that police promises not rising to the level of a promise of non-prosecution do not make a confession involuntary).
The district court concluded that a reasonable person in respondent’s position could have believed that if she cooperated she would not be charged with a crime. But, although Detective Olson made statements during the interview suggesting that it would be better in the “long run” for respondent to confess and that continued denial was not going to “stop this process,” the transcript of the interview contains no promises, even implied, of non-prosecution. On the contrary, Detective Olson emphasized from the beginning that respondent faced prosecution and made it clear at the end, when respondent balked at admitting some details, that she faced “legal consequences.” Although Olson suggested that if respondent admitted her mistake, people would understand, this vague statement falls far short of a promise of non-prosecution. Cf. State v. Slowinski, 450 N.W.2d 107, 112 (Minn. 1990) (statements suggesting police had influence with county attorney, who might agree with their suggestion that defendant needed counseling, were improper but did not make confession involuntary).
The ultimate question posed by police promises or inducements is whether they are the kind of statements that would make an innocent person confess. See State v. Jones, 566 N.W.2d 317, 326 (Minn. 1997) (noting that a statement is not voluntary if the deceit would make an innocent person confess). Assurances that people would “understand” respondent’s “mistake,” while perhaps offering false and misleading sympathy, fall far short of being sufficiently coercive to make an innocent person confess. That is particularly true here, where respondent repeatedly expressed concern about the effects on her career should she admit to the alleged acts.
The district court’s finding that respondent was in emotional distress, while supported by the record, does not support a finding that her confession was involuntary. If a suspect becomes distraught during interrogation, she should be given time to compose herself. State v. Pilcher, 472 N.W.2d 327, 334 (Minn. 1991). Here, respondent’s display of emotion occurred relatively early in the interview. Once she composed herself, respondent’s actions indicate that she maintained her capacity for self-control, and even exercised some control over the interview, closing the door at one point and asking questions of her own throughout. This is not a case in which a suspect’s emotional distress was exploited by police or exacerbated by physical deprivations. Cf. Marshall, 642 N.W.2d at 55-56 (holding that officers who did not pause in questioning suspect who broke down three times and exploited religious beliefs while suspect was very tired and hungry coerced her confession).
Finally, the district court concluded that, in light of respondent’s lack of familiarity with the criminal justice system, Detective Olson’s failure to give a Miranda warning weighed against the voluntariness of the statement. A Miranda warning would certainly have helped to assure that respondent’s confession was voluntary. See Slowinski, 450 N.W.2d at 111 (noting confession held voluntary was preceded by Miranda warning). But, as discussed above, respondent, while never previously charged with a crime, clearly had some understanding of the criminal justice system. Given respondent’s obvious awareness of the gravity of her decision whether to confess to police, including its effect on her career, we cannot say that the lack of a Miranda warning significantly undermined the apparent voluntariness of her confession.
The ultimate issue is whether respondent’s will was overborne. Pilcher, 472 N.W.2d at 333. We conclude, after reviewing the videotape, that, although the interview was undoubtedly unpleasant for respondent, there were no promises or inducements offered that would make an innocent person confess, and respondent, a mature, educated adult, made a voluntary, uncoerced decision to confess. Accordingly, the district court clearly erred in suppressing the confession. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.
Reversed and remanded.