This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).






State of Minnesota,





Martavis James,



Filed October 12, 2004


Gordon W. Shumaker, Judge


Anoka County District Court

File No. K2-02-6631




Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and


Robert M.A. Johnson, Anoka County Attorney, Kristin C. Larson, Assistant Anoka County Attorney, Anoka County Government Center, 2100 Third Avenue, 7th Floor, Anoka, MN 55303 (for respondent)


John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Roy G. Spurbeck, Assistant State Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue S.E., Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)



            Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Shumaker, Judge.


U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N




On appeal from a conviction of first-degree aggravated robbery, appellant argues that when police questioned him he did not voluntarily waive his Miranda rights because of his age, borderline intelligence, the length of the interview, and the false and misleading statements of the police.  Appellant also argues that because the state made his statement a key part of its case, the district court’s failure to exclude it was not harmless error.  We affirm.


            On June 22, 2002, a black male wearing a mask and carrying a handgun and a board entered a Coon Rapids convenience store and demanded money from the clerk.  The clerk gave him money from a cash register and a cupboard and told him that she could not open the safe.  The man then left the store.

The clerk called the police and described the robber as a black male about 25 years old who was 5’6” tall and had a stocky build.  She also described his clothing and stated that there were slits in the robber’s mask that exposed his eyes.

Six days later, the clerk selected from a six-person photographic display two individuals who fit her recollection of the robber’s appearance based on his eyes.  Appellant Martavis James was one of those individuals.  The clerk also indicated that she thought she had seen James in the store earlier on the day of the robbery.

The police obtained a surveillance videotape of the store on the day of the robbery and showed still pictures taken from the tape to James’s sister.  She identified James as being depicted in photos of the store some time before the robbery.  When the police showed the photos of the actual robbery, she became very upset.

On July 18, 2002, James sought out detective John Stahnke because James had heard that Stahnke wanted to talk to him about some robberies.  Stahnke stated that a convenience store had been robbed, that James had been in the vicinity of the store before the robbery, and that he had been identified from photos as the possible robber.  Stahnke also stated that he was investigating several robberies in the metro area.

Stahnke and detective Brad Wise gave James a Miranda warning and James indicated he would speak with the detectives.  The two-hour interview was videotaped.  Stahnke told James that it would be better for him if he cooperated.  James denied involvement in any robbery except that of the convenience store.

As to the convenience-store robbery, James said that he had seen the robbers near the store, that they had shown him a gun, and that they asked him about surveillance cameras.  He indicated that, in exchange for marijuana, he went into the store to check for surveillance cameras but then left without further involvement.  James also told the detectives that he had met the robbers three days before the robbery, met them again on the night of the robbery, gave one of them a hooded sweatshirt, and acted as a lookout while they robbed the store.

Near the end of the interrogation, James acknowledged that the police had made no promises or threats in return for the information James provided.  When the detectives left the interview room, with the videotape still running, James stated that the police were not going to find the gun or the piece of wood and that they would not find the gun in the woods.

The state charged James with the robbery of the convenience store, and he moved to suppress his statement to the detectives on the ground that it was not voluntarily given.  In support of his motion, he presented the testimony of a psychologist.  She testified that James was not mentally ill; that he has an IQ in the range of 71 to 80, which indicates borderline intelligence; and that the longer the time spent discussing a subject with James the better his chances of comprehending that subject, but that, if the setting were adversarial, his ability to understand would be reduced.

The district court denied James’s motion to suppress his statements.  James waived his right to jury trial and consented to a bench trial. The store clerk identified James as the robber.  When James’s sister denied that the police ever showed her photos of the robbery, the court allowed the state to play the tape-recorded police interview of her.  The court also received James’s videotaped statement.

The district court found James guilty of first-degree aggravated robbery.  James appealed.


            James contends that the district court erred in finding his statement to the police was voluntary and, therefore, admissible.  He argues that he was only 21 years old at the time of the statement; that he was immature and has limited intelligence; that his ability to understand and reason were impaired by the nature, length, and tone of the interrogation; and that the police lied to him about being a suspect in numerous other robberies and suggesting to him that he could resolve everything by cooperating.

            On appeal, this court will not reverse the district court’s conclusion that a waiver was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent unless that finding is clearly erroneous.  State v. Camacho, 561 N.W.2d 160, 168-69 (Minn. 1997).  “When an appellant contends that credible evidence supports a contrary finding, however, an appellate court will make a subjective factual inquiry to determine whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the waiver was valid.”  Id. at 169.  Despite this inquiry, the standard of review remains whether the district court’s finding is clearly erroneous.  Id. 

Miranda v. Arizona requires that prior to custodial interrogation, the police must warn an individual of his constitutional right to remain silent and to have counsel present during the interrogation.  384 U.S. 436, 478-79, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 1630 (1966).  Once the police have given a Miranda warning, if the interrogation continues without an attorney present, the state has “a heavy burden” to demonstrate that the individual “knowingly and intelligently waived” the privilege against self-incrimination and the right to counsel.  Id. at 475, 86 S. Ct. at 1628.  Ordinarily, the state meets its burden of proving a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent waiver of Miranda rights if it shows that Miranda warnings were given and that the individual stated that he or she understood those rights and then gave a statement.  State v. Linder, 268 N.W.2d 734, 735 (Minn. 1978).  If there is evidence indicating that a waiver was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent, however, the district court must make a subjective factual inquiry to determine whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the waiver was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent.  Camacho, 561 N.W.2d at 168. 

When making its inquiry, the court may consider such factors as age, maturity, intelligence, education, experience, and ability to comprehend; the lack or adequacy of warnings; the length and legality of the detention; the nature of the interrogation; physical deprivations; and limits on the individual’s access to counsel, friends, and others.  Id.  Courts may also consider other factors such as familiarity with the criminal-justice system, physical and mental condition, and language barriers.  Id. 

            Here, there is no dispute that the detectives gave James the Miranda warning and he stated that he understood his rights.  The record shows that at the time of the interview James was 21 years old and had some familiarity with the system as he had prior convictions in 1999, 2000, and 2001. 

James seems to argue that his borderline intelligence, which he argues was further impaired by the adversarial nature of the interview with detectives, would prevent a knowing and intelligent waiver.  Merely because a suspect exhibits borderline mental deficiency does not automatically mandate a finding of involuntary waiver.  Id. at 169.

In Camacho, the Minnesota Supreme Court considered whether Camacho’s “mental subnormality” deprived him of the capacity to understand the meaning and effect of the confession.  Id.  The court held that Camacho understood the meaning and effect of the questioning in part because he had past experience with the legal system.  Id.  Here, the record shows that appellant had been Mirandized for previous offenses and when questioned about the robbery stated that he understood the Miranda warning.  He also made several comments during the interview that demonstrate his knowledge of the legal system.  For example, during the interview, appellant stated that the detectives would have to prove that he robbed the store and that he would “be in jail until trial.”  Here, as in Camacho, appellant’s low IQ did not prevent a voluntary waiver. 

In addition, the psychologist who testified at the suppression hearing stated that James’s understanding would be impaired if the interview was confrontational and adversarial, but that his understanding would increase the longer he spoke with the interviewers.  The record shows that, although the interview was somewhat confrontational, the detectives explained the case fully before asking for a waiver, did not raise their voices or threaten James in any way, encouraged him, and repeated the same questions and statements over and over in a calm manner.  Thus, based on the totality of the circumstances, the district court’s conclusion that James’s waiver was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent was not clearly erroneous.  However, these factors are only part of the analysis.  Id.

            James argues that his low intelligence combined with the false and misleading statements of the detectives prevented a voluntary waiver.  The legitimacy of a “police trick” does not depend on the sophistication of the suspect.  State v. Barner, 486 N.W.2d 1, 2 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. June 30, 1992).  “[T]he use of trickery and deception is to be considered along with all the other relevant factors in determining if a confession was involuntary, and that lying to a suspect as to the strength of the state’s case against him generally is not by itself enough to render a confession involuntary.”  State v. Thaggard, 527 N.W.2d 804, 810 (Minn. 1995).  A confession should not be ruled involuntary absent evidence that the suspect’s will was overborne and his capacity for self-determination critically impaired by coercive police conduct.  Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564, 574, 107 S. Ct. 851, 857 (1987).  See also, Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 164, 107 S. Ct. 515, 520 (stating that “all” the involuntariness cases “have contained a substantial element of coercive police conduct.”).  Compare State v. Merrilll, 274 N.W.2d 99, 107-08 (Minn. 1978) (stating confession was admissible where detectives did not make any actual or implied promises although appellant may have concluded that he would be charged with lesser offense if he confessed), and Barner, 486 N.W.2d at 2 (“[t]he fact that the police misrepresented the statements that [codefendant] had made is, while relevant, insufficient in our view to make this otherwise voluntary confession inadmissible”) with State v. Biron, 266 Minn. 272, 282, 123 N.W.2d 392, 399 (1963) (holding confession invalid where police made overt promise to minor that he would be adjudicated in juvenile court if he confessed).

            In Barner, police gave a Miranda warning, the suspect waived his Miranda rights, and stated that no threats or promises were made.  Barner, 486 N.W.2d at 1.  The entire interrogation lasted from one and a half to two hours.  Id.  During the interrogation, the officer stated that the suspect’s fingerprints had been found on the knife used in the crime, which was not true.  Id.  This court held that the trial court erred in suppressing the statement.  Id. at 3. 

            In Merrill, the detectives told Merrill that they had enough evidence to establish probable cause to charge him with first-degree murder, that there were different degrees of murder, depending on the circumstances of the crime, and that in a previous case a man had been charged with manslaughter under similar circumstances.  274 N.W.2d at 107.  After these statements, Merrill said that he would give a confession.  Id.  The Minnesota Supreme Court held that Merrill’s waiver was voluntary.  The court reasoned:

            The rules that waiver and confession must be voluntary are designed to deter improper police interrogation, but the police must also be allowed to encourage suspects to talk where the suspect has not clearly refused.  The statements of the officers here were designed to encourage defendant to talk by informing him about the evidence against him and the possible charges.


Id. at 107-08


            Here, the record shows that the detectives based their statements on the information they had at the time.  Thus, the facts in this case are less extreme than in Barner, where this court found that the waiver was voluntary even though the police told the suspect they had his fingerprints.  As in Merrill, the detectives’ statements were designed to encourage James to talk to them by informing him of the evidence against him.  Even if the detectives had misled James, this fact alone, without a showing of some other extreme misconduct, would not merit reversal of the district court’s conclusion that appellant’s waiver was voluntary.

James argues that because his statement to the police “had significant evidentiary value to the state,” the admission of the statement was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.  Before error is deemed harmless, it must be harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.  Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 24, 87 S. Ct. 824, 828 (1967); State v. Roberts, 296 Minn. 347, 353, 208 N.W.2d 744, 747 (1973).  “Harmless error analysis is better labeled as ‘harmless error impact analysis,’ because it is the impact of that error that the appellate court must consider.”  State v. Juarez, 572 N.W.2d 286, 291 (Minn. 1997).  “The overwhelming evidence of guilt is a factor, often a very important one, in determining whether, beyond a reasonable doubt, the error has no impact on the verdict.”  Id. 

            Here, there was more than sufficient evidence that James robbed the convenience store.  His sister identified him from the surveillance video; a witness put him near the store carrying a hooded sweatshirt around the time of the robbery, the store clerk narrowed the six-person photographic line-up down to James and one other individual; and James fits the clerk’s height-and-weight description of the robber.  Furthermore, James confessed to acting as a lookout for the robbers and apparently mumbled that the police would not find the piece of wood and the gun.  Assuming it was error, the district court’s refusal to suppress James’s statements to the detectives did not have a substantial impact on the district court’s finding of guilt.