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State v. Donald

Supreme Court of Connecticut

May 2, 2017


          Argued Date: January 20, 2017

          Robert O'Brien, assigned counsel, with whom, on the brief, was Christopher Duby, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Kathryn W. Bare, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Richard J. Rubino, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Robinson, Js.


          ROGERS, C. J.

         The defendant, Ravon Donald, challenges the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress a signed, sworn statement he made to the police in which he confessed to committing a robbery and assault at a grocery store. The defendant claims that the trial court should have granted his motion to suppress his statement because the police initially questioned him concerning his knowledge of the robbery while he was in custody before they provided Miranda warnings[1] and then, after the warnings, proceeded to more thoroughly question him, resulting in the challenged statement. We hold that regardless of whether the trial court's denial of the motion to suppress testimony regarding the initial questioning of the defendant was error, any such error was harmless. The trial court properly denied the motion to suppress the defendant's written statement because under the specific facts of the present case there was sufficient separation between the initial questioning and the subsequent interrogation to render the Miranda warnings effective and, therefore, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The jury reasonably could have found the following facts based upon the evidence. On the evening of December 22, 2011, the victims, Nicholas Ulerio and Brunilda Villa-Rodriguez, were working behind the counter at Ulerio Grocery Store (grocery store) on Homestead Avenue in Hartford. The defendant and Tierais Harris, both wearing masks, entered the grocery store. The defendant was armed with an antique revolver and Harris was armed with a BB gun. The defendant approached the counter and shot the victims multiple times, inflicting serious injuries upon both victims. He then kicked a door repeatedly to gain access to the area behind the counter and proceeded to take approximately $100 from the cash register. The defendant and Harris then left the grocery store. The robbery was recorded on the store's surveillance cameras.

         The trial court reasonably could have found the following additional facts based upon the evidence presented at the hearing on the defendant's motion to suppress his statements to the police. Detective Reginald Early of the Hartford Police Department was the lead detective assigned to investigate the robbery at the grocery store. Early had known the defendant for three years, which resulted in a rapport between them. The defendant felt comfortable enough speaking with Early that in the days prior to the robbery he had attempted to contact Early for help because he was homeless. On the basis of a voice mail message that the defendant had left for Early on December 19, 2011, in which the defendant had sought to turn in an antique revolver to the police for cash, Early believed that the defendant may have participated in the robbery.[2]

         On January 6, 2012, Early contacted the defendant and arranged to meet him in Keney Park, telling the defendant that the purpose of the meeting was to resolve an outstanding warrant. Early and a second detective, Kevin Salkeld, waited for the defendant in an unmarked police vehicle. The defendant arrived at Keney Park at approximately 3:30 p.m., driving a pickup truck. The defendant then voluntarily sat in the front passenger seat of the police vehicle, with Early seated in the driver's seat and Salkeld seated in the backseat. Early spoke with the defendant and the defendant agreed to accompany the detectives to the police station to turn himself in on the outstanding warrant. At that point the defendant understood that he was under arrest. The defendant then informed the detectives that the pickup truck he had driven to Keney Park was stolen and contained drugs. The detectives arranged for other officers to come and tow the vehicle. While waiting for the officers to arrive, Early asked the defendant if he knew anything about the robbery on Homestead Avenue and if he was willing to speak to the police about the robbery. The defendant responded, ‘‘ ‘[y]eah, I know about that . . . .' '' Salkeld interpreted the defendant's response to mean that the defendant admitted that he had been involved in the robbery. The detectives did not ask the defendant any additional questions about the robbery while at Keney Park.

         The detectives then transported the defendant to the police station, completed the processing of his arrest on the outstanding warrant, and placed him in an interrogation room, where they had him wait while they prepared to question him. The detectives provided Miranda warnings to the defendant and at 5:18 p.m., the defendant signed a waiver indicating that he understood his rights and did not wish to invoke them. Subsequently, the detectives questioned the defendant for several hours during which time he provided a detailed statement in which he admitted to participating in the robbery and shooting the victims. Early transcribed the defendant's oral statement into a written statement that the defendant could read and sign. The defendant provided a description of the gun that he used in the robbery, which was the same gun he had previously contacted Early to discuss turning in to the police for cash. He identified the person to whom he sold the gun after the robbery and selected him from a photographic array. The defendant also identified Harris as the other individual involved in the robbery and selected him from a photographic array. Although the defendant initially expressed a desire not to sign the statement, as documented in the statement itself, at approximately 9:30 p.m. the defendant signed it.

         The following procedural history is relevant. Subsequent to providing the signed statement, the defendant was arrested and charged by information with multiple counts relating to the robbery of the grocery store.[3]Prior to the trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress his statements to the police. The trial court, Dewey, J., held a hearing on the motion to suppress on May 27, 2014. The state presented the testimony of Early and Salkeld and submitted into evidence the defendant's Miranda waiver, the signed statement, the two photographic arrays, and additional documents the defendant signed during his interrogation. The trial court orally denied the defendant's motion to suppress.

         Subsequently, a jury found the defendant guilty of all counts.[4] On April 2, 2015, the court, Kwak, J., sentenced the defendant to a total effective sentence of seventy-five years of incarceration, of which fifteen years is a mandatory minimum, followed by ten years of special parole. This appeal followed.

         The defendant claims that the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress his signed statement to the police because the detectives failed to provide him with Miranda warnings at Keney Park prior to asking him about the robbery. He claims that the questioning at Keney Park and the subsequent questioning at the police station was a single, continuous interrogation that rendered the Miranda warning provided by the detectives at the police station ineffective.

         The state first asserts that the defendant's claim is unreviewable because the record is inadequate. The state next claims that the question posed to the defendant at Keney Park about any knowledge he may have had about the grocery store robbery did not amount to interrogation and, therefore, did not require prior Miranda warnings.[5] The state further claims that even if the initial question posed by Early at Keney Park constituted an interrogation, required prior Miranda warnings, and was inadmissible, the second interrogation at the police station was sufficiently attenuated from the initial ...

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