State v. Williams “Shut up, lawyer up”

The Maine Law Court issued its opinion in State v. Robert W. Williams, 2011 ME 36.  The reason I am bringing this opinion to your attention is because I am constantly telling people that if they are a suspect of an investigation they should not speak to the police. Your Miranda warnings only apply if you are in custody and being interrogated by the police. In Williams the Law Court held that the defendant was not in custody and therefore the statements he made to the police could be used against him at trial. The prosecution, with the use of the statements made by Williams, was able to convict him of gross sexual assault and unlawful sexual contact. He was sentenced to 23 years with all but 13 years suspended and 6 years of probation on the gross sexual assault conviction and 7 years concurrent on the unlawful sexual contact conviction. Additionally, he has to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

The Law Court found the facts as follows:  “On June 5, 2009, a Maine State Police trooper went to Williams’s residence and asked Williams to talk with him inside his cruiser. Due to earlier contacts with law enforcement, Williams knew that the trooper was there to discuss allegations that Williams had had sexual contact with a family member’s child. The cruiser was parked in Williams’s driveway, and the trooper’s dog was in the back of the cruiser behind animal caging. The interrogation lasted a little over an hour and was recorded by video camera inside the trooper’s cruiser. The trooper advised Williams that he was not under arrest at the beginning of the interrogation, but did not advise Williams of his Miranda rights. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). During the interrogation, Williams admitted to engaging in some sexual conduct involving the child, but consistently denied an allegation that he engage in a specific act with the child.”

When the trooper advised Williams he was not under arrest Williams made his first mistake. If a law enforcement officer tells you you are not under arrest that means you are a suspect, typically. That means you should “shut up, lawyer up.” I am not familiar with the Williams case or what evidence the prosecution had against Williams exclusive of his incriminating statements to the trooper. However, I am pretty confident in believing that his statements made the trial very difficult for him and made a conviction highly likely.

Williams moved to suppress the statements he made to the trooper, prior to trial. The basis of Williams’s motion was that he should have been advised of his Miranda rights. Again, law enforcement only has to advise you of your Miranda rights if (1) you were in custody and (2) you are being interrogated. The motion hearing court denied the motion to suppress and the Law Court confirmed this denial.

The only issue at the suppression hearing was whether Williams was in custody. It was undisputed that Williams was subjected to police interrogation. To determine if a person is in custody the courts consider 10 factors in totality. Those 10 factors are as follows:

  1. The locale where the defendant made the statements;
  2. The party who initiated the contact;
  3. The existence or non-existence of probable cause to arrest (to the extent communicated to the defendant);
  4. Subjective views, beliefs, or intent that the police manifested to the defendant, to the extent they would affect how a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would perceive his or her freedom to leave;
  5. Subjective views or beliefs that the defendant manifested to the police, to the extent the officer’s response would have affected how a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would perceive his or her freedom to leave;
  6. The focus of the investigation (as a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would perceive it);
  7. Whether the subject was questioned in familiar surroundings;
  8. The number of law enforcement officers present;
  9. The degree of physical restraint placed upon the suspect; and
  10. The duration and character of the interrogation.

The Law Court applied these factors to the Williams case and determined he was not in custody. The Law Court stated “There was only a single law enforcement officer present, and that officer advised Williams he was not under arrest before starting the interrogation. Although the interrogation was conducted inside a police cruiser, that cruiser was parked in Williams’s dooryard, within yards of his home. Williams was certainly familiar with the surroundings. Williams was never physically restrained, and he had no reason to perceive that he was not free to leave based on the trooper’s statements or conduct. Williams did not communicate any apprehension to the trooper, did not ask to end the interrogation, and did nothing that would manifest a desire to terminate the interrogation. During the entire interrogation, the tone of both parties was calm and measured.” Therefore, based upon these facts Williams was not in custody and the trooper did not have to read him his Miranda rights.

I am not sure how this case would have turned out if Williams never spoke to the police. I do know this case would have been more difficult for the prosecution if Williams never spoke to the police. This case is a clear example of how a suspect cannot outsmart the police at an interrogation. Remember Williams admitted to some of the allegations but denied the others. It was easy for the jury to conclude that he committed all of the allegations based on his limited admission. Speaking to the police did not help Williams and rarely does ever help a suspect. Again, “shut up, lawyer up.”


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