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State v. Golden

June 17, 2009


Appeal from the District Court of Ward County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable Gary H. Lee, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandstrom, Justice.


[¶1] The State appeals a district court order suppressing Patrick James Golden's statements to law enforcement officers as having been taken while he was in custody and without sufficient warnings. We reverse and remand.


[¶2] The Minot Police Department was investigating a shooting that occurred in Minot on March 8, 2008. Detective Sergeant Nancy Murphy called Golden late in the afternoon of April 15, 2008, asking him to come down to the police station for some questioning. Golden agreed. Sergeant Murphy met Golden in the lobby of the police station upon his arrival after hours and escorted him to an interview room. Prior to beginning the interview, Sergeant Murphy advised Golden he was not under arrest, did not have to answer any questions, and was free to leave at any time. The interview was conducted in an interview room with Sergeant Murphy sitting behind a desk along the east wall and Sergeant David Goodman sitting in a chair directly across from Golden, who sat in a chair closest to the door, which was closed but unlocked. He confessed to his role in the shooting, and left the police station after the interview was over. Golden was charged with reckless endangerment, a class C felony, on May 1, 2008, and was arraigned on May 29, 2008.

[¶3] On July 18, 2008, Golden moved to suppress the statements he made during the April 15 interview, citing the lack of Miranda warnings. A hearing on the motion was held on August 6, 2008, at which Golden and Detective Goodman testified about the surroundings of the interview. Golden testified that while in the interrogation room, he was sitting to the right of the door and there was nothing between himself and the door. He also testified that he was in the room with two detectives with the door closed and that he did not feel as though he was free to go. According to Detective Goodman, the first room one enters from the outside is a lobby area with glass windows and a door that leads into the main lobby of the police station. He testified that in order to get into the main lobby of the police station, a person must be "buzzed in" during the night, but during the day, a person can just walk in. To leave that area, however, a person need not be "buzzed out" but can just open the door and walk out. He testified the door from the main lobby into the first room has a knob and the door from the first room out has a crash bar and not a knob.

[¶4] The district court granted Golden's motion to suppress, finding that Golden, Upon arriving at the station house . . . immediately stepped into a highly secured area. All doors are locked. Access is restricted. All windows are made of bullet proof glass. The only communication possible is via an intercom. . . . Golden could not have left without police assistance. . . . Other armed police officers were also present. . . . The interrogation room has a desk and three chairs. There are no exterior windows and only a single doorway, that opening into the secured detectives' office.

[¶5] The district court also found that the coercive and police-dominated atmosphere was further heightened by the officers' telling Golden he was a liar and they intended to see him face charges that would place him behind bars for 20 years.

[¶6] The State appeals, arguing the district court erred in suppressing Golden's statements, because the order is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.

[¶7] The district court had jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 8, and N.D.C.C. § 27-05-06. The appeal was timely under N.D.R.App.P. 4(b). This Court has jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, §§ 2 and 6, and N.D.C.C. § 29-28-07.


[¶8] In reviewing a district court's decision on a motion to suppress, we affirm the decision if "there is sufficient competent evidence fairly capable of supporting the trial court's findings, and the decision is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence." City of Fargo v. Thompson, 520 N.W.2d 578, 581 (N.D. 1994). The district court's determination regarding whether a suspect is in custody, and therefore entitled to Miranda warnings, is a mixed question of fact and law, fully reviewable on appeal. State v. Sabinash, 1998 ND 32, ¶ 14, 574 N.W.2d 827.

[¶9] "It is well settled that Miranda warnings are required only when the accused is in custody or is otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in a significant way." Id.; Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). In determining whether a person is subject to custodial interrogation, we examine all circumstances surrounding the interrogation and consider how a reasonable man in the suspect's position would have understood the situation. State v. Connery, 441 N.W.2d 651, 654 (N.D. 1989); State v. Conley, 1998 ND 5, ΒΆ 13, 574 N.W.2d 569. The subjective ...

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