United States District Court, D. North Dakota
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS
L. Hovland, District Judge
February 1, 2017, Harold Hank Bolman was charged in an
indictment with the offense of involuntary manslaughter in
violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1112 and 1153.
See Docket No. 2. On December 10, 2017, Bolman filed
a motion to suppress evidence. See Docket No. 34. In
the motion, Bolman seeks the suppression of statements he
made to law enforcement on July 25, 2016. The Government
filed a brief in opposition to the motion on December 26,
2017. See Docket No. 37. An evidentiary hearing was
held on January 23, 2018, in Bismarck, North Dakota.
See Docket No. 40. For the reasons set forth below,
the Court denies the motion to suppress.
25, 2016, Bureau of Indian Affairs Officer Raymond Webb
responded to a 911-call in which the caller reported a person
had been run over by a vehicle in Solen, North Dakota.
Officer Webb testified that when he arrived at the scene, he
encountered an intoxicated woman located near a pick-up
truck. When Officer Webb spoke with the woman, she indicated
the man underneath the pick-up truck ‘took his last
breath' about twenty minutes before Officer Webb arrived.
Officer Webb testified he then discovered a deceased adult
located under the pick-up truck. The woman at the scene
identified the deceased individual and she also identified
the owner of the pick-up truck as “Hank, ” later
identified as the Defendant, Harold Hank Bolman. Officer Webb
then approached Bolman, who was sitting in a lawn chair, with
his back to the pick-up truck, under a tree in the front yard
of a nearby home.
Webb testified that when he approached Bolman, he asked
whether the pick-up belonged to him. Bolman responded by
acknowledging he owned the pick-up truck. Officer Webb then
asked Bolman if he knew the deceased man under the pick-up.
Bolman responded affirmatively and indicated the deceased was
his nephew Billy, later identified as William White Eagle.
Officer Webb then asked what had happened. Bolman again
responded by informing Officer Webb that he and Billy had
been to Bismarck, returned to Solen, and had been drinking.
Bolman then stated he was tired and decided to go home. When
he left, he ran over White Eagle with his pick-up truck.
Officer Webb then asked Bolman whether he pulled the pick-up
truck forward after he ran over White Eagle. Bolman indicated
that once he ran over White Eagle, he stopped the pick-up
truck and got out. Finally, Officer Webb asked Bolman whether
he had been drinking. Bolman admitted he had been drinking
and that he and White Eagle had been drinking for several
days. Officer Webb testified that he observed signs that
Bolman was intoxicated at the time Officer Webb approached
him: Bolman's breath smelled of alcohol and Bolman had
slurred speech, as well as red and glassy eyes.
Webb then placed Bolman under arrest and Bolman was
subsequently charged with the involuntary manslaughter of
White Eagle. Bolman now seeks to suppress his statements made
to Officer Webb prior to his arrest, contending Officer Webb
subjected him to a custodial interrogation without the
benefit of a Miranda warning.
motion, Bolman contends law enforcement subjected him to a
custodial interrogation without first being advised of his
Miranda rights and, consequently, all statements he
made to Officer Webb prior to his arrest should be
suppressed. The Fifth Amendment of the United States
Constitution provides a privilege against self-incrimination.
Given this Fifth Amendment privilege, certain procedural
safeguards must be employed prior to interrogation of an
individual by law enforcement officers. Miranda v.
Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). It is
well-established that law enforcement officers must
administer Miranda warnings whenever a suspect is
"taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom
by the authorities in any significant way and is subjected to
questioning." Id. at 478-79. The basic rule of
Miranda is that an individual must be advised of the
right to be free from compulsory self-incrimination and the
right to the assistance of an attorney when an individual is
taken into custody for questioning. United States v.
Griffin, 922 F.2d 1343, 1347 (8th Cir. 1990)).
Accordingly, Miranda requires that law enforcement
officers advise an individual as to the availability of this
privilege against self-incrimination and to the assistance of
counsel when the individual is interrogated while in custody.
Id. “If the individual indicates in any
manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he
wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease.”
Miranda, 384 U.S. at 473-74.
warnings are required when a suspect is interrogated while in
custody.” United States v. Aldridge, 664 F.3d
705, 711 (8th Cir. 2011). For purposes of Miranda,
an individual is in custody when he is either formally
arrested or his freedom of movement is constrained to a
degree equivalent with formal arrest. United States v.
Brave Heart, 397 F.3d 1035, 1038 (8th Cir. 2005).
Custody depends on the totality of the circumstances, and the
relevant factors, known as Griffin factors, to
(1) whether the suspect was informed at the time of
questioning that the questioning was voluntary, that the
suspect was free to leave or request the officers to do so,
or that the suspect was not considered under arrest; (2)
whether the suspect possessed unrestrained freedom of
movement during questioning; (3) whether the suspect
initiated contact with authorities or voluntarily acquiesced
to official requests to respond to questions; (4) whether
strong arm tactics or deceptive stratagems were employed
during questioning; (5) whether the atmosphere of the
questioning was police-dominated; or, (6) whether the suspect
was placed under arrest at the termination of the
Aldridge, 644 F.3d. at 711 (citing United States
v. Griffin, 922 F.2d 1343, 1349 (8th Cir. 1990)). The
presence of the first three Griffin factors tends to
mitigate against a finding of custody, while the presence of
the last three Griffin factors tends to favor a
finding of custody. United States v.
Giboney, 863 F.3d 1022, 1027 (8th Cir. 2017).
Ultimately, the test is whether a reasonable person in that
position would have felt free to end the interview.
Id. Moreover, the Eighth Circuit has recognized
Miranda warnings are not required “for general
on-the-scene questioning as to the facts surrounding a
crime” because such questioning does not present
“the compelling atmosphere inherent in the process of
in-custody interrogation.” United States v.
Howard, 532 F.3d 755, 761 (8th Cir. 2008)(quoting
Miranda, 384 U.S. at 477-78)).
case, the factors outlined in Griffin weigh strongly
in favor of a finding that Bolman was not in custody when
Officer Webb questioned him about the incident while Bolman
sat in a lawn chair in the front yard of a house. First, the
Government acknowledged in its brief, and the Court agrees
based upon testimony presented at the suppression hearing,
“Bolman was not informed the questioning was voluntary,
he was free to leave or request the officer to do so, or that
he was not considered under arrest.” See
Docket No. 37, p. 6. The Court therefore finds the first
Griffin factor weighs in favor of custody. See
Griffin, 922 F.2d at 1349. However, the second
Griffin factor, namely whether the Bolman possessed
unrestrained freedom of movement during questioning, weighs
in favor of finding Bolman was not in custody.
Aldridge, 644 F.3d. at 711. Officer Webb testified
at the suppression hearing he did not restrain Bolman's
movement in any way while asking questions. In fact, at one
point, Officer Webb assisted Bolman in getting up and moving
from his lawn chair. This second Griffin factor
weighs in favor of finding Bolman was not in custody. See
Griffin, 922 F.2d at 1349.
Court then turns to the third Griffin factor:
Whether the suspect initiated contact with authorities or
voluntarily acquiesced to official requests to respond to
questions. See Aldridge, 644 F.3d. at 711. It
appears the Defendant did not initiate contact with Officer
Webb. See Docket No. 35, p. 4. However, even if
Bolman did not initiate contact with Officer Webb, Bolman was
not reluctant to answer Officer Webb's questions. Bolman
could have simply not responded to Officer Webb's
questioning. Instead, Bolman courteously responded to Officer
Webb's questions and was willing to explain what happened
to White Eagle. See United States v. Axsom, 289 F.3d
496, 501-02 (8th Cir. 2002) (finding suspect's
cooperative and courteous nature during an interview
supported a finding of voluntary acquiescence to respond to
questions). Many times, Bolman provided information beyond
the scope of Officer Webb's questions. The Court finds
the third Griffin factor weighs in favor of finding
Bolman was not in custody. The Court similarly concludes the
fourth Griffin factor weighs in favor of a finding
that Bolman was not in custody. There was no evidence
presented that Officer Webb used strong arm tactics or
deceptive statagems while questioning Bolman. See
Griffin, 922 F.2d at 1349. The record reveals the
conversation between Officer Webb and Bolman was casual, non-
confrontational, and professional. This was the type of
general on-the-scene questioning as to “what
happened” that clearly does not require
Defendant contends the fifth Griffin factor, namely
whether the atmosphere of questioning was police dominated,
weighs in favor of a finding of custody because “Webb
completely dominated the questioning” and Bolman did
not volunteer any information or ask any questions.
See Docket No. 35, p. 5. In determining whether
Officer Webb's questioning was police dominated, the
Court considers “the entire context of the questioning,
including such considerations as place and length of
interrogation.” Griffin, 922 F.3d 1352. The
questioning was not a lengthy interrogation; consisting of
only a few questions of what had happened. Only Officer Webb
questioned Bolman; in fact, no other officers were present at
the scene. Further, the questioning took place in the front
yard of a home, as opposed to a police operated building.
See United States v. Brown, 990 F.2d 397, 400 (8th
Cir. 1993) (finding the atmosphere of questioning was not
police dominated when officers approached suspect in front
lawn of his home, but interviewed him inside the home,
because the suspect would feel more comfortable in his home,
as opposed to a police-operated facility). In addition to