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State v. Brickle-Hicks

Supreme Court of North Dakota

August 28, 2018

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Morris Jerome Brickle-Hicks, Defendant and Appellant

          Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable John W. Grinsteiner, Judge.

          Julie A. Lawyer, Assistant State's Attorney, Bismarck, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

          James R. Loraas, Bismarck, ND, for defendant and appellant.

          OPINION

          MCEVERS, JUSTICE.

         [¶ 1] Morris Brickle-Hicks appeals from a criminal judgment entered after the district court denied his motion to suppress evidence and a jury found him guilty of murder. Brickle-Hicks argues the court erred in denying his motion to suppress incriminating statements made by him to law enforcement officers and physical evidence he provided to the officers. We conclude the court's denial of Brickle-Hicks' motion to suppress is supported by sufficient competent evidence and is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.

         I

         [¶ 2] According to Bismarck police officers, shortly after 5 a.m. on April 14, 2016, they responded to a call from the Sanford Hospital emergency room, where Brickle-Hicks reported that he had been assaulted in south Bismarck. Brickle-Hicks had blood on his clothes and shoes, and the officers took a statement from him about that assault before he was discharged from the emergency room and allowed to leave the hospital.

         [¶ 3] At about 8:50 a.m. on April 14, 2016, Bismarck police officers received a report of a deceased female with visible injuries to her face and body near a business in south Bismarck. An officer eventually contacted Brickle-Hicks' girlfriend and informed her that he wanted to speak with Brickle-Hicks about his assault report. Brickle-Hicks' girlfriend brought him to the police department shortly after 12 a.m. on April 15, 2016, where he was read his Miranda rights and signed a waiver of those rights. Officers conducted a two and one-half hour recorded interview of Brickle-Hicks, in which he made incriminating statements about the female's death. During the interview, Brickle-Hicks also provided the officers with items of his clothing for testing.

         [¶ 4] The State charged Brickle-Hicks with murder, a class AA felony under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-16-01(1), alleging he intentionally or knowingly caused the death of another on April 14, 2016, or caused the death of another under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life. Brickle-Hicks moved to suppress all statements made by him to law enforcement officers during the interview, arguing his Miranda rights were violated and his statements were involuntary under the totality of the circumstances. He also sought to suppress the clothing seized from him during the interview.

         [¶ 5] After an evidentiary hearing at which the parties stipulated to the introduction into evidence of the recording of the officers' interview of Brickle-Hicks, the district court denied his motion to suppress. The court ruled Brickle-Hicks' statements were voluntary, his Miranda rights were not violated, and he consented to giving his clothing to the officers for testing. The court found that the recorded interview negated Brickle-Hicks' claim that he was susceptible to manipulation, that Brickle-Hicks was capable of understanding the consequences of his statements made during the interview, and that the officers did not use improper deception or questioning tactics to coerce a confession. The court determined that the verbal and written Miranda warnings given to Brickle-Hicks substantially complied with the requirements of Miranda and that he voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his Miranda rights. The court also found Brickle-Hicks voluntarily consented to giving his clothing to the officers for testing. A jury thereafter found Brickle-Hicks guilty of murder.

         II

         [¶ 6] Brickle-Hicks argues the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress. In State v. Goebel, 2007 ND 4, ¶ 11, 725 N.W.2d 578 (citations omitted), we described our standard of review of motions to suppress:

When reviewing a district court's ruling on a motion to suppress, we defer to the district court's findings of fact and resolve conflicts in testimony in favor of affirmance. We recognize that the district court is in a superior position to assess the credibility of witnesses and weigh the evidence. Generally, a district court's decision to deny a motion to suppress will not be reversed if there is sufficient competent evidence capable of supporting the district court's findings, and if its decision is not contrary to the manifest weight ...

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