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State v. Hansford

Supreme Court of North Dakota

February 21, 2019

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
Samuel Elliot Hansford, Defendant and Appellant

          Appeal from the District Court of Golden Valley County, Southwest Judicial District, the Honorable James D. Gion, Judge.

          Olivia L. Krebs (argued), Assistant State's Attorney, and Christina M. Wenko, State's Attorney (appeared), Dickinson, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

          Markus A. Powell, Dickinson, ND, for defendant and appellant.


          McEvers, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Samuel Hansford appeals from a district court's order denying his motion to suppress following the entry of a criminal judgment after a jury found him guilty of gross sexual imposition. We affirm, concluding Hansford was not in police custody when he made incriminating statements and his statements were voluntary.


         [¶ 2] In January 2017, Samuel Hansford was arrested and charged with gross sexual imposition. Prior to his arrest, Hansford was interviewed by a law enforcement agent. [¶ 3] Before trial, Hansford moved to suppress the written and verbal statements from the interview and requested an evidentiary hearing on the motion. Hansford argued the statements he made to the agent during the interview were coerced in violation of his due process rights. He also argued he was coerced to rescind his request for legal representation in violation of his Miranda rights, and that the interrogation violated his rights under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and N.D. Const. art. I, § 12.

         [¶ 4] In August 2017, a suppression hearing was held on the motion. Hansford and the law enforcement agent who conducted the interview both testified, and the State entered as exhibits: (1) an audio recording including conversation between the agent and Hansford taken during the drive from Hansford's workplace to the police department; (2) the Voluntary Statement Form ("statement form") Hansford signed stating he was waiving his right to an attorney, acknowledging he wanted to continue speaking with the agent; and (3) a video recording with audio of the interview.

         [¶ 5] At the suppression hearing, the agent testified his involvement in the case began when he was called to investigate whether 24-year-old Hansford had sexually assaulted a 16-year-old female who was unconscious at the time. The agent initially made contact with Hansford by going to Hansford's workplace. The agent testified he told Hansford he wanted to interview him but due to privacy issues he did not want to conduct the interview at Hansford's work place. After the agent suggested the interview take place at the police department, Hansford asked if the agent could give him a ride.

         [¶ 6] The agent testified that before giving Hansford a ride, he explained to Hansford that he was not required to come to the police department and that he was not under arrest. Hansford rode unrestrained in an unmarked vehicle to the police station. During the ride, the agent and Hansford engaged in casual conversation.

         [¶ 7] The agent testified that upon arriving at the police department, he and Hansford went into the interview room which was equipped with audio and visual recording capabilities. The agent testified he read a "soft version" of the Miranda warning. When Hansford expressed some confusion, the agent testified he provided Hansford with a card and read him "line for line" each element of the Miranda warning. After going through the card together, the agent testified Hansford acknowledged he understood the Miranda warning.

         [¶ 8] The agent testified he talked to Hansford about the night of the alleged sexual assault for around 40 minutes, at which point Hansford "apologized and said he felt he needed to have an attorney with him." The agent told Hansford he would give him five or 10 minutes to "think about it" and he left the room. Hansford testified he stayed in the room because he felt he had no choice to leave without a ride or without explicitly being told he could leave.

         [¶ 9] The agent testified when he returned to the room, Hansford wanted to continue to talk about the investigation and the agent reminded him he needed an answer whether Hansford wanted an attorney present or to waive that right. According to the agent, Hansford stated he wanted to speak to the agent without an attorney, and began to fill out the statement form. Midway through filling out the statement form, Hansford paused and again requested to speak with an attorney. The agent brought Hansford a phone book and Hansford began to make calls. The agent testified after Hansford's final attempt to reach an attorney, Hansford said "I'll just speak with you." The agent again stated if Hansford wished to waive his right he needed to do so on the statement form or verbally to the cameras in the room. Hansford did both. Hansford testified he filled out the statement form because he was under the impression he had to in order to leave. The agent testified that after Hansford signed the statement form indicating his waiver of the right to an attorney, he confessed to having sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old female.

         [¶ 10] Following the hearing, the district court denied the motion to suppress, finding Hansford stated he wanted to talk the matter out, and "clearly rescinded his request for legal representation," and that the rescission was not the result of manipulation by the agent. The court also found Hansford knew he was free to leave at any time. Hansford moved for reconsideration and the court denied that motion as well. After a jury verdict found Hansford guilty, the court entered a criminal judgment. Hansford appeals from the court's order denying his motion to suppress.


         [¶ 11] Hansford claims his incriminating statements should have been suppressed because they were obtained in violation of rights guaranteed by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution, N.D. Const. art. I, ...

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