On August 10, 2020, the Supreme Court of Georgia decided Young v. State[i], which serves as an excellent example of the application of a suspect’s right to an attorney and right to remain silent under Miranda.
In Young, a pizza delivery driver was shot and killed during an armed robbery. The police developed suspects in the murder and executed search warrant at a residence where the suspects resided. Young and two accomplices, Buckley and Lofton, were taken to the police station to be interviewed. The relevant facts of Young related to the statements that he made to the detectives are as follows:
After the search warrant was executed on Unit 9301 on March 2, 2016, Young was handcuffed, taken to police headquarters to be interviewed by Detective Kenck and Detective Shannon Kulnis, and interviewed three times. At the outset of Young’s first interview, the detectives informed Young that there were no outstanding warrants for his arrest, but that they were going to “read [him his] rights.” Young interjected, asking whether he was “charged with anything,” and the detectives told Young that he was not. The detectives then advised Young of his rights under Miranda. After Young indicated that he understood his rights, the following exchange occurred:
YOUNG: So if I ask for a lawyer, y’all gonna—um—get a lawyer for me?
DETECTIVE KENCK: Not today. No, I don’t have access to a lawyer.
YOUNG: So that means I would have to wait until y’all found a lawyer—until y’all can come talk to me [*7] or some s*** like that?
DETECTIVE KENCK: Pretty much.
YOUNG: So how long that could take?
DETECTIVE KENCK: I mean, we, you know—you’re not being charged with anything, so there—we don’t—you get appointed with a lawyer when you’re charged with something, so if you said you wanted a lawyer, and you wanted to go get one and come back and talk to us, that’s—that’s up to you.
DETECTIVE KENCK: So are you, uh—obviously, you mentioned a lawyer. You understand all of your rights? What they are? Do you want to talk to me without a lawyer?
YOUNG: Just talk, let’s see what you got to say.
In that first interview, Young denied any involvement in the incident.
Approximately five hours later, Young was interviewed a second time, and he indicated that he still understood his rights under Miranda when asked by Detective Kenck.5 In that interview, Young stated that he had agreed to assist Lofton in robbing the pizza delivery person but claimed that he then changed his mind and walked away from the scene right before Varnadore was shot. At some point during the second interview, when explaining his role in the crimes, Young paused, looked at one of the detectives, and stated: “I’m done talking to you. If [*8] y’all find this s*** so funny, I’m done talking.” The detectives explained that they thought it was “funny” because Lofton had given the detectives the same account of that evening’s events during his interview, but with an important contradiction about who shot Varnadore: whereas Young told detectives that Lofton was going to pay for the pizza and Lofton was the one who shot the pizza delivery person, Lofton told detectives that he believed Young was going to pay for the pizza and that Young was the one who pulled the trigger. Detective Kulnis elaborated: “Dude, you have to understand that when we catch two people telling us some bulls***, but it’s the same bulls***, it’s kinda funny.” Soon after, Young asked, “Is you gonna listen to my story, or are you gonna just tell me what you think you know?” After detectives stated that they would listen to Young’s version of events, Young continued to speak with them.
Almost immediately after the detectives exited the room at the conclusion of the second interview, Young requested to speak to the detectives again. A third interview ensued, and Sergeant Millsap replaced Detective Kenck in the interview room. In that interview, although Young [*9] maintained that he did not ultimately participate in the robbery, he admitted his further involvement in the initial robbery plan and provided more detail about the scheme to rob the pizza delivery person. [ii]
Young filed a motion to suppress his statements to police. He argued (1) that he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his rights under Miranda because the detective misled him about his access to an attorney, and (2) that he invoked his right to silence in the second interview, but the detective continued to interview him. The trial court denied the motion. Young subsequently appealed the denial of his motion to suppress.
Issue One: Whether Young knowingly waived his rights under Miranda because Detective Kenck misled him about his right to an attorney by saying that Young was only entitled to an appointed lawyer once charged with a crime.
The court first examined the legal principles relevant to this issue. The court stated
A defendant may waive his rights under Miranda, “provided the waiver is made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently.” Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (86 SCt 1602, 16 LE2d 694) (1966). “Only if the totality of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation reveals both an uncoerced choice and the requisite level of comprehension may a court properly conclude that the Miranda rights have been waived.” Williamson v. State, 305 Ga. 889, 893 (827 SE2d 857) (2019) (citation and punctuation omitted). “A statement by an interrogating agent that contradicts the Miranda warnings is a circumstance that can indicate a suspect did not knowingly and intelligently waive his rights.” Id. at 893-894.[iii]
Young argued that when the detective told him that he would get an attorney appointed after he was charged with something, the detective misled him and because of that, he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his rights under Miranda. However, the Court was not persuaded that the detective’s statement about the lawyer misled Young to the point that his waiver was not “knowing and intelligent.” The court stated
Detective Kenck’s statement was accurate insofar as an accused may be appointed a lawyer once he is charged with a crime under case law interpreting the Sixth Amendment. See Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 456 (114 SCt 2350, 129 LE2d 362) (1994) (explaining that HN2 the “Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches only at the initiation of adversary criminal proceedings”); see also Shaw v. State, 307 Ga. 233, 246 (835 SE2d 279) (2019).
Additionally, because the record shows that Detective Kenck properly advised Young of his Miranda rights and later told Young that “if [he] wanted a lawyer, and … wanted to go get one and come back and talk to us, that’s—that’s up to you,” we cannot say that Detective Kenck misled Young about his Fifth Amendment right to an attorney under Miranda such that Young’s waiver of his rights under Miranda was not knowing and intelligent.[iv]
Further, the Court stated that Young did not unambiguously invoke his right to counsel. This was evidenced when, after the discussion about when a lawyer would be appointed, the detective asked, “Do you want to talk to me without a lawyer?” Young replied, “Just talk, let’s see what you got to say.”
Thus, regarding the first issue, the Court held
Because Detective Kenck advised Young of his rights under Miranda; because Detective Kenck’s statements did not contradict Miranda; and given that the record supports the trial court’s conclusion that under the totality of the circumstances, Young made his interview statements knowingly and intelligently, we cannot say that the trial court’s decision was erroneous, let alone clearly erroneous.[v]
The decision of the trial court cannot be reversed on this issue unless it was clearly erroneous, so the Court affirmed the decision of the lower court.
Issue Two: Whether Young’s statement “I’m done talking to you. If y’all find this s*** so funny, I’m done talking” was an unequivocal invocation of his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, and that the interrogation should have ceased after his purported invocation.
The Court first examined the legal principles applicable to this issue and stated
An accused may end a custodial interrogation at any time by invoking his constitutional right to remain silent. To do so, a defendant must unambiguously and unequivocally express his desire to invoke that right before officers are required to stop their questioning.” Dozier v. State, 306 Ga. 29, 33 (829 SE2d 131) (2019) (citation and punctuation omitted); see also Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370, 381 (130 SCt 2250, 176 LE2d 1098) (2010). “That determination depends on whether a defendant articulates a ‘desire to cut off questioning with sufficient clarity that a reasonable police officer in the circumstances would understand the statement to be an assertion of the right to remain silent.’” Dozier, 306 Ga. at 33-34 (citation omitted).[vi]
The Court then examined the statement upon which Young is relying upon as an “unambiguous and unequivocal” invocation of his right to remain silent. During the interview, Young told the detectives, “I’m done talking to you. If y’all find this s*** so funny, I’m done talking.” The Court stated
Although the first half of the statement—“I’m done talking to you”—might appear unequivocal in isolation, it was immediately followed by the conditional statement—“[i]f y’all find this s*** so funny, I’m done talking”—rendering the whole statement equivocal. See Barnes v. State, 287 Ga. 423, 425 (696 SE2d 629) (2010) (concluding that a defendant failed to invoke his right to remain silent because his statement, “if you’re not going to talk real talk, then we shouldn’t talk,” was “conditional and ambiguous,” rather than “unequivocal and unambiguous”).[vii]
Additionally, the Court stated that the video of the interview with Young showed the detectives explaining why they laughed; subsequently, Young almost immediately resumed talking after the detectives assured him that they would listen to his account of the incident.
The Court then held
Because Young’s statement was not so clear as to lead a reasonable police officer to understand that Young was “unequivocal[ly] and unambiguous[ly] invo[king] … his right to remain silent,” it “was insufficient to trigger the [detective’s] duty to cease questioning.”[viii]
Therefore, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that Young’s statements to detectives were properly admissible and affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress.
[i] S20A0859 (Ga. Decided August 10, 2020)
[ii] Id. at 6-9
[iii] Id. at 10 (emphasis added)
[iv] Id. at 11
[v] Id. at 11-12 (emphasis added)
[vi] Id. at 12-13
[vii] Id. at 13
[viii] Id. at 13-14