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State v. Nichols

Supreme Court of Oregon, En Banc

March 2, 2017

STATE OF OREGON, Appellant,
v.
STEVEN P. WAGNER NICHOLS, Respondent.

          Argued and submitted October 13, 2016

         On appeal from an order of the Hood River County Circuit Court under ORS 138.060(2)(a) and ORAP 12.07, CC 140066CR [*]

          Doug M. Petrina, Assistant Attorney General, Salem, argued the cause and fled the briefs for the petitioner on review. Also on the briefs were Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, and Benjamin Gutman, Solicitor General.

          Anne Fujita Munsey, Deputy Public Defender, Salem, argued the cause and fled the brief for the respondent on review. Also on the brief was Ernest G. Lannet, Chief Defender, Offce of Public Defense Services.

         Case Summary:

Defendant was indicted for murder and moved to suppress statements that he made during a custodial interrogation, citing a violation of his right against compelled self-incrimination under Article I, section 12, of the Oregon Constitution. The trial court granted defendant's motion, reasoning that defendant had made an equivocal invocation of that right, but the interrogating detectives had failed to clarify that invocation, which required suppression of the resulting statements. The state appealed directly to the Oregon Supreme Court.

         Held:

(1) A reasonable law enforcement officer would have understood that defendant had invoked his right against compelled self-incrimination under Article I, section 12; (2) Because defendant unequivocally invoked that right, the detectives were required to cease the interrogation, and their contrary actions violated Article I, section 12; and (3) the trial court therefore did not err in granting defendant's motion to suppress the interview statements that he made following his invocation.

          BALMER, C. J.

         This case involves the state's appeal of a pretrial order suppressing evidence in a pending murder prosecution, ORS 138.060(2)(a). The trial court determined that, near the beginning of a custodial interrogation, defendant equivocally invoked his right against compelled self-incrimination under Article I, section 12, of the Oregon Constitution, but law enforcement failed to clarify defendant's intent as to that invocation and, instead, continued the interrogation. The court concluded that the failure to clarify had violated Article I, section 12, and it therefore suppressed defendant's invocation and all the statements that he had made thereafter. We affirm, but on different grounds: We conclude that defendant unequivocally invoked his right against compelled self-incrimination and, therefore, the interrogation should have ended when defendant made that invocation.

         The facts are undisputed.[1] Defendant's girlfriend, who was also the mother of his then-infant daughter, died in 2009 when she fell during a hike with defendant in the Columbia River Gorge. The investigation into the cause of her fall proceeded slowly. In the meantime, defendant continued to live in Oregon for several years; he then traveled with his daughter to work in China, staying for 18 months.

         In 2014, while defendant was still in China, prosecutors secured a secret indictment in the Hood River County Circuit Court, charging defendant with murder. A judge immediately issued a warrant for defendant's arrest. In early 2015, defendant was located and detained at the San Francisco International Airport after arriving there on an overseas flight from China, en route to Oregon, with his daughter. Two detectives from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office responded and took over the investigation. At some point, defendant was handcuffed and remained so for several hours. He also had not slept for an extended period of time.

         The detectives then interviewed defendant, who apparently was still handcuffed. At the outset of the interview, the lead detective, Matsuura, introduced himself and the other detective, and stated that defendant was not free to leave. Matsuura then read defendant his Miranda rights, which defendant indicated that he understood. Matsuura began the interview by explaining that the airport fell within the jurisdiction of his office and that, when individuals are arrested at the airport, his office interviews them before lodging them in the county jail. Defendant did not respond to that explanation. The following back-and-forth then ensued between Matsuura and defendant:

"DET. MATSUURA: *** Have you been told why you're in custody?
"[DEFENDANT]: No.
"DET MATSUURA: Okay You have a warrant for your arrest.
"[DEFENDANT]: From where?
"DET. MATSUURA: The state of Oregon.
"[DEFENDANT]: For?
"DET. MATSUURA: Homicide.
"[DEFENDANT]: Homicide?
"DET. MATSUURA: Homicide. Do you have any idea what ...

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