State v. Braulick

State v. Braulick, 2015 MT 147 (May 26, 2015) (McKinnon, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred in denying Braulick’s motion to suppress spontaneous statements made in custody after he requested an attorney and before he was notified of his Miranda rights; (2) whether the district court erred in denying Braulick’s motion to exclude one of the crime victims from the courtroom.

Short Answer: (1) No, and (2) no.

Affirmed

Facts: Jeremy Braulick, 39, asked to stay with his mother, Cheryl, and stepfather, Scott, over Christmas in 2011. His mother was initially reluctant and agreed on the condition that Braulick would not be abusive toward her.

On Dec. 27, 2011, Braulick became increasingly agitated, and his mother and stepfather told him he would have to leave. He left the house, and Cheryl and Scott went onto the back porch to have a cigarette. A few minutes later, the 6’5” Braulick tackled them, then began choking them. He hit his mother, breaking her glasses, and pulled out a knife. He slashed his stepfather’s abdomen, and stabbed his mother in the side and the breast. Eventually Braulick left and his mother called 911.

Braulick was charged with two counts of attempted deliberate homicide with a penalty enhancement for use of a dangerous weapon. Before trial, he moved to suppress statements made in custody on the grounds that he had not been given his Miranda rights, and because all questioning should have stopped once he asked for an attorney.

At the suppression hearing, the district court heard testimony from the three officers who responded to the 911 call, as well as Cheryl. The officers testified that the questions they asked were to ascertain the situation, and as part of the booking process. The district court adopted the state’s findings and conclusions, and concluded there was no custodial interrogation of Braulick, as his statements were spontaneously blurted while he sobbed and talked to himself. The court ordered a question about Braulick’s alcohol consumption to be stricken, as the amount Braulick had been drinking was more prejudicial than probative.

Procedural Posture & Holding: At trial, Braulick objected to allowing Cheryl to remain in the courtroom during Scott’s testimony. The district court held that as victims of a criminal offense, Cheryl and Scott had the right to be present for trial. Braulick was convicted on both counts of attempted homicide and sentenced to 90 years in the Montana State Prison. Braulick appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) Statements made during a custodial interrogation may not be used by the prosecution unless the defendant was informed before questioning of his right to remain silent. Braulick argues his statements must be excluded because he had not been given a Miranda warning. An officer may ask a detainee questions to determine the detainee’s identity and obtain information confirming or dispelling he officer’s suspicions before Miranda requirements attach.

Once a detainee has invoked the right to counsel during custodial interrogation, the interrogation must end. This rule does not require exclusion of a defendant’s spontaneous statements.

Braulick was in custody once he was placed in handcuffs at his mother’s house. The issue is whether the statements he seeks to suppress were the products of interrogation. Officer Kunnath asked Braulick, “”What’s going on here?” and “What happened to your step-dad?” This limited questioning was a reasonable effort to obtain information confirming the officer’s suspicions about what had happened. Braulick’s spontaneous statements after that, both at the house and at the detention center, were not in response to interrogation and therefore admissible in the absence of a Miranda warning.

(2) By statute, a crime victim has the right to be present during trial, and may not be excluded solely because he or she will also be called as a witness. Braulick did not argue there were any specific facts supporting Cheryl’s exclusion. The statutory exceptions to allowing a crime victim to be present require more than mere conclusory allegations.