State v. Nixon

State v. Nixon, 2013 MT 81 (March 26, 2013) (5-0) (Baker, J.)

Issue: Whether the lower court erred in denying Nixon’s motion to suppress statements made during a custodial interrogation.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: Jeffrey Nixon and his father were returning home from a bachelor party late one night when they were stopped. Four policemen approached the car with their guns drawn. An arresting officer told Nixon he was being arrested on two outstanding misdemeanor warrants; he was not told that he was the subject of a homicide investigation. He arrived at the police station at about 4:30 a.m.; all of his movements and statements were videotaped. He slept on a bench for a few hours, and was awakened just before 7 a.m. to be interviewed. The officer asked if Nixon had been drinking; he said he had consumed about 10 drinks during the 7-hour party. The officer asked Nixon to provide a breath sample, which showed Nixon’s BAC to be .08. The officer asked Nixon a series of background questions, then read him his Miranda rights. Nixon said a few times that he had nothing to talk about. The officer told him “there’s a little more to it than that” and asked him to sign a Miranda waiver. Nixon read it and signed it, after which the officer questioned him about the murder of Wesley Collins.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Nixon was charged with several offenses related to Collins’ death, including accountability for deliberate homicide or alternatively deliberate homicide, robbery, burglary, and tampering with evidence. Nixon moved to suppress the statement he made during his interview at the police station. The district court held a hearing at which both Nixon and the interviewing officer testified. The court denied Nixon’s motion, finding that Nixon voluntarily agreed to answer questions and did not unambiguously invoke his right to remain silent. After a five-day trial, the jury found Nixon guilty of robbery, accountability for deliberate homicide, tampering with evidence, and burglary. The court sentenced Nixon to 100 years in prison. Nixon appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: The Court first analyzes whether Nixon invoked his right to remain silent by saying, “I don’t really have anything to talk about.” The Court refuses to find greater protections to remain silent in the Montana Constitution than the U.S. Constitution, and adopts the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Berghuis and its application of the Davis standard to a suspect’s invocation of the right to remain silent. A suspect must unambiguously and unequivocally invoke his right to remain silent, or the interrogating officers are not required to stop questioning. This is an objective inquiry that takes into account the circumstances in which the statement was made. Applying this standard, the Court finds no infringement of Nixon’s Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. The Court next analyzes whether Nixon voluntarily waived his Miranda rights. Nixon argues he was psychologically coerced, drunk, had slept for only two hours, was confused by the waiver form, and misled about the scope of the interrogation. The inquiry into whether a waiver was voluntary under the totality of the circumstances is factual. The district court found that Nixon was 18, had finished high school, had no difficulty with English, and was familiar with the Miranda advisement, and concluded Nixon’s waiver was knowing, intelligent and voluntary. The Court agrees. The interrogating officer asked Nixon various background questions to determine whether he was lucid; Nixon’s answers do not indicate Nixon did not understand the questions or was otherwise incapacitated by intoxication. The video of the interrogation belies Nixon’s contention that he was too drunk and sleep-deprived to understand what was happening. He interrupted to seek clarification and answered questions in a clear, coherent manner. The district court’s finding that Nixon’s Miranda waiver and subsequent statements were voluntary was supported by substantial evidence, and its conclusion to deny Nixon’s motion to suppress was correct.