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State v. Maile

Supreme Court of Montana

June 23, 2017

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
CHAD LARSEN MAILE, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: April 26, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause No. DC 15-226 Honorable Russell C. Fagg, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Moses Okeyo, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana.

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Jonathan M. Krauss, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana.

          Scott D. Twito, Yellowstone County Attorney, Billings, Montana.

          OPINION

          MICHAEL E WHEAT, JUSTICE

         ¶1 Chad Larsen Maile (Maile) appeals from the June 8, 2015 order of the Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County, denying his motion to reverse and remand the Justice Court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained during the interrogation of him by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Park (FWP) game wardens at a game check station. We affirm.

         ¶2 We address the following issues on appeal:

1. Did the District Court err in affirming the Justice Court's determination that Maile was not subject to custodial interrogation at the FWP game check station and thus was not entitled to Miranda warnings prior to questioning by the game wardens?
2. Did the District Court err in affirming the Justice Court's determination that the admissions Maile made were voluntary?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 On November 17, 2013, Maile and Paul Olson (Olson) stopped at a FWP game check station just outside of Columbus, Montana, with a mule deer harvested by Maile in the bed of the pickup truck. FWP game wardens inspected the deer at the check station and contacted Maile after observing that the license attached to the deer had been issued to a female hunter. The wardens asked Maile about the deer and he began to answer questions and converse with the wardens. He eventually made numerous admissions over the course of the questioning. The investigation was recorded by the Outdoor Channel "Wardens" reality television show, which was on scene and filming the questioning of Olson and Maile.

         ¶4 During the course of the wardens' investigation, Maile admitted that he shot the mule deer and placed his daughter's tag on the animal. He also told the wardens that he had illegally shot two additional deer using his fiancé's tags in Yellowstone County, Montana. He informed the wardens that one deer was currently being processed at a commercial butcher in Billings, Montana. The wardens subsequently went to Maile's home and he consented to a search of his freezer. The wardens located and confiscated the deer meat that they determined had been illegally harvested.

         ¶5 Maile was subsequently charged with License, Permit or Tag Offense in violation of § 87-6-304(5), MCA; Unlawful Possession, Transfer, or Transport of Game Animal in violation of § 87-6-202(1), MCA; and Hunting or Killing a Game Animal Over the Legal Limit in violation of § 87-6-413(1), MCA. Maile moved to suppress evidence gathered at the FWP check station, arguing that the incriminating statements Maile made were fruits of an illegal interrogation. On July 16, 2014, the Justice Court conducted a suppression hearing and, on July 25, 2014, the court denied Maile's motion, concluding that Maile was not subject to custodial interrogation at the check station and thus was not required to receive Miranda warnings.[1] On August 15, 2014, the Justice Court held a non-jury trial and, on August 28, 2014, the court found Maile guilty on all three counts of the indictment.

         ¶6 Maile appealed to the Thirteenth Judicial District Court, contending that he was subjected to a custodial interrogation without first being given Miranda warnings, and that the admissions he made were not given voluntarily and thus should be suppressed. The District Court affirmed the Justice Court on the same grounds given by the lower court. Maile filed a timely appeal with this Court. Additional facts will be provided as necessary to address the issues raised.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶7 Upon Maile's appeal from the Justice Court, the District Court functioned effectively as an intermediate appellate court. See §§ 3-5-303, 3-10-115, MCA. We review cases that originate in justice courts of record and are appealed to a district court as if the appeal originally had been filed in this Court. Accordingly, we undertake an independent examination of the record apart from the district court's decision. State v. Kebble, 2015 MT 195, ¶ 14, 380 Mont. 69, 353 P.3d 1175; State v. Lamarr, 2014 MT 222, ¶ 9, 376 Mont. 232, 332 P.3d 258.

         ¶8 The Montana Supreme Court reviews a trial court's determination that a defendant was not entitled to Miranda warnings for correctness. State v. Elison, 2000 MT 288, ¶¶ 12, 34, 302 Mont. 228, 14 P.3d 456. We review a trial court's findings of fact on a motion to suppress an admission or a confession to determine whether the findings are clearly erroneous. State v. Loh, 275 Mont. 460, 475, 914 P.2d 592, 601 (1996). A finding of fact is clearly erroneous if it is not supported by substantial evidence, if the trial court misapprehended the effect of the evidence, or if this Court has a definite or firm conviction that the trial court committed a mistake. Loh, 275 Mont. at 475, 914 P.2d at 601. Substantial evidence requires more than a mere scintilla of evidence, but may be less than a preponderance of the evidence. State v. Scarborough, 2000 MT 301, ¶ 30, 302 Mont. 350, 14 P.3d 1202. The voluntariness of a confession or admission is a factual question which must take into account the totality of the circumstances. Loh, 275 Mont. at 475, 914 P.2d at 601.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶9 1. Did the District Court err in affirming the Justice Court's determination that Maile was not subject to custodial interrogation at the FWP game check station and thus was not entitled to Miranda warnings prior to questioning by the game wardens?

         ¶10 Maile argues that the FWP wardens violated his right against self-incrimination guaranteed by the Montana and United States Constitutions when they interrogated him without first issuing him Miranda warnings. The Justice Court concluded that no constitutional violation occurred because Maile was not in custody for purposes of Miranda.

         ¶11 The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article II, Section 25 of the Montana Constitution provide that no person shall be compelled, in any criminal case, to be a witness against himself. The United States Supreme Court addressed this privilege against self-incrimination in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602 (1966), holding that "the prosecution may not use statements that stem from a custodial interrogation of a defendant unless the defendant is warned, prior to questioning, that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney." State v. Olson, 2003 MT 61, ¶ 13, 314 Mont. 402, 66 P.3d 297 (citing Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444, 86 S.Ct. at 1612). Thus, an individual must be apprised of his Miranda rights when the individual is "taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way" and is subjected to questioning. Olson, ¶ 18 (quoting State v. Belgarde, 1998 MT 152, ¶ 26, 289 Mont. 287, 962 P.2d 571). "[F]ailure to give the prescribed warnings and obtain a waiver of rights before custodial questioning generally requires exclusion of any statements obtained." Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600, 608, 124 S.Ct. 2601, 2608 (2004).

         ¶12 Whether a "custodial interrogation" has occurred which requires law enforcement officers to issue Miranda warnings before questioning can begin involves a two-step inquiry: "(1) whether the individual was 'in custody' and (2) whether the individual was subjected to an 'interrogation.'" State v. Munson, 2007 MT 222, ¶ 21, 339 Mont. 68, 169 P.3d 364. The State does not dispute that Maile was subject to an "interrogation" in this case. Thus, we need only determine whether Maile was "in custody" at the check station at the time of the interrogation. In this regard, the United States Supreme Court has articulated "'[t]wo discrete inquiries' that are essential to the 'in custody' determination":

first, what were the circumstances surrounding the interrogation; and second, given those circumstances, would a reasonable person have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave. Once the scene is set and the players' lines and actions are reconstructed, the court must apply an objective test to resolve the ultimate inquiry: [was] there a formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest.

Munson, ¶ 22 (quoting Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112, 116 S.Ct. 457, 465 (1995)). This Court has explained the variety of circumstances pertinent to the first inquiry, including:

the language used by the officers; the location or physical surroundings where the questioning occurs; whether the individual consented to speak with the officers; the degree of pressure applied to detain the individual; whether the individual was moved to another area; whether the officers informed the individual that he or she was not under arrest and was free to leave or could ask the officers to leave; whether there was a threatening presence of several officers; whether the officers used coercive tactics such as hostile tones of voice, the display of weapons, or physical force; the duration of the detention; and the extent to which the individual was confronted with evidence of guilt.

Munson, ¶ 23. The foregoing circumstances are not dispositive and "must be considered together in determining whether 'a reasonable person would have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave.'" Munson, ¶ 24 (quoting Thompson, 516 U.S. at 112, 116 S.Ct. at 465). Additionally, "we note that while consideration of these factors might be useful, the ultimate inquiry is not whether a reasonable person would feel free to leave, but rather whether there was a 'formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement' of the degree associated with a formal arrest." Elison, ¶ 28 (quoting Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 322, 114 S.Ct. 1526, 1529 (1994)).

         ¶13 In State v. Dawson, 1999 MT 171, 295 Mont. 212, 983 P.2d 916, we held that Miranda warnings were not required where a defendant was questioned in his hotel room because although the "mood in the room was tense because of the officer's suspicions, " the questioning only took a few minutes, there were other people in the room during the questioning and a brief protective frisk, and he was not placed under arrest or in handcuffs. Dawson, ¶¶ 34, 36. We explained that when an investigative stop is routine and the detention is brief, it does not fall within the ambit of a custodial interrogation requiring Miranda warnings:

This Court has previously held that law enforcement officers need not administer Miranda warnings to suspects during brief investigative encounters even if those encounters are somewhat coercive. Moreover, we have stated that an interrogation is not custodial unless there is a significant restriction of personal liberty similar to an arrest . . . and even temporary confinement as a safety precaution does not render the detention "custodial" for Miranda purposes . . . .

Dawson, ¶¶ 34-35 (citations omitted).

         ¶14 Likewise, in State v. Elison, 2000 MT 288, 302 Mont. 228, 14 P.3d 456, we found no custodial interrogation where a police officer: 1) stopped a vehicle upon hearing a report that the defendant had been observed smoking a marijuana pipe; 2) asked the defendant a moderate number of questions in a public setting and in the presence of another officer to determine the defendant's identity and to obtain information confirming or dispelling the officer's suspicion that he had been smoking marijuana; 3) requested that the defendant exit his vehicle and frisked him; and 4) informed the defendant that he was not free to leave during the ...


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