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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. ELVITA BRACEY (06/03/83)

decided: June 3, 1983.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT,
v.
ELVITA BRACEY, APPELLEE



NO. 80-3-561, APPEAL FROM THE APRIL 29, 1980 ORDER OF THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF PHILADELPHIA COUNTY, TRIAL DIVISION, CRIMINAL SECTION, AS OF NOS. 881, 883 & 885, APRIL SESSION 1978 GRANTING APPELLEE'S MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL

COUNSEL

Eric B. Henson, Deputy Dist. Atty., Sarah B. Vandenbraak, Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellant.

Gilbert J. Scutti, Philadelphia, for appellee.

Roberts, C.j., and Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ. Nix, J., files a dissenting opinion in which Zappala, J., joins.

Author: Hutchinson

[ 501 Pa. Page 359]

OPINION

A jury convicted appellee of voluntary manslaughter and related charges in connection with the stabbing death of her infant daughter on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1978. The trial court vacated the conviction and granted her a new trial on the ground that her spontaneous statements to police were not voluntary because they were prompted by internal compulsion resulting from her paranoid schizophrenic mental condition. The Commonwealth appealed directly to this Court.*fn1

We hold that neither the Fifth nor Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution nor our own constitution require the suppression of statements made by a criminal defendant as "involuntary" in the absence of custodial interrogation or its functional equivalent.

The testimony at trial as to the statements made by the appellee to the police, did not differ materially from the testimony at the suppression hearing. That testimony was as follows: Several Philadelphia police officers observed her running naked down the street. When one of the officers, Officer Young, attempted to stop appellee, she screamed and continued to run. The officers followed appellee for approximately four and one-half blocks until she entered a house.

Officer Branch entered the house and asked appellee why she was running. She did not respond to him but told two ladies sitting with her, "Me and Bobby were fighting. He

[ 501 Pa. Page 360]

    had a butcher knife. The baby got in the way. I tried to take it away from him." Because appellee had what appeared to be blood on her hands and forehead, Officer Branch, accompanied by Deborah Clark, one of the women present in the house, transported appellee to the hospital.

After appellee arrived at the hospital, Officer Palma, who did not know her, told Officer Branch that there were "goofy people on Easter Sunday, since some woman had just stabbed her daughter and killed her". Appellee overheard this comment and dropped to her knees, became hysterical, began banging her hands on the floor and shouted: "Oh my God, I didn't mean to do it", "He killed her", and "Don't tell me my baby is dead". "Bobby Little did it." The officers managed to calm appellee and placed her in a chair. After the expiration of several minutes, appellee tugged on Officer Troutner's sleeve and stated: "Officer, I didn't mean to do my baby. I wanted to kill him. I didn't want to kill my baby."*fn2

While appellee was being escorted to the patrol wagon shortly thereafter, she became hysterical and screamed: "Nickie, Nickie, Nickie" and "I am sorry. I didn't mean it Nickie." Officer Daly then placed appellee in the back of the patrol wagon. Several minutes into the ride from the hospital to the Police Administration Building, appellee began to chant a religious psalm and stamp her feet. Appellee maintained her chanting and stamping for approximately fifteen minutes. At about 11:30 A.M. in the Police Administration Building, Officer Kuhar attempted to obtain background information such as appellee's name, address and Social Security number. Appellee refused to answer. At about 12:45 P.M., Officer Kuhar attempted to read the Miranda warnings to appellee. She said she did not have to

[ 501 Pa. Page 361]

    hear or to answer them. Officer Kuhar asked her to read her rights and record her answers. She read them and wrote "yes" by question number 3, "Do you want to remain silent." Although Officer Kuhar did not question appellee, she spontaneously stated:

Elvita died 30th of May, 1976, between 4:00 and 4:30 P.M., 24th or 25th and Lehigh. I am Eve now. Bobby beat Elvita, beat her head. Elvita then left Bobby and became Eve. Today Nakia and Elvita are together in spirit. Eve put Nakia in spirit today.*fn3

Subsequently, when appellee was taken before the Arraignment Court she suddenly stated that she was guilty and had killed her baby. She also told a matron she had killed her baby.

The suppression judge concluded that the police did not attempt to interrogate appellee and that finding is supported by the record. The suppression judge declined to suppress the appellee's spontaneous statements ruling they were volunteered and were not in response to any psychological or physical coercion by the police.*fn4 Moreover, the suppression judge concluded that since the police did not interrogate appellee, Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966) did not require the officers to warn her of her Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

Appellee's spontaneous statements were admitted at trial. However, following her conviction, the trial judge granted her motion for a new trial on the ground that her spontaneous statements were involuntary and therefore should have been suppressed. The trial judge relied on testimony of Dr. Cooke, a defense psychiatrist, who testified at the suppression hearing that:

[ 501 Pa. Page 362]

. . . [Defendant's] mental status . . . was one of confusion, anxiety, hostility, delusions, hallucinations, anger, and that she could consistently experience directly contradictory ideas and feelings so that she was so confused that she could not make a logical determination: This is what I want to do; this is what I do not want to do. In the process of all that confusion, many statements would emerge, which taken as a totality, would indicate the contradictory kinds of feelings she has.*fn5

The trial judge also considered trial testimony admitted to prove appellee's insanity, including evidence that appellee believed Nakia (her baby) had tried to kill her; Nakia had turned into an animal; appellee was the Messiah; appellee had baptized Nakia and sent Nakia's good part to heaven; and she now wanted to send Nakia's bad part to heaven. The trial court also considered testimony that appellee had a history of mental illness for two years prior to the killing and that she had experienced auditory and visual hallucinations and delusions during that period.

I

Prior to Miranda, confessions were examined under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The central concern in determining the admissibility of a confession or other statements of an accused was whether they may properly be viewed as voluntary, insofar as they were not elicited as the result of any pressure likely to overcome the confessor's will. See J. Cook, Constitutional Rights of the Accused, Trial Rights ยง 71 (1974). More specifically, the United States Supreme Court in its pre- Miranda cases considered voluntariness with respect to statements obtained from an individual

[ 501 Pa. Page 363]

    subjected to custodial police interrogation. The means employed by police to extract confessions were the traditional focus of concern. See Commonwealth v. Willman, 434 Pa. 489, 255 A.2d 534 (1969).

Initially, the United States Supreme Court held that the Due Process Clause prohibited the states from using an accused's confession compelled by means of torture. Brown v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278, 56 S.Ct. 461, 80 L.Ed. 682 (1936). In Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. 532, 18 S.Ct. 183, 42 L.Ed. 568 (1897) the United States Supreme Court, in determining whether a confession was voluntary, followed the Fifth Amendment's commandment that no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. The constitutional inquiry is:

[N]ot whether the conduct of state officers in obtaining the confession was shocking, but whether the confession was "free and voluntary; that is, [it] must not be extracted by any sort of threats or violence, nor obtained by any direct or implied promises, however slight, nor by the exertion of any improper influence. * * *".

Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 7, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 1493, 12 L.Ed.2d 653 (1964) (quoting Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. at 542-43, 18 S.Ct. at 187) (citations omitted).

Prior to Miranda, both this Court and the United States Supreme Court recognized that modern custodial interrogation is psychologically oriented and that coercion can be mental as well as physical. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. at 448, 86 S.Ct. at 1614 (citing Blackburn v. State of Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 80 S.Ct. 274, 4 L.Ed.2d 242 (1960); Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227, 60 S.Ct. 472, 84 L.Ed. 716 (1940)). See also Commonwealth v. Jones, 341 Pa. 541, 19 A.2d 389 (1941) (if defendant was compelled by reason of force, violence, threat or otherwise, or intimidation of any kind to make the statements, they are excluded as involuntary).

Pre- Miranda, in determining whether a confession following custodial interrogation was involuntary, the courts also considered the susceptibility of the accused to coercive influences

[ 501 Pa. Page 364]

    including a suspect's age, Commonwealth v. Hernandez, 498 Pa. 405, 446 A.2d 1268 (1982); lack of education, Chambers v. Florida, supra; physical and mental condition, Reck v. Pate, 367 U.S. 433, 81 S.Ct. 1541, 6 L.Ed.2d 948 (1961); Commonwealth v. Hernandez, supra; Commonwealth v. Willman, supra; Commonwealth v. Holton, 432 Pa. 11, 247 A.2d 228 (1968); the defendant's emotional instability and schizophrenia, Fikes v. Alabama, 352 U.S. 191, 77 S.Ct. 281, 1 L.Ed.2d 246 (1957); and probable insanity at the time of interrogation, Blackburn v. Alabama, supra. Our Court has summarized the standard for determining whether a statement made in response to custodial interrogation is voluntary:

[t]he totality of the circumstances surrounding the statement must be examined, including: duration and methods of interrogation; the conditions of confinement; the manifest attitudes of the police toward the defendant; defendant's physical and psychological condition; and any other condition which may drain the defendant's power of resistance to suggestion or to undermine his ability to exercise free will. See Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 81 S.Ct. 1860, 6 L.Ed.2d 1037 (1961); Commonwealth v. Kichline, 468 Pa. 265, 361 A.2d 282 (1976).

Commonwealth v. O'Bryant, 479 Pa. 534, 539-40, 388 A.2d 1059, 1062 (1978), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 990, 99 S.Ct. 589, 58 L.Ed.2d 664 (1978).

However, the pre- Miranda voluntariness doctrine encompassed only " interrogation practices which are likely to exert such pressure upon an individual as to disable him from making a free and rational choice." Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. at 464-65, 86 S.Ct. at 1622-23, (citing Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 12 L.Ed.2d 653 (1964)) (emphasis added). See also Haynes v. Washington, 373 U.S. 503, 83 S.Ct. 1336, 10 L.Ed.2d 513 (1963); Malinski v. New York, 324 U.S. 401, 65 S.Ct. 781, 89 L.Ed. 1029 (1945); Ashcraft v. Tennessee, 322 U.S. 143, 64 S.Ct. 921, 88 L.Ed. 1192 (1944); Lisenba v. California, 314 U.S. 219, 62 S.Ct. 280, 86 L.Ed. 166 (1941). Thus, the issue which makes mental illness relevant

[ 501 Pa. Page 365]

    is whether the accused's will was overcome by overbearing and improper questioning. See Commonwealth v. Hernandez, 498 Pa. 405, 446 A.2d 1268 (1982); Commonwealth v. Holton, 432 Pa. 11, 247 A.2d 228 (1968).

Our interest in the individual's ability to make a rational choice in determining the voluntariness of a confession for constitutional purposes is "our strong conviction that our system of law enforcement should not operate so as to take advantage of a person" in a weakened condition, whether it is a physical or mental condition. Commonwealth ex rel. Gaito v. Maroney, 422 Pa. 171, 179, 220 A.2d 628, 632 (1966) (Roberts, J.) (quoting Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. at 207, 80 S.Ct. at 280). See also In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 87 S.Ct. 1428, 18 L.Ed.2d 527 (1967). In that light the purpose of the suppression hearing is to determine whether a confession resulting from custodial interrogation is coerced. That determination is to be uninfluenced by the truth or falsity of the confession. See Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 12 L.Ed.2d 908 (1964).

II

In Miranda v. Arizona the United States Supreme Court concluded procedural safeguards were necessary to protect a suspect from the inherently compelling pressures of in-custody interrogations "which work to undermine the individual's will to resist and to compel him to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely." Id. 384 U.S. at 467, 86 S.Ct. at 1624. In order to fully guarantee the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination:

He must be warned prior to any questioning that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires. Opportunity to exercise these rights must be afforded to him throughout the interrogation. After such warnings have been given, and such opportunity afforded him, the individual may knowingly

[ 501 Pa. Page 366]

    and intelligently waive these rights and agree to answer questions or make a statement. But unless and until such warnings and waiver are demonstrated by the prosecution at trial, no evidence obtained as a result of interrogation can be used against him.

Id. at 479, 86 S.Ct. at 1630 (footnote omitted).

The Miranda warnings and concomitant determination whether a defendant has made a knowing and voluntary waiver of rights are now prerequisites to the admission of a confession only if an individual is "taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom by the authorities in any significant way and is subjected to questioning." Id. at 478, 86 S.Ct. at 1630 (emphasis added).*fn6 See Commonwealth v. Gardner, 490 Pa. 421, 416 A.2d 1007 (1980) (failure to give defendant Miranda warnings does not bar admission of inculpatory statement which defendant volunteered prior to questioning). See also Anno. 31 A.L.R.3d 565, 676-96 (collecting cases).

Subsequent to Miranda this Court has reviewed statements obtained as a result of custodial interrogations to determine whether the defendant knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights and whether defendant voluntarily gave the statement used at trial over his objection. See Commonwealth v. O'Bryant, supra.

[ 501 Pa. Page 367]

However, the prerequisite for both inquiries remains a custodial interrogation. Thus, we have held a defendant's statements are admissible if:

[N]ot made in response to police conduct "calculated to, expected to, or likely to evoke admissions." If the statement is "given freely and voluntarily without any compelling influences," it is admissible notwithstanding the lack of Miranda warnings. Commonwealth v. Yount, 455 Pa. 303, 309, 314 A.2d 242, 246 (1974), citing Miranda, supra, 384 U.S. at 478, 86 S.Ct. at 1629, 16 L.Ed.2d at 726. Miranda warnings are called for only if the police questioning constitutes interrogation; that is, likely or expected to elicit a confession or other incriminating statements. See Commonwealth v. Simala, supra; Commonwealth v. Boone, ...


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