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State v. Wilson

September 9, 1996


Appeal from Superior Court King County. Docket No: 95-1-01561-8. Date filed: 08/21/95. Judge signing: Hon. Linda Lau.

Authored by Ronald E. Cox. Concurring: William W. Baker, Susan R. Agid.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cox

COX, J. -- Marco C. Wilson appeals his conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm. He challenges the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress his statement to a police officer during a traffic stop. Because the police officer's remark that preceded Wilson's statement did not constitute interrogation, we affirm.

Before daylight on February 22, 1995, Seattle Police Officers Walter Hayden and Wendy Emerson observed a vehicle traveling on a city street without its headlights illuminated. The officers stopped the car for the traffic violation.

Officer Hayden approached Wilson, the driver, and asked him for his driver's license. Wilson said he had no identification but gave his name. The officers ran a computer check and learned that Wilson's license was suspended in the third degree. They also learned he had prior contact with the Department of Corrections, although they did not then know the nature of Wilson's prior crimes.

Officer Hayden returned to the car, informed Wilson that his license was suspended, and asked him whether there were any drugs or weapons in the car or on his person. Officer Hayden asked Wilson to get out of the car after receiving a negative response to his question. Hayden then frisked Wilson and found no weapons.

Officer Hayden then started to make a cursory check of the inside of the car and saw a live shotgun shell on the driver's side floorboard. Officer Hayden picked up the shotgun shell and said, "This makes me nervous." Wilson then said, "Okay. The shotgun is under the passenger seat. I bought it on the street for my protection. It isn't safe out here."

The officers asked the female passenger to exit the vehicle and found a sawed-off shotgun beneath her seat. The shotgun was within easy reach of Wilson prior to his arrest.

The officers arrested Wilson for driving with a suspended license and took him to the precinct. As of this time, the police had not advised him of his Miranda rights. *fn1 At the precinct, Officer Hayden confirmed that Wilson had three prior felony drug convictions. As a result, the State charged him with unlawful possession of a firearm.

Wilson moved to suppress his statement, claiming a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights. The trial court denied Wilson's motion. Wilson then stipulated to the State's evidence. The trial court found him guilty as charged.

Wilson appeals. Motion to Suppress Wilson claims that the trial court erred by admitting his statement to Officer Hayden because it was obtained in violation of the right against self-incrimination guaranteed him by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. We disagree.

This court reviews a trial court's findings of fact to determine whether the record supports them. *fn2 We review Conclusions of law de novo. *fn3 When an agent of the State interrogates a suspect in custody, Miranda requires that the agent advise the suspect of his or her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and to have an attorney present during the questioning. *fn4 When a suspect makes an incriminating statement to the police, this court analyzes two factors to determine the applicability of Miranda:

Both factors [custody and interrogation] must be present for Miranda protection to attach. A suspect who is not in custody does not have Miranda rights. A suspect who is in custody but not being interrogated does not have Miranda rights. *fn5

Interrogation for Miranda purposes "refers not only to express questioning, but also to any words or actions on the part of the police (other than those normally attendant to arrest and custody) that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect." *fn6 We look to all of the surrounding circumstances to determine whether an interaction constitutes interrogation. *fn7 " defendant's incriminating statement that is not a response to an officer's question is freely admissible." *fn8 In State v. Webb, *fn9 this court held admissible a defendant's incriminating statement that he made during booking. Webb asked the booking officer "'if all this is necessary'." *fn10 The officer responded, "'You're damn right this is necessary. You went in and vandalized Sheryl's apartment.'" *fn11 Webb responded, "'But the stuff I damaged was mine too.'" *fn12 The court upheld admission of the statement for two reasons. First, the officer's remark was a reasonable response to Webb's question and did not call for a response. *fn13 Second, the officer could not have known that the statement would prompt an incriminating response. *fn14 Thus, the officer's statement, though accusatory and made while Webb was under arrest, did not constitute interrogation for Miranda purposes. *fn15 In contrast, Division III held inadmissible a handgun that an arrestee offered in response to a detective's suggestion that it would be helpful to the police if they had the gun. *fn16 The court reasoned that the detective should have known that his statement was likely to elicit an incriminating response because he and the arrestee were well-acquainted and had played cards together numerous times. *fn17 In addition, the defendant had asserted his right to remain silent. Thus, the police should ...

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