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State v. MacDonald

Court of Appeals of Utah

July 28, 2017

State of Utah, Appellant,
v.
Robbie Michael MacDonald, Appellee.

         Fourth District Court, Provo Department The Honorable Derek P. Pullan No. 131400351

          Sean D. Reyes, Ryan D. Tenney, and Jeffrey S. Gray, Attorneys for Appellant

          Margaret P. Lindsay and Matthew R. Morrise, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge J. Frederic Voros Jr. authored this Opinion, in which Judges David N. Mortensen and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.

          OPINION

          VOROS, Judge.

         ¶1 Robbie Michael MacDonald was charged with child abuse, a second degree felony, and obstructing justice, a third degree felony. This court granted the State's petition for interlocutory appeal from two pretrial suppression rulings. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 In reviewing a district court's ruling on a suppression motion, we view the facts in the light most favorable to the district court's findings and recite them accordingly. See State v. Mitchell, 2013 UT App 289, ¶ 2, 318 P.3d 238. However, because this case comes to us on appeal from an interlocutory order, MacDonald remains presumed innocent of the charged offense.

         The Injury

         ¶3 MacDonald lived with his girlfriend (Mother), Mother's ten-month-old baby (Child), and another child. During the approximately six-week period that the couple lived together, MacDonald "yelled constantly and excessively." MacDonald called Child a "whiner" and directed racial slurs at him. MacDonald did not like Child clinging to Mother, encouraged her to leave Child alone when Child cried, pulled Child away from her, and encouraged Mother to give Child to Child's father for parent time. Mother became suspicious that MacDonald was jealous of Child.

         ¶4 While living with MacDonald, Mother noticed three interactions that caused her concern. First, in early December, on more than one occasion MacDonald picked Child up by the arms, carried him across the room, and dropped him on a bean bag chair. Child cried after MacDonald did this. Second, in early January, Child became sick. Mother asked MacDonald to give Child medicine. After he administered the medicine, she observed bruises on both of Child's cheeks. When Mother asked MacDonald about the bruising, he told her that Child fell on a toy. Third, on January 13, 2013, MacDonald "flipped off" Child with both hands.

         ¶5 On January 18, 2013, MacDonald stayed home to watch Child while Mother went to work. Later that afternoon, MacDonald called Mother to tell her that Child had stopped breathing and he had called an ambulance. At the hospital, doctors diagnosed Child with a head contusion, pulmonary edema, a subdural hematoma, massive retinal hemorrhaging, and Abusive Head Trauma resulting in irreversible brain damage, blindness, and seizures.[1]

         The First Interview

         ¶6 After paramedics transported Child to the hospital, police officers asked MacDonald to come to the police station to explain the events preceding Child's injuries. The officers video-recorded the interview. At the outset of the interview, an officer read MacDonald his Miranda rights, but stated that he was "not sure if you . . . particularly need your rights, " because he was "just . . . asking what's going on" with Child. The officer asked MacDonald if he understood his rights. MacDonald responded affirmatively by nodding his head. The interview room door was closed but not locked; the officer did not restrain MacDonald or tell him that he was under arrest; and the interviewing officer was the only person in the room with MacDonald. MacDonald was left alone in the interview room for approximately 40 minutes during the interview. The officer wore plain clothes and was unarmed.

         ¶7 MacDonald said that Child fell asleep on the living room floor so he picked Child up and laid him down in his crib. He explained that when he later checked on Child, he found him unresponsive and not breathing, with vomit on his mouth. He stated that when he found Child, he yelled for his roommate to help and the roommate called 911. After the interview, an officer drove MacDonald home.

         The Second Interview

         ¶8 A police investigator later called MacDonald and asked him to come to the police station for a second interview. Police officers again video-recorded the interview. The interview room door was closed but not locked. Two officers interviewed MacDonald; both wore plain clothes and were unarmed. They did not restrain MacDonald or tell him that he was under arrest.

         ¶9 During the interview, MacDonald repeated the same version of events that he described in his first interview-that after Child fell asleep on the floor, MacDonald put him down in his crib and later found Child unresponsive and not breathing, with vomit on his mouth. One of the officers then told MacDonald that medical tests showed that Child had "suffered trauma" and suggested that "something else happened." The officer told MacDonald that he did not "have any intentions of running [him] down to jail . . . tonight, " but urged MacDonald to "take the high road" and "come clean" with what happened to Child. MacDonald then told the officers that when he walked into the room to lay Child in his crib, he tripped on the rug and dropped Child on the floor. After further questioning about Child's injuries, the officers left MacDonald alone in the interview room for approximately one hour. At the conclusion of the interview, MacDonald provided a signed, written statement. After the interview, MacDonald's grandfather drove him home.

         The Third Interview

         ¶10 A police investigator called MacDonald a day later and asked him to come to the police station for a third interview. Police officers video-recorded the interview. The interview room door was again closed but not locked; the interviewing officer did not restrain MacDonald or tell him that he was under arrest; and the officer was the only person in the room with MacDonald. The officer wore plain clothes and was unarmed.

         ¶11 At the beginning of the interview, the officer read MacDonald his Miranda rights and asked him if he understood the rights. MacDonald responded, "Yes." The officer asked if MacDonald was still willing to talk to police, and MacDonald responded affirmatively. MacDonald repeated the version of events that he described in his second interview-that when he walked into the room to lay Child in his crib, he tripped on the rug and dropped Child on the floor. After the interview, police drove MacDonald home.

         Court Proceedings

         ¶12 The State charged MacDonald with one count of child abuse with serious bodily injury and one count of false written statements.[2] MacDonald moved to suppress his second and third interviews. At argument on the motion, the district court questioned whether the first interview should also be suppressed given the lack of an express Miranda waiver. The district court ultimately suppressed MacDonald's written statement and his statements from the first and second interviews, but not the third.

         ¶13 With respect to the first interview, the court ruled (1) that MacDonald was in custody for Miranda purposes, and (2) that the police interrogator was thus required to-but did not-ask MacDonald if he waived his Miranda rights. With respect to the second interview, the court ruled (1) that MacDonald was in custody for Miranda purposes, (2) that the police interrogator did not read MacDonald his Miranda rights, and (3) that the police interrogator did not obtain from MacDonald a waiver of his rights. And the district court suppressed the written statement based on its finding that MacDonald did not receive or waive his Miranda rights during the second interview.

         ¶14 The State moved under rule 404(b) of the Utah Rules of Evidence to admit evidence of MacDonald's interactions with Child. The court admitted evidence that MacDonald had directed racial slurs toward Child in the weeks before his injuries occurred. But the court excluded evidence that MacDonald (1) yelled frequently at Child, (2) called him a "whiner, " (3) "flipped off" Child, (4) was jealous of the attention Mother paid to Child, (5) previously bruised Child's cheeks when he administered medication, and (6) previously picked Child up by the arms in a rough manner, carried him across the room, and dropped him on a bean bag chair.

         ¶15 The State appeals the suppression of the first and second interviews and the exclusion of the rule 404(b) evidence. We granted interlocutory review.

         ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         ¶16 The State contends that the district court erred in suppressing the first and second interviews for two reasons. First, the State argues that the district court erred in concluding that MacDonald was in custody for Miranda purposes during the first and second interviews. In the alternative, the State argues that, even if MacDonald was in ...


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