District Court, Provo Department The Honorable Derek P.
Pullan No. 131400351
D. Reyes, Ryan D. Tenney, and Jeffrey S. Gray, Attorneys for
Margaret P. Lindsay and Matthew R. Morrise, Attorneys for
J. Frederic Voros Jr. authored this Opinion, in which Judges
David N. Mortensen and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The State charged MacDonald with one count of child abuse
with serious bodily injury and one count of false written
statements. 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.
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.
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.
The State appeals the suppression of the first and second
interviews and the exclusion of the rule 404(b) evidence. We
granted interlocutory review.
AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW
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