State v. Fox, Minn.S.Ct., 4/22/2015. A jury found Mr. Fox guilty of first degree premeditated murder and first degree felony murder for the death of Lori Baker. The trial court sentenced him to life imprisonment without possibility of release.
Police arrested Mr. Fox on a DOC hold. As soon as the officers hit the interview room Mr. Fox volunteered that he thought they were there about Ms. Fox’s car. He went on about that until the officers interrupted him and then read him his Miranda rights. He and the officers then talked some more about the car, then about Mr. Fox’s use of Ms. Baker’s credit card, and then about where he’d been since Ms. Fox’s death. When the officers finally told Mr. Fox, “Oh, by the way, Ms. Baker is dead and we think you did it.” Mr. Fox asked for a lawyer. The interview ended.
Next day, Mr. Fox invited the cops back to talk some more. The officers reminded Mr. Fox of his Miranda rights, and he agreed (again) to waive them. Mr. Fox told the officers that he had tried to get representation from the public defender’s office in a different county but had been told that a public defender could not represent him until he was formally charged. It turned out, however, that about two hours before this second interrogation two public defenders from the correct county had asked to meet with Mr. Fox but the jailers said, no. Neither the officers nor Mr. Fox was aware of this at the time of this second interrogation.
Mr. Fox moved to suppress both statements. Regarding the first interrogation, Mr. Fox said that he had not expressly waived his Miranda rights; rather he only said that he understood them and then everyone launched into the interview. Justice Dietzen, for the entire court, said that Mr. Fox had voluntarily participated in the interview after the advisory and acknowledgment of his rights. Second Mr. Fox said that having been arrested on that DOC hold he should have been told that the cops were really there to talk about the homicide before advising him of his rights and obtaining a waiver of those rights. Way back in 1984 the court had warned the police to make sure that a defendant is informed of the crimes about which they want to ask questions before seeking a Miranda waiver. State v. Beckman, 354 N.W.2d 432 (Minn. 1984). Three years later, however, the U.S. Supreme Court took the air out of that warning by holding that the Constitution does not require that a criminal suspect know and understand every possible consequence of a Miranda warning. Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564 (1987). Justice Dietzen avoids the question whether Beckman is still good law by coming up with some sort of fact specific solution; the court said that Mr. Fox was not “totally unaware of the topics upon which he was going to be questioned” so his waiver was valid.
Regarding the second interrogation, Mr. Fox said that he had invoked his Fifth Amendment right to counsel at the end of the first interview and did not subsequently validly waive it. He said that he was represented by a public defender at the time of the second interrogation; the police failed to tell him that the public defendant had arrived at the jail but had been rebuffed; and the other public defender’s office misinformed him that he was not entitled to a public defender until he had been formally charged. On the first claim there was no evidence that the police knew that Mr. Fox was represented and thus no evidence of police misconduct or manipulation. On the second claim the court concluded that the failure to inform Mr. Fox that public defenders had come to the jail to meet with him – assuming that the cops even knew this - did not deprive him of information essential to his ability to waive his Miranda rights. On the third claim the court also concluded that any misunderstanding by Mr. Fox on his eligibility for a public defender did not invalidate and that was good enough.
Mr. Fox asked for a “rational hypothesis” instruction on circumstantial evidence. The court has long resisted such an instruction, saying that such an instruction was not “mandatory.” State v. Turnipseed, 297 N.W.2d 308 (Minn. 1980). The court again declines to require a circumstantial evidence instruction.