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State v. O.E.W.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 19, 2019

State of Indiana, Appellant/Cross-Appellee-Petitioner,
v.
O.E.W., Appellee/Cross-Appellant-Respondent.

          Interlocutory Appeal from the Lake Superior Court, Juvenile Division The Honorable Thomas P. Stefaniak, Jr., Judge, The Honorable Matthew B. Gruett, Magistrate, Trial Court Cause Nos. 45D06-1803-JD-106

          Attorneys for Appellant Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Ellen H. Meilaender Supervising Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorney for Appellee Michael A. Campbell Highland, Indiana

          MATHIAS, JUDGE.

         [¶1] The State of Indiana appeals the order of the Juvenile Division of the Lake Superior Court granting a motion filed by juvenile O.E.W. seeking to suppress statements he made during a police interview in which he was not advised of his Miranda rights. O.E.W. cross-appeals and argues that the juvenile court clearly erred by finding that there was probable cause to believe that he committed acts that would be, if committed by an adult, felony murder, Level 2 felony robbery resulting in serious bodily injury, and Class A misdemeanor theft. We affirm the juvenile court in all respects.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] In August 2017, then-fifteen-year-old O.E.W. lived with his de facto father Andy Ruiz ("Ruiz"), Ruiz's children, and Ruiz's girlfriend Adriana Garcia ("Garcia"), in a home on Alexander Avenue in Hammond, Indiana. O.E.W.'s girlfriend, C.P., lived on the same block. The victim in this case, Lucia Gonzales ("Gonzales"), lived a block away on Alexander Avenue with her children and her boyfriend, Marco Vera ("Vera"). O.E.W. had previously purchased marijuana from Vera and, on at least one occasion, directly from Gonzales herself.

         [¶3] On August 21, 2017, O.E.W. told his girlfriend C.P. that he planned to go to purchase marijuana from Vera at 9:00 p.m. that night. Between 8:45 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. that evening, Ruiz noticed that O.E.W. had left home without permission. Garcia sent her son and C.P. out to look for O.E.W. Shortly thereafter, C.P. saw O.E.W. running away from the area near Gonzales's home toward the dead-end of Alexander Avenue. O.E.W. then returned to the area of Gonzales's home, got on his bicycle, and rode away. Although C.P. called out O.E.W.'s name, he did not stop.

         [¶4] O.E.W. returned home at approximately 9:30 p.m. He immediately went into the bathroom and took a shower. When O.E.W. came out of the shower, Ruiz noticed that O.E.W. had several injuries, including puncture wounds to his arms, legs, back, and torso. When confronted by Ruiz, O.E.W. initially stated that the chain on his bicycle had broken and that he had injured himself while attempting to fix it. When Ruiz stated that the injuries did not appear to have been caused by fixing the bicycle, O.E.W. then claimed that he had been stabbed during a fight at a local park. Ruiz took O.E.W. to the hospital, where his wounds were treated. Early the next morning, Garcia saw a black Samsung smartphone lying near O.E.W.'s phone. Garcia had never seen the Samsung phone before, and, when she returned from work later that day, the phone was gone.

         [¶5] Also early the next morning, at approximately 6:00 a.m., Gonzales's six-year-old daughter came to her neighbor's home, carrying her younger siblings. The small child told the neighbor that she saw someone whom she thought to be her "stepfather" Vera lying on the floor, bleeding. Tr. Vol. 2, p. 171. The neighbor telephoned the police, who went to the Vera/Gonzales home and found the body of Gonzales, not Vera, lying supine on the kitchen floor. Gonzales's body was covered in blood; her pants had been pulled down, exposing her genitalia, and her shirt had been pulled up, exposing her breasts. Gonzales had defensive wounds on her arms and had suffered numerous stab wounds and cuts to her head and upper torso. She had also suffered a blunt-force wound to the head that caused an open skull fracture and resulting brain injury. The police were unable to locate Gonzales's Samsung smartphone.

         [¶6] Later that day, O.E.W.'s mother, S.W., reported the alleged attack on her son to the police. After speaking with a patrol officer, she telephoned a Detective Suarez, who informed her that she should bring her son to the station to make a statement. She accordingly took O.E.W. to the police station that evening to speak with detectives about his claim that he had been stabbed by another juvenile in a local park the night before. She also indicated to the police that she was concerned that the attack on her son might somehow be related to the death of Gonzalez.

         [¶7] Hammond Police Department Detective Shawn Ford ("Detective Ford") spoke with O.E.W. and his mother in an interview room, where O.E.W.'s statement was video recorded.[1] O.E.W. sat at one side of an oval table with Detective Ford sitting across from him. O.E.W.'s mother sat slightly behind and to the right of O.E.W. near the corner of the interview room. O.E.W. told Detective Ford that he and his friend M.C. went to a local park to meet I.W. and his friend D.M. so that O.E.W. and I.W. could finish a fight that had started at school. O.E.W. stated that, after he won the fight, I.W. stabbed him. At some point in the interview, Detective Ford's supervisor, Lieutenant Mark Tharp ("Lt. Tharp") came into the interview room. He did not sit down, but leaned against the door frame. Lt. Tharp also worked as a resource officer at the high school O.E.W. attended and knew some of the juveniles involved in the fight.

         [¶8] During the interview, O.E.W.'s mother appeared to be "uncomfortable and just very kind of nervous and unsettled[.]" Tr. Vol. 2, p. 33. Detective Ford wondered why O.E.W.'s mother was concerned that her son, or the attack on her son, might be connected with the death of Gonzales. Detective Ford therefore asked if he could speak to her privately, and she agreed. Lt. Tharp took O.E.W. into another room while Detective Ford spoke with O.E.W.'s mother. Lt. Tharp made small talk with O.E.W., but did not interview him and did not garner any information from him at this time. Detective Ford asked O.E.W.'s mother if she had any problems with him asking her son about the murder, and she indicated that "she's fine with [that]." Id.

         [¶9] Detective Ford was not involved with the investigation of Gonzales's death and therefore did not know any of the details of the homicide itself. He therefore asked O.E.W. open-ended questions regarding the murder. O.E.W. indicated that he knew Gonzales and was aware that she had been killed. Detective Ford had already established where O.E.W. claimed to be at the time of the murder-in the park fighting. Lt. Tharp testified that he recalled how O.E.W. stated that he had previously been to the home of Vera and Gonzales. Id. at 50-51. At some point during the interview, [2] evidence technicians took photographs of O.E.W.'s injuries and took a buccal swab to collect his DNA. At the conclusion of the interview, O.E.W. and his mother left the police station.

         [¶10] Detective Ford subsequently spoke with I.W., the youth whom O.E.W. claimed to have fought on the night of the murder. I.W. admitted that he and O.E.W. had gotten into a fight at school, but stated that he did not go to the park to fight. I.W.'s father confirmed that his son was at home that night. I.W. also had no injuries that indicated he had been in a fight. I.W.'s friend D.M. also denied having been at the park, and he too had no injuries indicating that he had been in a fight. O.E.W.'s friend, M.C., also denied having been with O.E.W. in the park when he claimed to have been stabbed. Instead, M.C. told the police that O.E.W. had told him that he was stabbed by someone he could not identify.

         [¶11] On August 23, 2017, the police secured a warrant for information regarding the location of Gonzales's phone. The phone's service provider gave the police the location of the phone, which was on the 1700 block of 171st Street in Hammond. The police went to that address and found O.E.W. sleeping in the basement. Beneath his pillow was Gonzales's phone. Forensic investigation of the phone revealed that it had last connected to Gonzales's wi-fi network at approximately 9:00 p.m. on August 21, the night of the murder, and had next connected to a secure wi-fi network at O.E.W.'s home the following morning at 7:20 a.m. Later that day, it connected to another wi-fi network named "[O.E.W.]'s iPhone." Tr. Vol. 3, pp. 31, 37.

         [¶12] The lead detective in the murder case now considered O.E.W. to be a suspect. Accordingly, he secured a warrant to gather a DNA sample from O.E.W., and the police again took a buccal swab from O.E.W. Subsequent testing revealed that DNA from O.E.W. or one of his paternal relatives was located on the shirt Gonzales was wearing at the time of her death. Gonzalez's DNA was also found on O.E.W.'s underwear, but the rest of the clothes he had been wearing had already been laundered.

         [¶13] After speaking with O.E.W.'s girlfriend C.P., the police searched the area near the dead-end of Alexander Avenue, where she had seen O.E.W. run after leaving the area of Gonzales's home. There, they discovered a crow bar and a kitchen knife. Gonzales's injuries were consistent with being inflicted by these items, and her boyfriend Vera indicated that the recovered items looked similar to those kept in their home and garage. The knife and crowbar had been left exposed to the elements, including a heavy rainstorm the night of the murder. Thus, the police were unable to obtain any blood samples or usable DNA from these items.

         [¶14] On March 26, 2018, the State filed a request seeking authorization to file a petition alleging O.E.W. was a delinquent child, which request the juvenile court granted. The following day, the State filed a petition alleging that O.E.W. was a delinquent child for committing acts that, if committed by an adult, would be knowing or intentional murder, felony murder, Level 2 felony robbery resulting in serious bodily injury, and Class A misdemeanor theft. The State simultaneously filed a petition to waive jurisdiction of the case to adult criminal court.

         [¶15] On July 23, 2018, the juvenile court held the first of several hearings on the waiver issue. At the beginning of the hearing, O.E.W. moved to suppress the statements he made during his interview with the police, claiming that he had been subjected to custodial interrogation without having been advised of his Miranda rights. The juvenile court therefore heard the issue of the motion to suppress before continuing with the waiver issue. After listening to testimony from O.E.W.'s mother, Detective Ford, and Lt. Tharp, and hearing the arguments of counsel, the juvenile court granted the motion in part, suppressing any statements made by O.E.W. in the second part of the interview where Detective Ford asked questions about Gonzales's death. The juvenile court then proceeded to hear evidence on the issue of the motion to waive the case to criminal court.

         [¶16] On August 22, 2018, the State filed a motion to certify the juvenile court's order on the motion to suppress for interlocutory appeal. On August 27, 2018, before the court had ruled on the State's motion to certify the suppression order for interlocutory appeal, the juvenile court entered an order finding sufficient probable cause to believe that O.E.W. committed what would be, if committed by an adult, felony murder, robbery resulting in serious bodily injury, and theft.[3]The juvenile court, however found that there was "insufficient probable cause to believe [O.E.W.] committed the delinquent act of Murder, Felony (I.C. 35-42-1-1(1) [knowing or intentional murder])." Appellant's App. p. 95. The State then filed, and the juvenile court granted, a motion to dismiss that allegation.[4]

         [¶17] On August 31, 2018, the juvenile court issued an order waiving jurisdiction to adult criminal court. On September 10, 2018, the juvenile court granted the State' motion to certify its suppression order for interlocutory appeal. The following day, O.E.W. filed a motion to certify the juvenile court's probable cause order for interlocutory appeal, which the court granted on September 18, 2018. This court subsequently granted the parties' motions to accept interlocutory jurisdiction and, on January 31, 2019, we granted the State's motion to consolidate the two interlocutory appeals.

         I. The State's Appeal

         [¶18] We first address the issue presented in the State's interlocutory appeal, i.e., whether the juvenile court erred by granting O.E.W.'s motion to suppress the statements he made during the interview with Detective Ford and Lt. Tharp.

         A. Standard of Review

         [¶19] Questions regarding the admission of evidence are generally entrusted to the discretion of the juvenile court, and we review the court's rulings only for an abuse of that discretion. J.D.P. v. State, 857 N.E.2d 1000, 1006 (Ind.Ct.App. 2006) (citing B.K.C. v. State, 781 N.E.2d 1157, 1162 (Ind.Ct.App. 2003)), trans. denied. Here, however, the State "b[ore] the burden of demonstrating the constitutionality of the measures it uses in securing information." State v. Mason, 829 N.E.2d 1010, 1015 (Ind.Ct.App. 2005) (citing State v. Farber, 677 N.E.2d 1111, 1113 (Ind.Ct.App. 1997), trans. denied). Thus, because the juvenile court granted the motion to suppress, the State appeals from a negative judgment. See id. (citing Farber, 677 N.E.2d at 1113-14). A party appealing a negative judgment must show that the lower court's ruling was contrary to law. Id. We will reverse a negative judgment only when the evidence is without conflict and all reasonable inferences lead to a conclusion opposite that of the lower court. Id. (citing Farber, 677 N.E.2d at 1114). And we neither reweigh the evidence nor judge the credibility of witnesses and consider only the evidence most favorable to the judgment. Id.

         B. Miranda Warnings

         [¶20] As our supreme court recently summarized:

The Supreme Court of the United States's groundbreaking Miranda v. Arizona decision adopted the now-famous "Miranda warnings." 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). They apply to suspects under custodial interrogation, who must be told that they have "a right to remain silent, that any statement [they do] make may be used as evidence against [them], and that [they have] a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed." Id. As the Miranda Court noted, "the very fact of custodial interrogation exacts a heavy toll on individual liberty and trades on the weakness of individuals," id. at 455, so they may be psychologically coerced into speaking, id. at 446-48. These warnings thus safeguard the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by warding off police coercion. Id. at 467; Howes v. Fields, 565 U.S. 499, 507 (2012).

B.A. v. State, 100 N.E.3d 225, 230 (Ind. 2018). Children are particularly vulnerable to such coercion, making Miranda warnings especially important, even when police place a student under custodial interrogation at school as opposed to a police station. Id. (citing J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 564 U.S. 261, 269 (2011)).

         C. Juvenile Waiver Statute

         [¶21] In this state, juveniles have long been accorded special status in the area of criminal procedure. S.D. v. State, 937 N.E.2d 425, 429-30 (Ind.Ct.App. 2010) (citing Hall v. State, 264 Ind. 448, 451, 346 N.E.2d 584, 586 (1976)), trans. denied. "To give effect to that status in the context of waiving intricate, important, and long established Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights, we require that a juvenile be afforded a meaningful opportunity to consult with a parent or guardian before the solicitation of any statement." Id. at 429. Accordingly, our General Assembly enacted the juvenile waiver statute.[5] B.A., 100 N.E.3d at 231.

         [¶22] The juvenile ...


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