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Risinger v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

December 9, 2019

Joshua Risinger, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

          Appeal from the Washington Circuit Court The Honorable Larry W. Medlock, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 88C01-1703-MR-185

          Attorney for Appellant Stacy R. Uliana Bargersville, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Ian McLean Supervising Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          BRADFORD, JUDGE.

         Case Summary[1]

         [¶1] In March of 2017, Joshua Risinger's trailer was set on fire and burned, killing Jeffrey Charles Givan.[2] During the course of three interviews with law enforcement, Risinger made incriminating statements. The State charged Risinger with murder, felony murder, and Level 4 felony arson. Twice, Risinger moved to suppress his statements, claiming that they were given involuntarily and in violation of his Miranda rights. The trial court denied both motions. In November of 2018, a jury trial was held, after which a jury found Risinger guilty but mentally ill of murder and felony murder and guilty of arson. The trial court merged the felony murder and arson convictions with the murder conviction and sentenced Risinger to sixty years of incarceration. Risinger contends, inter alia, that the trial court erroneously admitted the statements he made during the three police interviews because (1) they were made involuntarily and (2) they were made after detectives failed to scrupulously honor his invocation of his Miranda rights. Because we agree that the detectives failed to scrupulously honor Risinger's right to remain silent pursuant to Miranda, we reverse.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] On March 14, 2017, Risinger's trailer was set on fire and burned, killing Givan. As he was leaving the scene of the fire, Risinger was arrested and taken to the Washington County Sheriff's Department. Once at the Sheriff's Department, Indiana State Police Detectives Matt Busick and Brian Busick and Salem Police Officer Ronnie Mays took Risinger into a deputy's office for an interview. Risinger was seated in a chair with his hands cuffed in front of him, his suitcase was placed in front of him, and he was given a glass of water. Detective Brian Busick read Risinger his Miranda rights, and Risinger stated that he understood them. Risinger also signed a form acknowledging that he had read and understood his Miranda rights, and his signature contained a "7-5" which Risinger explained was always included in his signature. Tr. Vol. II p. 244. The detectives asked Risinger about the fire and how it might have started. Risinger stated that he did not know how the fire had started but that his trailer did not have electricity. Risinger explained that he had left the trailer and had begun walking down the highway after seeing black smoke and flames. He also told the detectives that a day earlier he had allowed a homeless man named Gilbert to stay at his trailer and that Gilbert was in the living room where the fire started. Approximately nineteen minutes into the interview, Risinger told the detectives "I'm done talking." Tr. Vol. III p. 12. Detectives Matt and Brian Busick, however, continued questioning Risinger. They asked Risinger about his family, the fire, how the fire started, and explained to him that they believed he was a man who would tell the truth. After agreeing that he was an honest person, Risinger made numerous incriminating statements. Multiple times throughout the portion of the interview where Risinger made incriminating statements, he again stated that he was done talking, but the detectives continued asking questions until they concluded the interview.

         [¶3] On March 15, 2017, at approximately 11:00 a.m. and 6:15 p.m., Detective Matt Busick conducted a second and third interview with Risinger. During the interviews, Risinger made further incriminating statements. The interviews lasted approximately twelve and thirty minutes, respectively, and were ceased by Detective Busick once Risinger told Detective Busick that he was done talking.

         [¶4] On March 15, 2017, the State charged Risinger with murder. On March 29, 2017, the State also charged Risinger with felony murder and Level 4 felony arson. Prior to trial, Risinger twice moved to suppress the statements he made in the three police interviews, both of which motions were denied by the trial court. Between November 26 and November 30, 2018, a jury trial was held. On November 30, 2018, the jury found Risinger guilty but mentally ill of murder and felony murder and guilty of arson. On January 8, 2019, the trial court merged the felony murder and arson convictions with the murder conviction and sentenced Risinger to sixty years of incarceration.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶5] Risinger contends that the trial court erroneously allowed the admittance of his statements made during the three police interviews. We review the trial court's decision to admit evidence for an abuse of discretion. Ware v. State, 816 N.E.2d 1167, 1175 (Ind.Ct.App. 2004). The trial court's decision is an abuse of discretion if it is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the court. Id. Pursuant to the United States Supreme Court's decision in Miranda v. Arizona, a person who is subjected to a custodial interrogation must first be warned that "he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning[, ]" should he so desire. 384 U.S. 436, 479 (1966). Statements made to police by a person in police custody in response to police interrogation are inadmissible at trial, unless the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt that they were preceded by a knowing and voluntary waiver of the privilege against self-incrimination and were themselves voluntarily given. Johnson v. State, 584 N.E.2d 1092, 1098-99 (Ind. 1992). Specifically, Risinger contends that (1) the waivers of his Miranda rights and statements were given involuntarily, and (2) the detectives failed to scrupulously honor his invocation of his Miranda rights.

         I. Voluntariness

         [¶6] Risinger contends that the trial court erred in admitting the statements he made during three police interviews because the statements and waivers were involuntarily given. We review the trial court's determination of voluntariness as any other sufficiency matter. Wilkes v. State, 917 N.E.2d 675, 680 (Ind. 2009). We will not reweigh the evidence and will affirm the trial court's finding if it is supported by substantial evidence. Id. Regarding a voluntary waiver of Miranda rights,

such a waiver occurs when a defendant, after being advised of those rights and acknowledging an understanding of them, proceeds to make a statement without taking advantage of those rights. In judging the voluntariness of a defendant's waiver of rights, we will look to the totality of the circumstances to ensure that a defendant's self-incriminating statement was not induced by violence, threats, or other improper influences that overcame the defendant's free-will. The State bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant voluntarily waived his rights.

State v. Banks, 2 N.E.3d 71, 80 (Ind.Ct.App. 2014) (internal citations omitted). Regarding Risinger's contention that his statements were involuntary,

Unlike the Federal Constitution, Indiana law imposes on the State the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a confession is voluntary. Lego v. Twomey, 404 U.S. 477, 488-89, 92 S.Ct. 619, 30 L.Ed.2d 618 (1972); Pruitt v. State, 834 N.E.2d 90, 114-15 (Ind. 2005) (plurality); Miller v. State, 770 N.E.2d 763, 767 (Ind. 2002); Owens v. State, 427 N.E.2d 880, 884 (Ind. 1981). In evaluating a claim that a statement was not given voluntarily, the trial court is to consider the "totality of the circumstances," including any element of police coercion; the length, location, and continuity of the interrogation; and the maturity, education, physical condition, and mental health of the defendant. Miller, 770 N.E.2d at 767. To determine that a statement was given voluntarily, the court must conclude that inducement, threats, violence, or other improper influences did not overcome the defendant's free will. Clark v. State, 808 N.E.2d 1183, 1191 (Ind. 2004).

Id. Specifically, Risinger contends that because he was suffering from a mental illness and detectives continued to question him after he told them he was done talking, his statements were not a product of his free will.

         [¶7] We conclude that Risinger's waivers of his Miranda rights were voluntary. Before each interview Detective Busick read Risinger's Miranda rights to him. Risinger acknowledged verbally or through a thumbs up that he understood those rights and was willing to talk to ...


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