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Defendant Gets a New Trial: Arkansas Supreme Court Finds Trial Court Erred in Admitting Defendant’s

In this case, the Defendant was convicted of aggravated robbery and a firearm enhancement. Coleman v. State, 2017 Ark. 218, at 1. The Defendant was sentenced as a habitual offender to life imprisonment for the aggravated robbery plus fifteen years consecutive to the life sentence for using a firearm in the commission of the crime. Id. The Defendant appealed his conviction based partly on the trial court denying his motion to suppress the statement he gave to police. Id. at 2.

On November 5, 2015, the day after he was arrested for the aggravated robbery, the Defendant was interviewed by a detective with the Marion Police Department. Id. at 3. A portion of the transcribed interview is outline below:

Defendant: - I got a question.

Detective: Sure, man what’s up?

Defendant: I don’t [phonetic] want to talk to you [inarticulate]-

Detective: Uh-huh (affirmative response).

Defendant: -- it’s just, is that a recorder or camera right there?

Detective: Probably is; yeah.

Defendant: I want [phonetic] to talk to you outside, I don’t – I don’t want to talk to you.

Defendant: Man you [intelligible] I’m ready for you to me, take me to the jail,

Detective: You don’t want to talk anymore about it?

Defendant: Naw, man.

Defendant: Mr. Freddy, I ain’t gonna lie to you or nothin’ like this, it’s just, I don’t [phonetic] wanna talk no more.

Defendant: Can I get some water?

Detective: Yeah, I can get you some water. You don’t want to talk more about it?

Defendant: Naw.

Detective: You sure you don’t want to explain your side of it? Get the details of your side of it? I tell you, details go a long ways.

Defendant: No sir.

After this exchange, the two men moved to a different location, and the interview continued. Below is an outline of the rest of the interview:

Defendant: I really didn’t want to talk to you because I though you had a little recorder on you. I don’t know do you do or not, but like I – I was going to rob a dope boy and that came across.

Detective: Uh-huh (affirmative response).

Defendant: You know, I was going to tell you the truth and that, but like, I know them room had recorders and -

Detective: Almost all of them do, yeah.

Defendant: Yeah, like, I know, I ain’t dumb. I was, like, man I might as well talk to him outside. I know he probably have a recorder on him then, so.

Detective: Well, you know what we talk about anyway, I can put it in my paperwork, right?

Defendant: Yes sir.

Detective: Okay.

Defendant: I was like, well, he’s goin’ to have a recorder out there anyway. I’d rather talk to him outside.

Detective: Uh-huh. (affirmative response).

Defendant: And let him have a recorder than just be up in there on camera with a recorder. But it’s for real [phonetic] that I don’t it. I was planning on doing something else, and like, he brung [sic] it up to me, so I – come on.

Coleman v. State, 2017 Ark. 218, at 4-7. As can be seen in the interview outlined above, the Defendant voiced his wishes to end the interview with the Detective several times prior to eventually confessing his involvement in the crime. Id. at 3. Defendant filed a motion to suppress this statement, claiming it violated his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and his right against self-incrimination; however, the trial court denied his motion. Id.

The Arkansas Supreme Court found that the trial court erred in its decision to not suppress the statement the Defendant gave to police. Id. at 7. In its opinion, the Court ruled that the Defendant’s statement of, “I don’t want to talk to you,” and when asked on separate occasions if he wanted to continue the interview the Defendant stated, “no” were an “unequivocal invocation of his right to remain silent.” Id. at 8.

The State tried to argue that trial court’s error in allowing the Defendant’s statement to police into evidence was harmless when viewed in light of the overwhelming evidence of the Defendant’s guilt. Coleman v. State, 2017 Ark. 218, at 8. However, the Arkansas Supreme Court found that the remaining evidence used against the Defendant during the jury trial did not show beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant committed the offense. Id. The only other evidence presented by the prosecution at the jury trial was the Defendant’s cell phone, which was found in a field near a shirt matching the description of one of the shirts worn by the suspected offenders during the crime, and a statement by a female claiming to have picked up the Defendant near the store where the crime occurred. Id. Due to the trial court’s error, the Defendant is allowed a new trial.

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