Cobb County Judge Reversed
Terry Jones Mays is facing prosecution in Cobb County Superior Court for RICO and other related felony charges. A motion to suppress Mays's statements was filed, and following a hearing the motion was denied by the trial judge. A certificate of immediate review was issued, and the Court of Appeals subsequently granted Mays' application for interlocutory appeal. On Friday, March 4, 2016 the Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge, holding that Mays's statements may not be introduced at her upcoming trial.
At issue was application of the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Howes v. Fields to the facts of Mays's case. In Howes, the defendant was serving time in prison when law enforcement interviewed him regarding crimes he allegedly committed before being sentenced to prison and unrelated to his conviction. The cops had failed to advise the defendant of his Miranda rights. Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that Miranda warnings were not required under the facts of the case.
First, the defendant in Howes was not removed from his typical environment and taken to an unfamiliar setting. He was already serving time in prison, and this is a different situation than a person being taken from his home and placed in an interview room at the police station. Second, the atmosphere was not of the coercive type contemplated by Miranda. Finally, the defendant was told at the beginning of the interview that he was free to leave at any time.
Mays had been convicted of some misdemeanor offenses and was placed on probation. One condition of her probation was that she perform community service. Her probation officer became suspicious of the legitimacy of some probation letters she submitted. A probation violation warrant was then taken out accusing Ms. Mays of not performing her community service, among other allegations.
While sitting in jail waiting for her court date on the probation violation hearing, a GBI agent interviewed her. Mays was brought to an interview room in the jail by the jail guards. The GBI agent launched into an extensive interview regarding Mays's community service without first reading her the Miranda warnings. Further, the GBI agent never told Mays she was free to leave the interview until over halfway in, and after Mays made some allegedly incriminating statements.
The Court of Appeals distinguished Mays's situation from that of the defendant in Howes. The former was waiting in jail pending the resolution of her probation violation, while the latter was already sentenced and serving time. Most importantly, Mays was not informed of her ability to terminate the interview, which appellate courts strongly consider when determining whether someone is in custody for purposes of Miranda.
The opinion from this case can be found here.