Statements defendant made after asserting his right to an attorney must be suppressed “with the exception of an unprompted comment … [defendant] made when one of the detectives entered the interview room and before the detective began speaking.”
Defendant Ruffin was arrested on a murder charge. Police advised him of his Miranda rights, which he waived in writing. Interrogation began and was video-recorded. At the 10:01:37 mark on the video recording, “while being questioned, Ruffin stated softly, ‘We can talk to my lawyer. I got a lawyer.’ Without any comment from the detectives, Ruffin immediately continued to talk to the detectives about a black jacket that apparently was related to alleged crimes, and the questioning resumed.
“About a minute and a half later, at 10:02:53, Ruffin stated more emphatically, ‘We need to talk to my lawyer or something cuz.’ Detective Davis responded, ‘Okay, we’ll talk to your lawyer, but right now you’re going to jail … and you’re not going to get a bond … ,’ whereupon the detectives stood and exited the interview room.
“One minute later, at 10:03:53, Detective Walsh reentered the interview room. Ruffin commented, ‘Oh, I was just about to come talk to you. So look, right, June, I really don’t remember. I don’t even have a black and gray jacket.’
“Walsh then told Ruffin, at 10:04:06, to ‘listen to [him] for a second and [not] respond because [Ruffin had] requested [his] attorney.’ Walsh then informed Ruffin that police were not going to ask him any further questions about the murder for which he was arrested.
“Walsh then talked about two other murders that he was ‘looking at putting on [Ruffin]’ because, even though Ruffin may not remember anything about them, his ‘gun and phone [and] videos … remember things.’
“Walsh told Ruffin that Ruffin was ‘looking at three murders down the road,’ to which Ruffin responded, ‘Can I get my lawyer here?,’ to which Detective Walsh responded that he was ‘not asking [Ruffin] any questions … [but was] just telling [Ruffin] what’s coming down the pipe.’ Walsh then left the room, and Ruffin exclaimed, ‘Wait, I need my lawyer!’
“After only ten seconds, Ruffin – alone inside the interview room – knocked on the door. Five seconds later, Detective Davis reentered the interview room, and Ruffin announced that the detectives ‘got to talk to [him].’ Davis informed Ruffin that when a suspect asks for a lawyer, detectives are required to stop talking to him. At 10:07:53, Ruffin agreed to talk to the detectives without a lawyer present. Davis departed the room and soon returned with Detective Walsh.
“Davis asked why Ruffin was now willing to talk to the detectives without his lawyer present, to which Ruffin responded, ‘Because [Detective Walsh] said three murders, right, and I want to know what’s going on.’ Ruffin then confirmed to detectives that he was willing to talk to them without a lawyer, whereupon he proceeded to provide additional incriminating statements.”
Ruffin has moved to suppress his statements.
No assertion at 10:01:37
“The Court finds that Ruffin’s statement did not constitute an unequivocal invocation of his right to counsel because Ruffin continued talking without any prompting from the detectives.
“Based on those circumstances, the Court finds that a reasonable police officer would not have understand Ruffin’s statement to be a request for an attorney.”
Right asserted at 10:02:53
“At 10:02:53, Ruffin told the detectives, with more emphasis than his prior mention of counsel, ‘We need to talk to my lawyer or something.’ Detective Davis replied ‘Okay, we’ll talk to your lawyer, but right now you’re going to jail … and you’re not going to get a bond … ,’ whereupon the detectives exited the interview room, clearly indicating that they understood that Ruffin had unambiguously invoked his right to counsel.
“Further, when Detective Walsh reentered the interview room, he instructed Ruffin not to respond to his comments because Ruffin had requested his attorney. Later, Davis pointed out to Ruffin that that when a suspect asks for a lawyer, detectives are required to stop talking to him.
“The Court finds that the detectives clearly acknowledged by their actions and statements that Ruffin had asked for an attorney before any further interrogation.
“Based on the circumstances, the Court finds that Ruffin unequivocally invoked his right to counsel at 10:02:53.”
“At 10:03:53, after Ruffin had invoked his right to counsel, Detective Walsh reentered the interview room. Without any prompting, Ruffin initially made some brief comments, including that he was ‘about to come talk to [the detectives].’ At 10:04:06, after Walsh clearly stated that the detectives were not going to continue asking about the murder related to Ruffin’s arrest and that Ruffin should not respond, Walsh began talking about two other murders that he was ‘looking at putting on [Ruffin].’ …
“The Court finds that Ruffin’s initial unprompted statement to Detective Walsh – upon Walsh’s reentry – did not constitute interrogation and therefore is admissible. … The Court also finds that, under the circumstances, Ruffin’s initial statement did not constitute a sufficient subsequent waiver of his right to counsel. …
“Although Detective Walsh asked no direct questions of Ruffin about these other crimes, the Court finds that Walsh was nevertheless interrogating Ruffin. Interrogation includes ‘any words or actions on the part of [law enforcement] (other than those normally attendant to arrest and custody) that [law enforcement] should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect.’ …
“Under the circumstances present here, the Court finds that there was no reason for Walsh to reenter the interview room to speak to Ruffin about the additional murders other than to alarm Ruffin and coerce him into making incriminating statements. …
“After Ruffin declared that he would speak to the detectives without a lawyer at 10:07:53 and Detective Davis inquired about the sincerity of his decision, Ruffin told the detectives that he chose to speak with them ‘because [Detective Walsh] said three murders, right, and I want to know what’s going on.’
“This answer clearly implies that Ruffin reinitiated contact with the detectives to find out about the additional two murders that Walsh had mentioned. …
“Hence, any statements made by Ruffin after the detectives subsequently reinterrogated Ruffin after 10:07:53 must be suppressed.”
The motion to suppress is granted in part and denied in part.
Commonwealth v. Ruffin, Record No. CR22-187-00/0l; CR22-380-00/01, Nov. 10, 2022. City of Norfolk Circuit Court (Lannetti). Michelle Newkirk for the commonwealth; Eric Korslund for defendant. VLW 022-8-075, 7 pp.