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COA: Statements not made in illegal detention

February 5, 2009

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of a defendant's motion to suppress statements given to authorities while detained, finding he was legally detained because police already had probable cause to arrest him.

In Alton Moss v. State of Indiana, No. 27A04-0805-CR-257, Alton Moss was charged with felony murder and conspiracy to commit robbery while armed with a deadly weapon following the murder of Jamie Smith at his home in Grant County. A witness mentioned Moss' name as a person inside the home at the time of the murder. Months later, a Grant County inmate told police Moss confessed to killing Smith while attempting to rob him of marijuana, and the grandfather of one of Moss' children told police Moss had made incriminating statements about the Smith killing.

After Moss' fiancee told police Moss had told her he and his brother tried to steal drugs from a man, who was shot, police arrested Moss on an outstanding body attachment from a civil case in Howard County. Police didn't tell Moss or his fiancee that there was also a body attachment in a different matter on Moss in Grant County. Police told the fiancee she couldn't post bond in the Howard County matter. Afterwards, Moss signed a waiver of his Miranda rights and gave his version of what happened at Smith's home.

After he was charged, Moss filed a motion to suppress his statements, arguing they were given during an illegal detention, he gave them involuntarily, and Miranda violations made them inadmissible. The trial court denied the motion, but granted his order for interlocutory appeal only on the grounds of the legality of his detention.

The Court of Appeals found some merit in Moss' argument that he was illegally detained because his fiancee tried to post bond before he was questioned but wasn't able to, and that neither of them were aware of the Grant County body attachment and bond until after he was interrogated. The detective who told Moss' fiancee she couldn't post bond was misleading, but the fiancee never questioned why she couldn't post bond nor did she try to post it elsewhere, wrote Judge Patricia Riley. Plus, there's no evidence Moss invoked his right to offer bail.

"In any event, we need not determine the legality of Moss' detention vis-a-vis the two body attachments and bonds, because we agree with the State that the police had an independent basis on which to hold Moss: probable cause to arrest Moss for his involvement in the crimes against Smith," she wrote.

The police had probable cause based on the testimony of several people linking Moss to the crime even before Moss gave his statements while detained.

The appellate court remanded the cause to the trial court for further proceedings and noted that if he is convicted, he could raise his other two issues on appeal.

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