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Case requires balancing act by court

February 27, 2009

In a case requiring the Indiana Court of Appeals to "perform a delicate balance" between making sure a mentally disabled person wasn't improperly denied his constitutional rights and not penalizing police for non-coercive conduct, the appellate court affirmed the denial of a defendant's motion to suppress.

In Richard Edward Faris v. State of Indiana, No. 22A05-0808-CR-471, Richard Faris appealed the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress statements he gave to police regarding the molestation of his 4-year-old daughter.

Faris went to the police station with his mother to speak to police regarding the accusations by his daughter; he was given his Miranda rights and signed a waiver of them. He eventually admitted to touching his daughter inappropriately and was allowed to go home with his mother. He was charged with Class A felony and Class C felony child molesting.

Faris was also evaluated by psychologists and a psychiatrist and was found to be moderately mentally retarded; they reported he wouldn't be competent to stand trial. His counsel filed a motion to suppress the statement he gave to police and to declare him incompetent to stand trial.

The trial court entered an order finding him incompetent to stand trial and eventually denied the motion to suppress. The record suggests his case now may be proceding to trial and he is no longer considered incompetent since Faris has been returned to the custody of the local jail and hearings have been held regarding a reduction of bond for him.

The Court of Appeals decided to rule on the motion to suppress appeal, instead of dismiss it as the state requested, because ruling on the motion may assist in expediting the resolution of the case regardless of Faris' competency, wrote Judge Michael Barnes. The appellate court looked to the recent Indiana Supreme Court ruling in State v. Davis, 898 N.E.2d 289-90 (Ind. 2008), and noted under Davis, Faris could be potentially detained for decades because the maximum sentence for Class A felony child molesting is 50 years.

The record shows that Faris wasn't in custody when he confessed to police, Judge Barnes wrote, comparing the instant case to the circumstance in Luna v. State, 788 N.E.2d 832 (Ind. 2003). Faris voluntarily went to the police station, was never under arrest, and was told he would be allowed to leave after the interview. Since he wasn't in custody, a Miranda warning or waiver wasn't necessary, wrote the judge. As a result, Faris' mental capability in how that might have affected his perception of the police interview isn't "a relevant consideration on the issue of custody."

There's also no evidence he gave his statement involuntarily and no evidence police were aware he was moderately mentally retarded. For due process purposes, Faris' statement was voluntarily given, regardless of his mental disability, wrote Judge Barnes.

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