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COA: ‘pleasant’ drug defendant was properly Mirandized

January 25, 2019

A drug offender who received kudos from the trial court for her pleasant demeanor had her conviction and sentence affirmed by the Indiana Court of Appeals after she could not present any evidence that police failed to ensure she understood her Miranda rights.

Elizabeth Strickland was arrested at the Jeffersonville motel in Jeffersonville after police, acting on a tip, found her in possession of narcotics. She was charged with Level 2 felony dealing in methamphetamine; Level 6 felony possession of a controlled substance; Level 6 felony unlawful possession of syringe; and Level 6 felony maintaining a common nuisance.

At trial, Strickland filed a motion to suppress the statements she made in the motel room, asserting she had not been properly read her rights. The Clark Circuit Court denied the motion after an evidentiary hearing. In response, the defense counsel noted its continuing objections to the search and admission of Strickland’s statements.

The jury returned a guilty verdict on all changes. Although the trial judge counted as a “creative mitigator” that “Ms. Strickland’s always been pleasant when in Court,” he nonetheless found the aggravators trumped and sentenced her to 17½ years executed.

On appeal, Strickland argued the state improperly relied on evidence from the suppression hearing to support its arguments. At the suppression hearing, the police officers stated all three occupants of the motel room were read a mass advisement of their Miranda rights. Then, the officers said, they had each individual acknowledge those in the room understood their rights.

At trial, no contradictory evidence was presented that Strickland did not understand her Miranda rights.

“Given that the evidence presented at trial was not in direct conflict with the evidence presented at the suppression hearing, we cannot say the trial court abused its discretion by not stopping the trial and conducting a full evidentiary hearing to address this issue again,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the court.

Strickland also argued she did not individually acknowledge and waive her Miranda rights. She asserted that even though the state presented evidence she acknowledged the warning, it did not present evidence she understood the warning and intended to waive those rights.

She cited Johnson v. State 829 N.E.2d 44 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), trans. denied, and State v. Keller, 845 N.E.2d 154 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006) to support her argument. However, the appellate court found the cases were distinguishable from the facts in Strickland’s case.

In Johnson, the defendant was advised of his Miranda rights but did not acknowledge the advisement before he made a statement. In Keller, the law enforcement officers presented the defendant with a written waiver form and did not clearly explain the person’s constitutional rights or determine if the accuse understood prior to starting the interrogation.

With Strickland, the officers read the Miranda advisement to all three in the room then asked them separately whether they understood their rights. The officers received assurances from Strickland she understood her rights.

“Strickland has not argued, nor has any evidence been produced, to indicate officers coerced her statements,” May wrote. “The State presented evidence Strickland acknowledged and understood the Miranda advisement given to her by Officer (Tom) O’Neil. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it allowed her statements into evidence.”

The case is Elizabeth J. Strickland v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-1030.

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