Statements in meth case weren’t admitted in error, COA rules

The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a man’s drug-related convictions, finding that at least one of his admitted statements made to police was volunteered and not erroneously admitted.

Police stopped Jeremy Ross while he was driving after law enforcement responded to a trespass call involving him. The police also were alerted that he had an outstanding arrest warrant and detained him after smelling raw marijuana wafting from his vehicle.

An officer discovered a clear Tupperware container containing contraband on the passenger-side floorboard and when shown to Ross, he made statements that the container’s contents were “the only way I can pay my bills.”

Ross moved to suppress the statements he made to police, arguing that they were obtained in violation of his Miranda rights. But the trial court denied the motion and Ross was ultimately found guilty of Level 2 felony methamphetamine dealing, Level 3 felony methamphetamine possession, and Class A misdemeanor marijuana possession.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in Jeremy Ross v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-561,  first finding that the Marion Superior court did not err in admitting the statements Ross had made.

“Given that Ross was detained and handcuffed by the assisting officers, there is no dispute that he was in custody for purposes of Miranda. We conclude, however, that Officer Harris was not interrogating Ross, at least when he made his first statement to her. Statements that are volunteered do not amount to interrogation,” Chief Judge Cale Bradford wrote for the appellate court.

It therefore found that Ross’ first statement was volunteered, and that the admission of his second statement, even if erroneous, could only be considered harmless error. The appellate court further concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support Ross’ conviction, finding no dispute that the vehicle belonged to Ross.

Judge Paul D. Mathias concurred in a separate opinion, noting that it appeared that Ross was never advised of his Miranda rights to begin with.

Had the officers taken this simple precaution, shortly after they informed him of their warrant for his arrest, they would have ensured that all of Ross’s statements would be admissible in court. By failing to do so, they took the risk that any response to any interrogation would be inadmissible,” Mathias wrote in concurrence.

What happened in this case is unique. From the time officers approached Ross in his motor vehicle, Ross continuously volunteered information to the officers in an effort to explain and extricate himself from the situation. Instead, his conversations made things worse for him. As the saying goes, Ross ‘cooked his own goose,’” Mathias continued.

“I also believe that Officer Harris’s action of showing the content of the container to Ross was reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from him. In other words, he was subject to custodial interrogation. However, because his response was merely cumulative of his previous statement, which was volunteered, I agree that any error in the admission of Ross’s statement was harmless,” the concurring judge concluded.

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