By: Pascale Cadelien, Staff Editor

The Court of Appeals of Maryland held that “I don’t want to say nothing. I don’t know,” is an ambiguous invocation of the right to remain silent. Williams v. State, 445 Md. 452, 455, 128 A.3d 30, 32 (2015). The court reasoned that the defendant’s addition of “I don’t know” to his initial assertion “I don’t want to say nothing” created uncertainty about whether he intended to invoke his right to remain silent. Id. at 477, A.3d at 44. This allowed a reasonable officer to interpret his statement as an “ambiguous request to remain silent.” Id. Furthermore, the officers’ implication that the defendant should confess to a “robbery gone bad,” instead of premeditated murder, did not induce his confession. Id. at 477-483, A.3d at 45-48. Accordingly, the defendant’s confession was voluntary. Id. at 483, A.3d at 48.

On January 10, 2011, Justin DeSha-Overcash was shot and killed in College Park, Maryland. Detective Harris and Sergeant McDonald, from the Prince George’s County Police Department, interrogated Deandre Ricardo Williams (“Williams”) in connection with the shooting. Williams continuously denied having knowledge of the incident. Nevertheless, the officers made several attempts to read Williams his rights and to inform him that he was not obligated to talk. Williams eventually stated, “I don’t want to say nothing. I don’t know.” Sergeant McDonald interrupted him by responding, “But you don’t have to say nothing.”

Then, one of the officers read Williams the entirety of his rights and gave him a copy, which Williams read and signed. Thereafter, Detective Harris described two possible charges, one of premeditated murder and the other of a “robbery gone bad.” Detective Harris mentioned that Williams “may never see outside again” if convicted of premeditation. Williams responded, “No matter what you all find out, they’re going to smoke my boots anyway.” Williams then confessed.

Williams was indicted in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County for first-degree murder, use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence, and several other related offenses. Before trial, Williams filed a motion to suppress his confession. He argued: (1) he invoked his right to remain silent when he expressed, “I don’t want to say nothing. I don’t know” and (2) his confession was involuntary because it was coerced.

The trial court denied Williams’s motion to suppress, finding that Williams’s invocation of his right to remain silent was “ambiguous and 2016.” The circuit court also found that Williams’s confession was voluntary. Williams was subsequently convicted of first-degree murder and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence. He was sentenced to life in prison, with all but 49 years suspended and a concurrent 20 years, respectively.

Williams appealed to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, which affirmed both trial court holdings. Williams then petitioned the Court of Appeals of Maryland for writ of certiorari, which the court granted. The court was tasked with determining the ambiguity of Williams’s invocation of his right to silence and the voluntariness of Williams’s confession.

The Court of Appeals of Maryland began its analysis by discussing the right to remain silent articulated in Miranda v. Arizona. Williams, 445 Md. at 469, 128 A.3d at 40 (citing Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)). The court explained that pursuant to the Fifth Amendment, a detainee must be advised by law enforcement, prior to questioning, of his rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present. Williams, 445 Md. at 469-70, 128 A.3d at 40 (citing Miranda, 384 U.S. at 479).

The court then explained that for an individual to properly invoke his Miranda rights, the individual must do so “unambiguously.” Williams, 445 Md. at 470, 128 A.3d at 40 (citing Davis v. U.S., 512 U.S. 452 (1994)). When the invocation is clear, the constitutional mandates attach and the officer is directed by the law on how to proceed. Id. at 470, 128 A.3d at 40 (citing Davis, 512 U.S. at 458-59). Otherwise, the officer is not constitutionally required to terminate the interrogation or to seek clarification from the individual. Id. at 470, 128 A.3d at 40 (citing Davis, 512 U.S. at 458-59).

The court remarked that although the case sub judice presented an issue of first impression, it had applied the Davis test in the context of the right to counsel. Williams, 445 Md. at 471, 128 A.3d at 41, (citing Ballard v. State, 420 Md. 480, 24 A.3d 96 (2011)). In that case, the Court of Appeals of Maryland held that “you mind if …” is a “colloquial []” term used to assert, rather than request, a right to an attorney. Id., (quoting Ballard, 420 Md. at 485, 24 A.3d at 99).

The Court of Appeals of Maryland also looked to sister courts for examples of ambiguous and unambiguous invocations of the right to remain silent. Williams, 445 Md. at 471-75, 128 A.3d at 41-43. The court determined that the common thread among the persuasive cases was the certainty of the invocations. Id. at 475, 128 A.3d at 43. The objective inquiry asks whether a reasonable police officer, under the circumstances, would perceive the individual to be invoking his right to remain silent. Id.

Download the rest of Pascale Cadelien’s Recent Development  here.

Recommended Citation: Cadelien, Pascale (2016) “Recent Development: Williams v. State: A Confession is Voluntary Unless the Defendant Unambiguously Invokes His Constitutional Right to Remain Silent or the Confession is Obtained Through Coercion or Inducement,” University of Baltimore Law Forum: Vol. 46: No. 2, Article 12.

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