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People v. Meddows





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. ROBERT L. GAGEN, Judge, presiding.


This is an appeal by the State pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 604(a)(1) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110A, par. 604(a)(1)) from an order of the trial court suppressing certain statements of the defendant and physical evidence seized from the trunk of his car. The suppression was ordered on the basis of the court's finding that these items of evidence were the "fruits" of a prior custodial interrogation that was not preceded by advising defendant of his constitutional rights in accord with Miranda v. Arizona (1966), 384 A.S. 436, 16 L.Ed.2d 694, 86 S.Ct. 1602.

The question on appeal is whether the suppressed evidence is sufficiently connected to any illegality so as to require its suppression, that is, whether it "has been come at by exploitation" of the interrogation that occurred without benefit of Miranda warnings (Wong Sun v. United States (1963), 371 U.S. 471, 488, 9 L.Ed.2d 441, 455-56, 83 S.Ct. 407, 417). We find that it has not.

From the record, it appears that at approximately 7 a.m., August 27, 1976, Cletus Meddows, the father of defendant Duane Meddows, was killed by the detonation of an explosive device while on a hunting expedition near Freeburg, Illinois, with defendant. An examination of the scene turned up two extremely wet packets of unexploded dynamite and sundry paraphernalia associated with the setting of explosive charges. The code numbers which this dynamite bore traced it to pit six of the River King coal mine where defendant was employed as a dynamite shooter.

On August 29, defendant was questioned by two law enforcement officers. During this questioning, defendant admitted stealing dynamite from the mine and consented to a search of his car. The search of the trunk of his car produced tools of the type needed to rig an explosive device, tape matching that found around the packets of dynamite and a cardboard box from which a piece had been cut. The State represented to the trial court that it had an expert who would testify that a three-inch by six-inch piece of cardboard used as part of the explosive device was cut from the box found in defendant's car.

The defendant was formally charged with murder in connection with the dynamite slaying. He subsequently filed a motion to suppress statements and two motions to suppress evidence, one of which was directed at the items found in the car's trunk. Following a hearing on the motion to suppress statements, at which the only testimony presented was that of the interrogating officers, the court suppressed the defendant's admission and the items seized from his car. The State brought this appeal.

At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the following pertinent information was adduced.

On August 29, 1976, David True, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and Deputy William Hopkins of the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department went to a particular funeral home where defendant was located for the purpose of asking him to come with them to the county sheriff's office for questioning concerning his father's death. He was the chief suspect in the case at that time because of information which their investigation had revealed, including the facts: that defendant was employed at a coal mine as a dynamite shooter; that he was one of three people at the mine who had access to dynamite; that the same type dynamite and materials used at the mine were employed in the crime; that defendant was the victim's son; and that defendant and the victim were together on a hunting trip when the victim was killed.

When the officers met defendant at the funeral home, they told him that he did not have to go with them but that they would like for him to come with them to the station for questioning. The defendant voluntarily agreed to accompany them; however, if he had refused, the police would have sought to obtain an arrest warrant or a subpoena in order to gain access to him for questioning. The officers drove defendant to the sheriff's office in a police car. They arrived there at 1:45 p.m. and began questioning him in an interrogation room without giving him his Miranda warnings. The defendant was questioned for 1 1/2 hours before he was advised of his Miranda rights at 3:15 p.m., after which he was questioned some more. At no time during this initial questioning period was defendant told that he was free to leave if he wanted to. However, if he had insisted on being returned to the funeral home, the officers would have complied since he was not then under arrest.

The police used the initial questioning period both to verify information they already had and to obtain new information. During the period before defendant was advised of his rights, he was questioned concerning his activities on the day before the incident (when the device may have been planted), his duties at the mine and in his previous military service, his financial status and his living arrangements. In an attempt to establish the existence of a financial motive for the crime, the officers inquired about his father's life insurance policies and asked defendant in whose names any family property was listed. Also during this time, the police determined that the car which defendant owned was a 1975 Oldsmobile 98.

In anticipation of interrogation with respect to the incident itself, the officers thoroughly admonished defendant of his Miranda rights at 3:15 p.m. by reading them to him from a prepared form. They then had him read the form. The defendant indicated that he understood his rights and then signed a waiver of rights provision that was witnessed by the officers. Defendant subsequently admitted stealing some dynamite from the mine and consented to a search of his car, the location of which had been revealed at some point in the interrogation. (It was not established whether the location of the car was revealed prior to or after the giving of Miranda rights.) After admitting the theft, defendant was no longer free to depart, but he was not booked for murder until much later in the evening after a consent search of his living quarters had been made.

• 1 It is well settled that one must be informed of his Miranda rights only before law enforcement officers initiate a custodial interrogation. (Oregon v. Mathiason (1977), 429 U.S. 492, 50 L.Ed.2d 714, 97 S.Ct. 711; People v. Clark (1977), 55 Ill. App.3d 496, 371 N.E.2d 33.) In Miranda, the Supreme Court defined "custodial interrogation" as:

"* * * questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way." 384 U.S. 436, 444, 16 L.Ed.2d 694, 706, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 1612.

The trial court found that defendant was the subject of a custodial interrogation from the very first moment he was questioned. The evidence suppressed, however, was not obtained before he was advised of his rights and was not excluded by direct application of the exclusionary rule of Miranda. Rather, it was excluded as the fruits of the questioning which took place before defendant was given his Miranda warnings pursuant to the "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine discussed in Wong Sun v. United States (1963), 371 U.S. 471, 9 L.Ed.2d 441, 83 S.Ct. 407. The order of the trial court, however, does not indicate in what way the ...

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