DON STERLING WELLS, JR. APPELLANT
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLEE
APPEAL FROM FAYETTE CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE KIMBERLY N.
BUNNELL, JUDGE NO. 14-CR-00022
COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: John Gerhart
COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Andy Beshear James Daryl Havey
Fayette County Grand Jury indicted Appellant, Don Wells, Jr.,
on two counts of first-degree rape (victim under the age of
twelve) and two counts of first-degree sodomy (victim under
the age of twelve). Wells entered a conditional guilty plea
to one count of first-degree rape, one count of second-degree
rape, and one count of second-degree sodomy. The trial court
sentenced Wells to twenty-five years' imprisonment. By
entering a conditional guilty plea, Wells reserved his right
to appeal the trial court's order denying his motion to
suppress evidence of his confession. He now raises that issue
contends that police obtained his confession in violation of
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), because he
did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his rights guaranteed
under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Commonwealth argues that Miranda does not apply
because Weils was not in custody at the time he made
incriminating statements to police. We agree with the
Commonwealth despite the fact that .' the parties did not
argue this issue to the lower court. Even if a lower court
reaches its judgment for the wrong reason, we may affirm a
correct result upon any ground supported by the record.
Commonwealth v. Fields, 194 S.W.3d 255, 257 (Ky.
2006) ("The Court of Appeals improperly held that the
prosecution could not present on appeal an alternative reason
justifying the decision of the trial judge. This Court has
affirmed a judgment or decision of the trial court even if
that court reached the right result for the wrong
reason."); Jarvis v. Commonwealth, 960 S.W.2d
466, 469 (Ky. 1998).
Lexington Police Detective James Jeffries went to the
residence Wells shared with his girlfriend and her children.
Officer Sisk, a uniformed patrol officer, accompanied
Detective Jeffries, along with a representative of social
services. Detective Jeffries asked Wells if he would come to
police headquarters to answer some questions about
allegations made against him. Wells agreed. Because Wells did
not have a valid driver's license, he rode to police
headquarters in the back of Officer Sisk's cruiser. Even
though Wells was not in handcuff's, Detective Jeffries
failed to clarify to Officer Sisk that Wells was not in
custody. When Officer Sisk and Wells arrived at police
headquarters, Officer Sisk placed Wells in a holding cell.
Detective Jeffries arrived five minutes later. He then
removed Wells from the holding cell and took him to an
questioning Wells, Detective Jeffries never placed Wells in
handcuffs, nor any other type of restraints. During the
interview, Detective Jeffries said that: 1) police would
provide Wells a ride home after the interview; 2) Wells had
the right not to talk to him; 3) he would not harm Wells, and
he could not beat Wells into talking to him; 4) Wells could
end the interview at any point; 5) Wells was not in custody;
and 6) if Wells decided he was done with the interview,
Jeffries could not stop him from leaving. In fact, Detective
Jeffries had Wells physically get up out of his chair and
walk to the door of the interview room as if he were leaving
to illustrate the point that Wells was not in custody. Only
after making the aforementioned statements and having Wells
enact leaving the interview room did Detective Jeffries begin
first note that "Miranda warnings are required
only where there has been such a restriction on the freedom
of an individual as to render him in custody."
Commonwealth v. Lucas, 195 S.W.3d 403, 405 (Ky.
2006). According to the United States Supreme Court,
"'custody' is a term of art that specifies
circumstances that are thought generally to present a serious
danger of coercion." Howes v. Fields, 132 S.Ct.
1181, 1189 (2012). In Stansbury v. California, 511
U.S. 318, 323 (1994), the Supreme Court stated that,
“[o]ur decisions make clear that the initial
determination of custody depends on the objective
circumstances of the interrogation, not on the subjective
views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the
person being questioned." Therefore, when determining if
an individual was in custody, "courts must examine all
of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation, "
Howes, 132 S.Ct. at 1189, and ask whether "a
reasonable person would have felt he or she was not at
liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave."
Id. (internal citations and quotation marks
Wells was unmistakably in custody when Officer Sisk placed
him in the holding cell; however, during the five minutes he
remained there, police did not interrogate Wells, Rhode
Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 301, ("[T]he term
'interrogation' under Miranda refers not
only to express questioning, but also to any words or actions
on the part of the police (other than those normally
attendant to arrest and custody) that the police should know
are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response
from the suspect."), nor did Wells make any
incriminating statements at that time. Moreover, Wells was
not entitled to a Miranda warning unless he
remained in custody while Detective Jeffries
questioned him. United States v. Swan, 842 F.3d 28,
32 (1st Cir. 2016) ("Swan was not entitled to a
Miranda warning unless she remained in
custody at the stationhouse when she made the statements now
at issue.") (emphasis added).
we must decide whether Wells was "in custody" at
the time he made incriminating statements, to police in order
to determine whether a Miranda warning was required.
Because we agree with the United States Court of Appeals for
the First Circuit that in a custodial-interrogation analysis,
"we focus on the time that the relevant statements were
made, " id. at 31, our analysis focuses
on the taped interview in which Wells made incriminating
" statements. In analyzing the interview, we turn to the
factors set out by the Supreme Court of the United States in
Howes. The "[Relevant factors include the
location of the questioning, its duration, statements made
during the interview, the presence or absence of physical
restraints during the questioning, and the release of the
interviewee at the end of the questioning . . . ."
Howes, 132 S.Ct. at 1189 (internal citations and
quotation marks omitted).
Detective Jeffries questioned Wells in an interview room at
police headquarters for less than one hour and fifteen
minutes. During the interview, police never placed Wells in
handcuffs, nor in any other type of physical restraints. In
fact, Detective Jeffries informed Wells that he would not
harm him or beat him into talking. Detective Jeffries told
Wells that he could end the interview at any point, and that
if Wells wanted to walk out the door, Jeffries could not stop
him. Furthermore, Wells never told Detective Jeffries that he
wanted to leave, even after Jeffries informed Wells that
police would provide him a ride home when the interview
concluded. Although Wells did not walk out of police
headquarters a free man after the interview (as he confessed
to the crimes for which he ultimately pled guilty), Detective
Jeffries provided sufficient opportunity and explanation for
Wells to stop the interrogation and leave before he made the
incriminating statements that led to his arrest.
upon the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that a
reasonable person in Wells's position would have felt he
had the liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave
before making incriminating statements. Id.
Therefore, we hold that the interrogation was non-custodial.
When an interrogation ...