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Brank v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

July 27, 2018



          BRIEFS FOR APPELLANT: John Gerhart Landon Assistant Public Advocate Frankfort, Kentucky

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE: Andy Beshear Attorney General of Kentucky John Paul Varo Assistant Attorney General Frankfort, Kentucky



          NICKELL, JUDGE.

         Menelik Brank appeals from the Henderson Circuit Court's judgment and sentence of imprisonment entered March 2, 2017, following an order denying his motion to suppress and a jury trial. Discerning no error, we affirm.

         At approximately 10:00 p.m. on June 19, 2016, Officer Lucas Meredith of the Henderson Police Department was called to the scene of a reported burglary. The victim identified Brank as the suspected perpetrator and provided Officer Meredith a physical description of Brank and his vehicle. Over the police radio, Officer Meredith learned his supervising officer had stopped a vehicle nearby, matching Brank's. On arriving at his supervisor's location, Officer Meredith confirmed the detained passenger was Brank, and observed he met the physical description provided by the victim. Officer Meredith arrested Brank and brought him to the Henderson County Detention Center for intake and booking.

         That evening, Deputy Calvin Shields was working third-shift at the Henderson County Detention Center assisting medical staff charged with evaluating detainees prior to booking. Pursuant to usual procedure, Brank was evaluated by detention center medical staff before booking because he appeared to be under the influence. During Brank's medical intake, a nurse observed he did not appear well. His temperature was elevated and he was sweating profusely. Medical staff asked Brank if he had taken anything and he responded he had not. Deputy Shields advised Brank to tell the nurse if he had taken something so she would know how to treat him. Brank again denied taking anything and was moved to a holding cell. While there, Brank still appeared ill. The nurse noted Brank's eyes were rolling, he was sweating profusely and his blood pressure was skyrocketing. The nurse discussed the matter with her supervisor and decided Brank needed to go to the emergency room. Deputy Shields drove Brank to the hospital in his cruiser.

         At the hospital, Shields remained with Brank the entire time. The nurse at the hospital asked Brank if he had swallowed anything. Brank said he did not want to incriminate himself. Shields advised Brank to tell the nurse what he had taken or he could die. While the nurse prepared to administer charcoal to induce vomiting, she again asked Brank what he had taken. Brank repeated he did not want to incriminate himself. Deputy Shields again advised Brank to tell the nurse what he had taken so she could treat him. Brank admitted he had swallowed three or four grams of methamphetamine. The nurse administered the charcoal and Brank vomited a plastic bag onto the floor. Medical staff took the plastic bag to the lab for testing. Lab analysis revealed the bag contained methamphetamine.

         In August 2016, the Henderson County grand jury indicted Brank for tampering with physical evidence and being a persistent felony offender in the first degree (PFO I).[1] Following indictment, Brank moved to suppress the statements he had made to jail personnel and hospital staff admitting he ingested a bag of methamphetamine. As grounds, Brank argued he was too intoxicated to knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to remain silent. A hearing was held on the motion to suppress the morning of trial. Deputy Shields, the only witness, testified he did not give Brank Miranda[2] warnings, as doing so was not part of his duties. Deputy Shields also testified Brank appeared to understand all the questions being asked of him and was able to answer. After Deputy Shields finished testifying, the Commonwealth offered Brank's medical records into evidence. Without objection from Brank's counsel, the trial court admitted the medical records into evidence. Based on testimony offered at the hearing, Brank's counsel additionally moved to suppress on the grounds Brank had not received Miranda warnings and had clearly invoked his right to remain silent, yet Deputy Shields continued to pressure Brank into telling the nurse what he took, or he could die.

         The trial court orally denied Brank's motion to suppress at the hearing, and by written order entered January 10, 2017. The trial court's conclusions of law state, in pertinent part:

[g]enerally speaking, no constitutional provision protects an intoxicated defendant from confessing to a crime. Smith v. Commonwealth, 410 S.W.3d 160, 164 (Ky. 2013). A confession may be suppressed when the defendant is "intoxicated to the point of mania" or is hallucinating, functionally insane, or otherwise unable to understand the meaning of his statements. Id. (quoting Halvorsen v. Commonwealth, 730 S.W.2d 921, 927 (Ky. 1986). This does not appear to be the case here. While Brank may have been in distress, the evidence is he was able to understand the questions that were being asked and to give relevant answers.
Further the Court does not believe that the defendant needed to be advised of his Miranda rights before being asked these questions. Neither Shields nor the hospital nurse were requested or appointed to interrogate Brank about any offense. Jackson v. Commonwealth, 468 S.W.3d 874, 876 (Ky. App. 2014); Fields v. Commonwealth, 12 S.W.3d 275, 283-84 (Ky. 2000). They were there for the purpose of treating his immediate physical needs, i.e., a potentially fatal drug overdose. Jackson, 468 S.W.3d 874, 877. What he had ingested was relevant and necessary to effectuate this treatment.

         At trial, the jury found Brank guilty of tampering with physical evidence and being a PFO I. The Henderson Circuit Court entered its judgment on March 2, 2017, sentencing Brank to fifteen years' imprisonment in ...

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