OPINION OF THE COURT
This Court granted discretionary pretrial review of a suppression ruling to determine and elucidate the proper standard for evaluating a claim that a confession made after an explicit Miranda
For the reasons set forth below, we hold that the totality of the circumstances, including any alleged inducement, must be considered in evaluating the voluntariness of a confession. In addition, we affirm the finding of the Superior Court that the totality of the circumstances here demonstrated that appellant's confession was voluntary.
In reviewing a suppression ruling, this Court is bound by the lower court's factual findings that find support in the record but we are not bound by the court's conclusions of law. Nester, 551 Pa. at 160, 709 A.2d at 880-81; see also Commonwealth v. Polo, 563 Pa. 218, 222, 759 A.2d 372, 374 (Pa.2000); Commonwealth v. Pickron, 535 Pa. 241, 246, 634 A.2d 1093, 1096 (1993). The determination of whether a confession is voluntary is a conclusion of law and, as such, is subject to plenary review. Nester, 551 Pa. at 160-61, 709 A.2d at 881.
The relevant material facts are as follows. On July 24, 1997, a resident of West Pottsgrove Township telephoned the local police department to report that appellant had had sexual contact with the resident's six-year-old daughter while appellant and the child were watching a movie in appellant's home. Officer Todd Richard took the report and began his investigation by interviewing the child and her mother at the police station. On September 17, 1997, Officer Richard again interviewed the child, who related to the officer appellant's alleged actions. Shortly after speaking
The next day, Officer Richard returned to appellant's home to discuss possible dates for the polygraph. After speaking briefly to appellant, Officer Richard requested that appellant accompany him to the police station to discuss the incident, and appellant agreed. Appellant was not handcuffed or otherwise restrained during the ride to the police station or during the ensuing stationhouse interview. Nor was appellant under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The interview took place in an interview room in which the doors stood open and unguarded. Officer Richard explained to appellant that the doors would remain open and that he was free to leave at any time. Officer Richard offered appellant something to drink, but appellant declined. Appellant acknowledged in his suppression testimony that Officer Richard was polite and that he felt that he could leave the room during the interview.
Although appellant was not formally restrained,
Following the waiver, appellant initially denied having any sexual contact with the child. Approximately half an hour into the discussion, however, appellant asked the officer what would happen if he, in appellant's words, "would .... admit to doing something." Officer Richard responded by describing the process of arraignment, setting of bail and preliminary hearing in detail. Officer Richard noted that appellant "asked the question several times.... [and] I explained it several times in detail." The suppression court found that Officer Richard also told appellant that he could not make any promises as to whether he would spend time in prison, but advised that, if appellant were to admit his actions and charges were filed, the officer would recommend at arraignment that appellant be released on his own recognizance (ROR).
Exhibit D-1. Appellant testified that the officer promised him that he would recommend both ROR release and Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) classes in exchange for a statement. Appellant further claimed that, "I thought I would go in front of a judge and he would give me ROR and ARD classes and I thought it would be over and done with." N.T. 9/8/98 at 49. The suppression court stated that it "resolved the conflict in the evidence and found that Officer Richard promised to make a recommendation for ROR bail, but not ARD. ...." Trial court op. at 2-3. That credibility-based finding is consistent with Officer Richard's report and, thus, is supported by the record evidence.
The suppression evidence also reflects that Officer Richard told appellant that, notwithstanding his recommendation of ROR release, it would be the district justice who would establish the terms of any post-arraignment release. Appellant testified that he realized that the district justice ultimately would determine whether he would be released after arraignment and that, in fact, ROR release was recommended at his arraignment and he was released on his own recognizance. Appellant also testified that Officer Richard never promised him that he would talk to the district attorney about his case. Finally, appellant testified that he understood everything the officer told him up to the point "where the D.J. would come in and, you know, ROR and ARD classes."
Appellant then gave a written statement admitting, inter alia, that he rubbed the six year-old child's vagina with his hand, but denying that he ever exposed himself to the child or otherwise touched her. Appellant also claimed that he was "on acid" when he touched the child. Officer Richard transcribed the statement onto his computer as appellant spoke. Appellant reviewed a printout of the statement, made corrections, then signed and adopted it.
On appeal, appellant contends that the officer's post-Miranda waiver promise to recommend ROR release at arraignment was "an offer of leniency in the prosecution" of the case which rendered his confession involuntary as a matter of law, irrespective of the totality of the circumstances. Appellant argues that, while the totality of the circumstances test generally governs the determination of the voluntariness of a confession, Gibbs and its progeny require a "bright line rule" of exclusion automatically invalidating confessions which follow upon an offer of leniency. In the alternative, appellant argues that his confession was involuntary under the totality of the circumstances. The Commonwealth responds that the constitutional test for exclusion of a confession upon grounds of involuntariness requires consideration of the totality of the circumstances and that, under that analysis, the Superior Court properly determined that appellant's confession was voluntary.
The Superior Court clearly was correct in holding that the voluntariness of
Long before Fulminante, this Court had repeatedly recognized that the voluntariness of a confession is determined by considering the totality of the circumstances. E.g., Commonwealth v. Kampo, 480 Pa. 516, 522, 391 A.2d 1005, 1007-08 (1978); Commonwealth v. Jones, 457 Pa. 423, 430, 322 A.2d 119, 124 (1974) ("there is no simple litmus test for determining whether a confession is involuntary. Instead, courts must consider the totality of the circumstances surrounding the confession"); Commonwealth v. Eiland, 450 Pa. 566, 572-75, 301 A.2d 651, 653-54 (1973) (discussing, inter alia, Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 81 S.Ct. 1860, 6 L.Ed.2d 1037 (1961)); Commonwealth ex rel. Butler v. Rundle, 429 Pa. 141, 149, 239 A.2d 426, 430 (1968). This Court has applied the totality of circumstances test with no less force or vigor in cases where there was a claim that a promise or inducement rendered the confession involuntary. E.g., Eiland. This Court merely reaffirmed the vitality of the test in Nester, 551 Pa. at 162-63, 709 A.2d at 882 (footnote omitted); accord Nester, 551 Pa. at 169-70, 709 A.2d at 885-86 (Nigro, J., dissenting). See also Commonwealth v. Jones, 546 Pa. 161, 178, 683 A.2d 1181, 1189 (1996) ("The test for determining voluntariness of a confession and whether an accused knowingly waived his or her rights looks to the totality of the circumstances"); Commonwealth v. Edmiston, 535 Pa. 210, 227-28, 634 A.2d 1078, 1087 (1993) (same).
Appellant argues, however, that in Commonwealth v. Laatsch, 541 Pa. 169, 661 A.2d 1365 (1995), a case post-dating Fulminante, this Court "reaffirmed" the supposed ruling of Gibbs that a promise of leniency in the prosecution, without more, automatically negates the voluntariness of a confession. Appellant's reliance on Laatsch and Gibbs is misplaced. The Laatsch Court merely held that the Superior Court in that case had erred in extending Gibbs to a situation involving a police promise designed to induce cooperation in future investigations, rather than an inducement to waive counsel and confess, as had occurred in Gibbs. There was
Second, and more fundamentally, Gibbs neither cited to, nor purported to overrule, this Court's precedent recognizing that the totality of the circumstances test governs the voluntariness of confessions.
The State Police trooper who interrogated Gibbs stated that, after he administered Miranda warnings, Gibbs made what this Court termed an "equivocal inquiry" respecting the right to counsel, as he suggested, "Maybe I should talk to a lawyer," and "What good would it do me to tell you?" The trooper responded, "I really don't know what good it would do. The only thing is I would tell the District Attorney you cooperated for whatever good that would be, but I would have no idea whether it would help your case or not." Gibbs then waived his Miranda rights and confessed to the trooper. 520 Pa. at 153, 553 A.2d at 409. This Court determined that the trooper's statement in response to the defendant's equivocation respecting counsel impermissibly induced his Miranda waiver, thereby rendering his subsequent confession inadmissible:
Id. at 155, 553 A.2d at 410-11. The Court concluded that, "we decide only that the authorities are not permitted to employ inducements which impair in any way a suspect's right to his own unfettered evaluation of the need for legal counsel." Id. at 156, 553 A.2d at 411.
Obviously, an inducement to waive following upon an assertion of rights after being given Miranda warnings implicates more than a due process concern with the voluntariness of a confession; it may burden the defendant's constitutional privilege against compulsory self-incrimination or the right to counsel. Thus, confessions obtained in violation of Miranda are excluded irrespective of their voluntariness. Unlike Gibbs, this case involves the voluntariness of a confession in a circumstance where Miranda rights were properly explained, acknowledged, explicitly waived, and no assertion of the right to counsel, equivocal or otherwise, or the right to
The circumstances of the confession here, viewed in their totality, plainly demonstrate its voluntary nature. In determining voluntariness, the question "is not whether the defendant would have confessed without interrogation, but whether the interrogation was so manipulative or coercive that it deprived the defendant of his ability to make a free and unconstrained decision to confess." Nester, 551 Pa. at 163, 709 A.2d at 882; Jones, 457 Pa. at 430, 322 A.2d at 124 (same); see also Miller, 796 F.2d at 604 ("The question in each case is whether the defendant's will was overborne when he confessed"). "By the same token, the law does not require the coddling of those accused of crime. One such need not be protected against his own innate desire to unburden himself." Commonwealth v. Graham, 408 Pa. 155, 162, 182 A.2d 727, 730-31 (1962). Factors to be considered in assessing the totality of the circumstances include "the duration and means of the interrogation; the physical and psychological state of the accused; the conditions attendant to the detention; the attitude of the interrogator; and any and all other factors that could drain a person's ability to withstand suggestion and coercion." Nester, 551 Pa. at 164, 709 A.2d at 882.
Of primary importance in this case is the fact that appellant was fully apprised of, and expressly waived, his Miranda rights, including the right to counsel and the right to remain silent, before any substantive questioning began, and well before the alleged inducement to confess. As a leading commentator has noted
W.R. LaFave et al., Criminal Procedure, § 6.2(c), at 460. Accord Jones, 546 Pa. at 178-79, 683 A.2d at 1189 (fact that suspect was read Miranda rights immediately prior to making statement weighed in favor of finding voluntariness).
The other circumstances surrounding the stationhouse interview corroborate the voluntariness of the confession. Appellant voluntarily accompanied the officer to the police station. See Nester, 551 Pa. at 165, 709 A.2d at 883. The interview was conducted by a single police officer and lasted at most an hour and a half, not an excessive period of time. Id. There was no physical coercion or intimidation: Appellant was not handcuffed or arrested, either during the ride to the stationhouse or during the interview itself. The door to the interview room was left open and appellant was informed that he was free to leave at any time. Appellant also was not impaired by drugs or alcohol. Nor did the police officer threaten appellant in any way; to the contrary, appellant testified that the officer was polite, and even offered him
What the matter is reduced to then is the effect of the promise to recommend release on ROR. Although a promise of pre-trial release is not insignificant, appellant is incorrect in equating it with a promise of leniency in the actual prosecution itself, i.e., a reduction or outright dismissal of charges, or a promise as to leniency in sentencing. The promise here did not even concern a recommendation to talk to the Court or the prosecutor with respect to the overall prosecution, contrast Gibbs, nor was there a promise that a confession would result in no charges being filed. See Nester, 551 Pa. at 165, 709 A.2d at 883. The importance of the distinction in the scope of the promise is made apparent by considering appellant's suppression testimony. Appellant did not merely claim that he was promised a recommendation of ROR release; instead, he claimed that he was also promised that, if he gave an incriminating statement, he would be required only to attend ARD classes, and then the matter "would be over and done with." His testimony regarding ARD classes was not credited by the suppression court. Obviously, a promise of a favorable and relatively painless resolution of the entire case is much more likely to have a coercive effect than a promise only to recommend ROR release at arraignment.
Equally significant is the fact that the promise respecting ROR release was not misstated or overstated. The officer made clear that the ultimate determination of the conditions of any pre-trial release would be up to the assigned district justice, and appellant testified that he understood that fact. The officer was then true to his promise, and appellant in fact was released on ROR. The absence of any misstatement or misleading promise weighs in favor of a finding of voluntariness. See W.R. LaFave et al., Criminal Procedure, § 6.2(c), at 452 n. 86 ("Of course, deception or misstatement in the promise is a critical factor in concluding that it [operated to overbear the suspect's will]"); Commonwealth v. Kampo, 480 Pa. at 522, 391 A.2d at 1007-08 (fact that officers were truthful with suspect regarding what they would tell court if he cooperated weighed in favor of finding confession voluntary).
Considered in its totality, the credited evidence here overwhelmingly demonstrated that appellant's confession was voluntary. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the Superior Court.
Former Chief Justice FLAHERTY did not participate in the decision of this case.