In 2018, Jeremiah Orange was a suspect in a child sex crime investigation. A videotaped police interview of Orange then occurred in a law enforcement facility where Orange read aloud and signed a Miranda waiver form. Following the interview, serious sex crime charges were filed. Before trial, Orange asked the trial court to suppress his statements to a detective because his statements were not freely and voluntarily given. After a hearing, the trial judge denied the motion. A jury later convicted Orange, and the trial judge sentenced him to four consecutive hard 25 life prison terms. (That is a whole lot of years of protection for other children). Orange appealed, and the Kansas Court of Appeals recently agreed with that trial judge.
The State has the burden to prove the voluntariness of a statement to police by a preponderance of the evidence that the suspect’s statement was the product of a his or her free and independent will. A court looks at the totality of the circumstances surrounding the statement to determine whether it was voluntary by considering the following nonexclusive factors: 1) the suspect’s mental condition; 2) the manner and duration of the interview; 3) the ability of the suspect to communicate on request with the outside world; 4) the suspect’s age, intellect, and background; 5) the fairness of the officers in conducting the interview; and, 6) the suspect’s fluency with the English language.
In this case, Orange only argued factors #2 (manner and duration of the interview) and #5 (fairness of the officers). As for the manner and duration, the appellate panel said that the interview room was standard with one table and two chairs, Orange was not handcuffed during the interview, only one detective was in the room, Orange was offered a drink, sat comfortably and smiled throughout the interview, was offered a bathroom break, did not have to wait for the interview to begin, the interview lasted only 55 minutes, the conversation was cordial and in polite tones, and the detective did not exhibit extreme or demonstrative body language during the interview. To say the least, none of that helped Orange’s argument.
Orange then argued that conducting an interview in a law enforcement building “is more intimidating than . . . at the suspect’s home or in some neutral area.” Well, yes that it true. But the judges said that nothing had been shown that the location was overly intimidating, was hostile, or that Orange was uncomfortable at the location. Although the detective was seated between Orange and the interview room door, there was no evidence that the detective blocked the door or physically stopped Orange from leaving.
As for the fairness of the officers (factor #5), the panel said that the following supported voluntariness of the statement: 1) “nothing was sprung” on Orange; 2) the conversation was cordial; and, 3) nothing done or said by the detective “rose to the level of deceptive tactics” that have been condemned by the Kansas Supreme Court. In this case, all the detective did was challenge Orange’s responses and repeated questions. Because Orange’s responses had changed over time, the detective would “circle back” on the conflicting information. The panel said that this interview tactic was “not unduly coercive.” And, since a 55-minute interview is nothing out of the ordinary, his appeal failed. Orange’s abode will continue being a Kansas prison.