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State v. Brown

May 4, 2007

STATE OF KANSAS, APPELLANT,
v.
CHRISTOPHER L. BROWN, APPELLEE.



Appeal from Shawnee District Court; NANCY E. PARRISH, judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. To determine whether a defendant's confession is voluntary, a court must consider the totality of the circumstances. The prosecution bears the burden of proving that a confession is admissible by a preponderance of the evidence. The essential inquiry is whether the statement was the product of the accused's free and independent will.

2. When reviewing the suppression of a confession, the appellate court reviews the factual underpinnings of the district court's decision under a substantial competent evidence standard and reviews the ultimate legal conclusion drawn from those facts de novo.

3. Under the facts of this case, there is substantial competent evidence that the thought of losing his parental rights was likely a material factor in the defendant's decision to make a confession. Accordingly, the factual underpinnings of the district court's decision to suppress the statements are adequately supported by the record.

4. Depending on the totality of the circumstances surrounding a confession of criminal conduct, the voluntariness of one's statements to law enforcement can be undermined when solicited under or resulting from threat of another coercive option.

5. When a parent is essentially compelled to choose between confessing guilt in abusing his or her own child or losing his or her parental rights, the choice is between two fundamental rights. Under the facts of this case, it was entirely appropriate for the district court to consider the pressure placed on the defendant by the child in need of care proceedings in considering the totality of the circumstances surrounding his confession.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Greene, J.

Affirmed.

Before RULON, C.J., GREENE, J., and LARSON, S.J.

In this interlocutory appeal, the State appeals the district court's decision to suppress the defendant's statements to law enforcement officers confessing his involvement in causing injuries to his 1-month-old baby because the statements were not freely and voluntarily made. The State contends the statements were voluntary and should not be suppressed. Concluding that the district court's decision is supported by substantial competent evidence, we affirm.

Factual and Procedural Background

On December 11, 2002, Brown's baby was taken to a Topeka area hospital with a skull fracture, a subdural hematoma, a lacerated liver, and fractured ribs. When questioned about the injuries, Brown stated he found the baby with a 3-year-old brother on the floor beside the crib. The baby's injuries, however, were not consistent with this explanation, and an investigation was initiated. On December 20, 2002, the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) completed its investigation, finding that the Browns were "substantiated as . . . perpetrator[s]" of child abuse. All three children were removed from the Brown home.

Throughout the child in need of care (CINC) proceedings, the Browns maintained their innocence. Because of this perceived conspiracy to withhold the truth about the baby's injuries, SRS did not recommend reintegration and persistently pressured the Browns to "admit how the injuries to the children were sustained." Finally, on the date the Browns' parental rights were to be relinquished, Brown went to the sheriff's office, sought out a detective who had been involved in the investigation, and told him he was ready to make a statement. After being Mirandized, Brown gave a statement admitting that on the night in question, the baby would not stop crying, was driving him "freaking crazy," and Brown "squeezed him too hard."

Brown was then charged with aggravated battery and abuse of a child. Before trial, the court held a partial Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 12 L.Ed. 2d 908, 84 S.Ct. 1974 (1964), hearing to determine whether the confession was voluntary. The district court initially ruled the confession admissible; but on reconsideration and after review of the records of the CINC proceedings, the court found that "the circumstances under which the . . . statement was given violated the Fifth Amendment [to] ...


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