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State v. Gibson

Supreme Court of Kansas

April 18, 2014

State of Kansas, Appellee,
Kelvin H. Gibson, Jr., Appellant

Page 390

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 391

Appeal from Wyandotte District Court; J. Dexter Burdette, judge.



1. When challenged, the prosecution must prove by a preponderance of the evidence the voluntariness of a defendant's inculpatory statements to a law enforcement officer.

2. In determining whether a defendant's inculpatory statements to a law enforcement officer were freely and voluntarily given, a trial court usually looks at the totality of the circumstances surrounding the statements and determines their voluntariness by considering the following nonexclusive factors: (a) the accused's mental condition; (b) the manner and duration of the interviews; (c) the accused's ability to communicate on request with the outside world; (d) the accused's age, intellect, and background; (e) the officer's fairness in conducting the interviews; and (f) the accused's fluency with the English language.

3. When the accused is a juvenile, Kansas courts must exercise the greatest care in assessing whether the juvenile's inculpatory statements to law enforcement were voluntary. A juvenile's inculpatory statements must be free from coercion or suggestion and must not be the product of ignorance of rights or adolescent fantasy, fright, or despair. In assessing the voluntariness of a juvenile's inculpatory statements to police, Kansas courts have articulated five nonexclusive factors for consideration: (a) the juvenile's age; (b) the length of questioning; (c) the juvenile's education; (d) the juvenile's prior experience with police; and (e) the juvenile's mental state.

4. When applying the appropriate factors to determine the voluntariness of an accused's inculpatory statements to police, the trial court is not to weigh one factor against another with those factors favorable to a free and voluntary statement offsetting those factors unfavorable. Instead, the situation surrounding the giving of inculpatory statements may dissipate the import of an individual factor that might otherwise have a coercive effect. Even after analyzing such dilution, if any, a single factor or a combination of factors considered together may inevitably lead to a conclusion that under the totality of circumstances an accused's will was overborne and the inculpatory statements were not free and voluntary.

5. On appeal of a trial court's determination regarding the voluntariness of a defendant's inculpatory statements, an appellate court applies a dual standard when reviewing the trial court's decision on a suppression question. First, the factual underpinnings of the decision are reviewed under a substantial competent evidence standard. Next, the appellate court reviews the trial court's legal conclusion drawn from those facts de novo. An appellate court does not reweigh evidence, assess witness credibility, or resolve conflicting evidence.

6. A district court's decision not to reopen the evidentiary record after conducting a hearing on the voluntariness of a defendant's inculpatory statements to law enforcement in accordance with Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 12 L.Ed.2d 908 (1964), is reviewed for abuse of discretion.

7. An abuse of discretion occurs when judicial action was (a) arbitrary, fanciful, or unreasonable, i.e., if no reasonable person would have taken the view adopted by the trial court; (b) based on an error of law, i.e., if the discretion was guided by an erroneous legal conclusion; or (c) based on an error of fact, i.e., if substantial competent evidence does not support a factual finding on which a prerequisite conclusion of law or the exercise of discretion was based.

Jeffrey C. Leiker, of Leiker Law Office, P.A., of Kansas City, argued the cause, and Michael J. Nichols, of Michael J. Nichols, P.A., of Kansas City, was on the brief for appellant.

Sheryl L. Lidtke, chief deputy district attorney, argued the cause, and Jerome A. Gorman, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were with her on the brief for appellee.

Page 392

[299 Kan. 208] OPINION

Biles, J.

Kelvin H. Gibson, Jr., appeals his first-degree murder and aggravated robbery convictions, raising two issues related to the district court's determination that inculpatory statements he made to police were voluntary. First, he contends the court failed to make necessary factfindings when concluding the statements [299 Kan. 209] were voluntary; and, alternatively, the record is insufficient to support that conclusion. Second, he argues structural error occurred when he was not allowed to testify in support of his motion to reconsider. We affirm.

Factual and Procedural Background

Gibson was convicted in the October 6, 2008, killing of Phillip Martin, who was found dead on his kitchen floor from multiple gunshot wounds in what appeared to be a drug-related crime. See State v. Harris, 297 Kan. 1076, 306 P.3d 282 (2013) (affirming convictions of Katron Harris involving the same killing).

While investigating, police learned Martin had sold drugs from his home and that Gibson may have been involved with Martin's drug transactions. Officers located Gibson, who was 17 years old at the time. He gave detectives two statements in which he implicated himself in the killings. He was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated robbery.

Before trial, the State moved for a determination as to the admissibility of Gibson's inculpatory statements to police. The district court conducted an evidentiary hearing at which Gibson had the opportunity to challenge the voluntariness of those statements. See State v. Bogguess, 293 Kan. 743, 751, 268 P.3d 481 (2012) (State has burden to prove defendant's statement was voluntary; truthfulness not at issue); accord Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 376, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 12 L.Ed.2d 908 (1964).

At the outset of the hearing, the district court asked if Gibson intended to call any witnesses. His attorney responded in the negative. The State called only one witness, William Michael, a police detective. We draw the facts relating to Gibson's two statements primarily from Michael's testimony, except as indicated.

The October 12, 2008, interview

The detectives located Gibson on October 12, 2008, at his home. Gibson was in the backyard. He was not a suspect at this time. The detectives identified themselves and told Gibson they were investigating Martin's killing. They asked Gibson if he would accompany them to their office to discuss his association with Martin. The [299 Kan. 210] detectives knew they would have had no choice but to leave if Gibson said he did not wish to talk with them, but Gibson agreed to go.

Before they left for the station, Gibson said he was at Martin's house during the shooting. Michael testified that this statement still did not make Gibson a suspect but did make him " a very good witness." Gibson was not under arrest, was not placed in handcuffs, and the detectives did not consider him to be in custody. They went to the station in the detectives' vehicle. Michael could not recall Gibson asking whether he could contact his parents.

The detectives placed Gibson in an interview room at about 4 p.m. and began the interview at approximately 4:30 or 5 p.m. The only people in the room were Gibson and the two detectives. Gibson was not initially advised of his Miranda rights because he was only a possible witness, not a suspect. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694, reh. denied 385 U.S. 890 (1966).

During the interview, Gibson admitted taking part in the shooting. He told the detectives two other individuals--" Tyree" and " D'Andre" --entered Martin's house, shot Martin, and told Gibson to shoot Martin or they ...

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