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Rockwell v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

September 4, 2009

Michael ROCKWELL, Appellant,
v.
STATE of Alaska, Appellee.

Page 370

Renee McFarland, Assistant Public Defender, Anchorage, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

Kenneth M. Rosenstein and Eric A. Ringsmuth, Assistant Attorneys General, Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Anchorage, and Talis J. Colberg, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

Before : COATS, Chief Judge, and MANNHEIMER and BOLGER, Judges.

Page 371

OPINION

BOLGER, Judge.

Following a two-car collision, Rockwell was convicted of felony driving while under the influence and driving with a revoked license.[1] In his original appeal to this court, he argued, among other things, that the police interrogated him in violation of Miranda v. Arizona [2] and his right to counsel, and that, consequently, the superior court should have suppressed the statements he made during that interrogation. In our earlier decision in Rockwell v. State, we resolved these claims largely in Rockwell's favor, but remanded the case to the superior court for additional findings on precisely when Rockwell's interrogation became custodial for Miranda purposes. [3] We also directed the superior court to determine whether Rockwell was entitled to reversal of his convictions because his statements were erroneously admitted at his trial.[4]

On remand, the superior court held that Rockwell's interrogation became custodial as soon as he was seated in the patrol car for questioning. The court then held that Rockwell was entitled to reversal of his convictions because he might have advanced a different defense if he had not been forced to contend at trial with all of the conflicting statements he made to the police.

For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that the error in admitting Rockwell's statements was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. We therefore reverse the decision of the superior court and affirm Rockwell's convictions.

Facts and Proceedings

The facts of this case are recounted in more detail in our earlier opinion. Rockwell was involved in a two-car crash, and shortly afterwards Anchorage Police Officer Amanda Patton saw him get out of the driver's seat of his car. [5] Rockwell initially admitted to Officer Patton that he had been driving, but quickly changed this account and said that he had not been driving.[6]

Officer Patton went to interview the driver of the other car and Officer Stephen Busby asked Rockwell to step over to his patrol car. Officer Busby observed that Rockwell had bloodshot, watery eyes and that he appeared to be intoxicated. Rockwell admitted that he was intoxicated and that his driver's license was revoked. But he claimed that another man, Joshua Fagg, had been driving the car and fled from the scene immediately after the collision. [7]

Officer Busby then asked Rockwell to sit in the backseat of his patrol car; Busby later testified that he asked Rockwell to do this because it was cold outside (about ten degrees Fahrenheit) and to move Rockwell away from traffic. [8] Busby did not handcuff Rockwell and told him that he was not under arrest.[9] But Before Rockwell got into the patrol car, Busby searched him for weapons and retrieved the keys to the car from his back pocket. [10] Moreover, Rockwell could not leave the patrol car without Busby's help because the rear doors did not open from the inside-though there was no evidence that Rockwell was ever aware of this.[11]

In the patrol car, Busby questioned Rockwell about his identity and his automobile insurance. Rockwell admitted that he had no insurance, but reiterated that his license was revoked and that he had not been driving. Busby asked Rockwell how he could contact Fagg, the man Rockwell had identified

Page 372

as the driver.[12] Rockwell replied that he did not know how to contact Fagg, but he described what Fagg was wearing and told Busby which direction Fagg ran after the accident. Busby then left the patrol car for about twenty seconds; when he returned, he told Rockwell that he was going to take him to the police substation for field sobriety tests.[13]

Busby continued to question Rockwell in the patrol car and at the substation, where he administered field sobriety tests.[14] He then arrested Rockwell for driving under the influence and transported him to a second substation for a breath test, which showed a blood alcohol level of .130 percent.[15] After the breath test, Busby advised Rockwell of his Miranda rights.[16] Rockwell demanded an attorney, but when Busby offered him a phone to call an attorney, Rockwell declined. Busby continued to question Rockwell.[17]

In our earlier decision, we divided Rockwell's interrogation into four parts: (1) the initial contact on the street at the scene of the accident; (2) the interrogation in the patrol car up until the point Busby announced that he would be transporting Rockwell to the police substation for field sobriety tests; (3) the continued interrogation in the patrol car and at the two substations, up until Rockwell was advised of his Miranda rights; and (4) the interrogation after Rockwell was advised of his Miranda rights and asserted his right to counsel.[18] We ruled that Rockwell's questioning on the street was not custodial, but that the interrogation became custodial, at the latest, several minutes into the patrol car interview, when Busby announced he was transporting Rockwell to the substation for field sobriety tests.[19] We also ruled that Rockwell's right to counsel was violated after he was advised of his Miranda rights, because the police interrogated him after he had already demanded an attorney.[20]

Because we lacked findings on all of the pertinent facts, we could not determine whether Rockwell was in custody during the first part of the patrol car interview (Before Busby announced that he was taking Rockwell to the substation for field sobriety tests). We therefore remanded the case to the superior court for additional findings on when the interview became custodial. [21] We also directed the superior court to determine which of Rockwell's statements should have been excluded at trial, and whether Rockwell was entitled to reversal of his convictions because ...


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