People v. Phillips, 2018 IL App (3d) 130270 (February). Episode 479 (Duration 13:35)
18-year-old’s confession ruled involuntary, in part, because defendant is told baby killers get killed in prison.
Defendant’s baby died under suspicious circumstances while in his care.
Defendant did not have a job, and he would watch the minor when his girlfriend was at work.
The minor had multiple injuries, some of which were recent and some of which were old. His injuries included two skull fractures, fractured clavicles, hemorrhaging behind an eye, and bleeding on the brain.
The minor died as a result of blunt force trauma.
Arrest & Charges
Phillips was charged by information with first degree murder.
Phillips was arrested and taken to the Rock Island Police Department where he was interviewed and ultimately made an inculpatory statement to the police.
Phillips filed a motion to suppress his statement to police.
Phillips argued that he did not give the statement knowingly and voluntarily and that it was “the result of coercion, deceit, trickery, and false promises on behalf of the investigators.”
The interview lasted from approximately 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and included breaks for the restroom, food, and water.
Phillips, who was then 18 years old, did not have an attorney or family member present at any time during the interview. Defendant wanted to see his mother and they denied that request.
After 45 minutes of reviewing the days activities, the police became more aggressive. Phillips was told that the cause of the minor’s death was not an accident and that the minor had been shaken.
For the next hour or so, Phillips continually denied that he shook or otherwise injured his son. At around 1:15 p.m., which was over two hours into the interview, Hufford entered the room and began aggressively interrogating Phillips.
Did They Cross A Line?
Variously, Hufford told Phillips that he was trying to save Phillips’s life and that a lot of things could change going forward, including the first degree murder charge.
Hufford also asked Phillips if he knew what happened to baby killers in prison and stated that Phillips’s life would not last long as a baby killer in prison.
Hufford also told Phillips that unless he told the truth, neither God nor the minor would forgive him.
Then He Starts Talking
After a short break he began telling the detectives about how he could not get the minor to stop crying so he tossed the minor onto the bed. However, he bounced off the bed, hit his head on the nightstand, and fell to the floor.
Hufford discussed Phillips’s physical state as he was confessing to injuring the minor. He stated that Phillips began crying and “was sinking down, his body was just collapsing. You could see this leaving his body. He’s just letting it out finally.”
Eventually Allowed To See His Mother
Phillips asked if he was going to see his mother.
Phillips was told that “you can talk to your mother when we’re done. We’ve called her and told her to come get you in a little while, all right?” and that “this is your last opportunity to tell us what happened.”
He stated that he had misspoken regarding Phillips’s mother coming to get him and said that he had assured Phillips multiple times throughout the interview that he would be allowed to talk to his mother.
After Phillips had further discussed the incident with the detectives, he was allowed to see his mother. During their brief time together, Phillips’s mother asked him several times whether he told the truth to the police.
Phillips either answered no or shook his head to indicate no every time she asked him that question. Phillips’s mother was escorted out of the interrogation room shortly thereafter.
Then They Tell Him He’s Being Charged
Phillips originally was calm, collected, and polite before entering the interview room, but after being informed he was under arrest for murder, he became visibly upset and cried loudly.
This happened after they showed him the charges with his name on it and his arrest warrant.
Phillips testified and stated he believed police were telling him baby killers get murdered in prison.
Phillips asserted that he told the officers the truth—that he had not injured the minor— but the interview continued, and he felt the officers were looking for a specific answer.
He stated he “provided them with information to the best of [his] knowledge and at that point the interrogation wasn’t over, so [he] felt like [he] at least had to give them a satisfactory answer *** before [he] could see [his] mom.”
He recalled being told “you don’t get punished and injustices for telling the truth, you get into trouble for doing something intentional or accidental and showing no remorse.”
He testified that he interpreted this to mean, “[the officers] were trying to tell him if he can give the officers some closure for this situation, then maybe the officers can help him out.”
Made Up A Story
This was a new situation for him; he was afraid, and he had not secured an attorney. Says he made up a story during the interview.
He stated “[he] felt like the answer they were going for was that [he] had done something to [his] son.”
Medical Records Don’t Jive With What He Said
Interestingly, the medical records don’t jive with injuries being done this way.
After describing his actions to the police regarding the minor, Phillips stated that he was allowed to see his mother.
He testified to the interaction he had with his mother and stated that he told her that what he told the police was not the truth.
When she began to tell him to explain that to the police, Hufford entered the room and told his mother to leave.
The trial judge found the statement to be volunatary.
Following the presentation of extensive evidence, the jury found Phillips guilty of first degree murder as charged. He was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment.
Law On Confessions
“It is *** axiomatic that the defendant’s constitutional rights have been violated if his conviction is based, in whole or in part, on an involuntary confession, regardless of its truth or falsity. [Citations.] This is so even if there is ample evidence aside from the confession to support the conviction [citations].” Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 464 n.33 (1966).
If an individual’s “will has been overborne and his capacity for self-determination critically impaired, the use of his confession offends due process.” Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 225-26 (1973) (quoting Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 602 (1961)).
The test for determining whether a confession was voluntary is whether the defendant made the statement freely, voluntarily, and without compulsion or inducement of any sort, or whether the defendant’s will was overcome at the time he or she confessed.
In determining whether a statement is voluntary, a court must consider the totality of the circumstances of the particular case; no single factor is dispositive. Factors to consider include the defendant’s
- mental capacity
- education and
- physical condition at the time of questioning
- the legality and duration of the detention
- the presence of Miranda warnings
- the duration of the questioning
- and any physical or mental abuse by police
- including the existence of threats or promises.
See People v. Richardson, 234 Ill. 2d 233, 253-54 (2009).
At a hearing on a motion to suppress, it is the State’s burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a confession was voluntary. 725 ILCS 5/114-11(d).
Regarding Phillips’s age, intelligence, background, experience, mental capacity, education, and physical condition at the time of questioning, we find that these factors weigh in favor of a finding that the confession was voluntary.
The evidence presented on these factors, including the video of the interrogation, showed that 18-year-old Phillips was intelligent and articulate, and he had experience with the criminal justice system in that he had been interviewed by police several times prior to the interrogation in which he confessed.
He had an eleventh grade level education and had no apparent physical impairments. Additionally, the duration and legality of the detention, as well as the duration of the questioning, weigh in favor of a finding that the confession was voluntary, as the interrogation was conducted postarrest, took place in an interrogation room at the police station, featured no more than two officers at one time, lasted under four hours (including breaks for the restroom and food and drink), and was conducted in the middle of the day.
Further, the interrogation did not begin until after Phillips had been read his Miranda rights and he signed the waiver form, factors which also weigh in favor of a finding that the confession was voluntary.
However, the remaining factors—any physical or mental abuse by police, including the existence of threats or promises—weigh strongly in favor of a finding that Phillips’s confession was not voluntary.
Statement About The Charges
First, the statement regarding the charge changing was indicative of improper coercion.
Hufford told Phillips:
I’m trying to save your life, okay? *** None of us here want you to go to prison forever. We don’t want you to die. We don’t want any bad thing to happen to anybody, especially an 18 year-old kid that made a mistake. But by you giving this type of interview, the people will see later—you show absolutely no remorse.
We’re not asking you anymore, did you kill [the minor]. That, that part of the investigation’s over.
We’ve already showed enough probable cause in front of attorneys and judges that you killed [the minor].
We’re giving you a chance to save your life.
You know what that charge carries right? They told you what the sentence was. I heard them.
That’s not even the number of years. That’s till you die.
The only reason, just because that’s your charge, that doesn’t mean that’s the finalized thing that’s going to happen. There’s a long time before you’re sentenced and you’re found guilty. There’s a lot of time. A lot of things can change, including that charge, if the truth is brought out. And if it comes out of your mouth.
This court has stated that “[t]o constitute an offer of leniency that renders a confession inadmissible, a police statement must be coupled with a suggestion of a specific benefit that will follow if the defendant confesses.” People v. Kellerman, 342 Ill. App. 3d 1019, 1027 (2003).
In this case, Hufford’s statement included a suggestion of a specific benefit—that the charge could change. An open promise is not a problem. Something like the judge will take it into consideration.
Here, the detectives did not tell Phillips that they would recommend a lowering of the charge. Certainly, the detectives did not clarify that the prosecutor was the only one who could lower the charge. Rather, the clear import of Hufford’s statement was that the defendant could avoid the first degree murder charge if he confessed, which weighs in favor of finding the confession involuntary.
The “Baby Killer” Statement
Second, the “baby killer” comments indicate improper coercion. The following statements were made to Phillips by Hufford:
“You don’t get punished in this justice system for telling the truth. You get punished by doing an accident or doing something intentional and showing no remorse. Those people are called killers. And what do you think happens to baby killers in prison? What do you think is going to happen? You’re eighteen.”
“It’s mandatory life.”
“And your life won’t be long as a baby killer in prison. Check the history papers. Stay online when you get a chance in the county jail. See what happens to baby killers in jail. You show no remorse whatsoever and that makes me angry.”
“When you get convicted of this and you go over for sentencing in front of that judge, every judge wants to send a baby killer to prison forever.”
These “baby killer” statements were threats of physical violence that case law has reasonably found to be indicative of improper coercion.
“We Just Wanna Help You”
We also note that numerous comments were made to Phillips that the officers were trying to help him and/or save his life.
They also told him that he was too young to go to prison for the rest of his life and that…
“When a person is truthful and honest and tells the police what happened, that goes a long way as it goes down through the court system. One of the things that the courts really like is the fact that somebody takes responsibility for their actions.”
Forgiveness and Faith
We also note that numerous comments were made to Phillips regarding forgiveness and faith.
For example, Meiresonne told Phillips that
“You have to let it go. You have to tell us. For your own self-preservation, in the eyes of God and everyone else.”
“[e]verybody will forgive you if you tell the truth.”
Hufford also stated,
“Aren’t you scared of God? Because God will never forgive you if you don’t tell the truth. [The minor] will never forgive you. You’re going to see him someday.”
Considering the multiple instances of coercive conduct employed by the police in this case, we find that the factors weighing in favor of a finding of involuntariness outweigh the factors indicating the contrary, and we therefore hold under the totality of the circumstances of this case that Phillips’s confession was involuntary.
In arriving at this conclusion, we also note that the court’s finding that Phillips failed to respond three or four times to his mothers’ questions regarding the truthfulness of his confession is against the manifest weight of the evidence.
The video clearly shows that Phillips either said no or shook his head to indicate no in response to his mother’s questions about whether he told the police the truth.
Regardless, whether Phillips was lying or telling the truth—indeed, whether he in fact harmed the minor and/or caused the minor’s death—is irrelevant.
What matters is whether Phillips’s will had been overborne by improper means. For the foregoing reasons, we hold that it was.
We are mindful of the undoubtedly tragic circumstances of this case. However, the quest for justice for the minor cannot justify the violation of Phillips’s constitutional rights. Under the circumstances of this case, we hold that the circuit court erred when it denied Phillips’s motion to suppress his statement to police. We remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.