Monday, July 21, 2014
C.A. Rejects Claim That Defendant Was Coerced Into Confessing
Justice Says Promise of Leniency Was Improper, but Suspect Knew It Was Not Binding
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A police officer’s promise of lenient treatment for the defendant’s girlfriend/co-defendant if the defendant admitted responsibility for a criminal escapade in which they were both involved was improper, but did not coerce the criminally sophisticated defendant into confessing, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The court Thursday affirmed the kidnapping convictions of Terrance Ray Lincoln and Brittany Kim Dowdell, found guilty by separate juries at a joint trial in Santa Clara Superior Court. Both defendants received life sentences, with possibility of parole, for their involvement in a 2009 robbery/carjacking/kidnapping incident in Sunnyvale.
According to testimony, Lincoln was 36 years old, and his girlfriend of six months, Dowdell, was 20 years old, and Dowdell was pregnant with Lincoln’s child at the time of arrest. Dowdell’s childhood friend, Derric Shavens, also participated in the incident, but testified for the prosecution under a grant of immunity.
Shavens said he drove the defendants to Sunnyvale and noticed a gun tucked into Lincoln’s waistband, which was later identified by Lincoln and Dowdell as a toy plastic gun which Lincoln had colored black. Lincoln told the others he needed money and planned to rob someone, and told Shavens to park on the street next to a car wash.
Lincoln exited the car and walked towards Benjamin Toma, the victim, who was washing his truck. Lincoln approached him from behind and put his hand on Toma’s neck and held the gun to Toma’s head.
After a struggle, Lincoln demanded Toma give him $300. Lincoln also attempted to extract money from two ATMs using Toma’s card, but failed.
After police took Lincoln into custody, he waived his Miranda rights and police interrogated him at length. An audio recording of the interrogation was played for the Lincoln jury.
In the statement, Lincoln admitted his involvement in the crime. He admitted that he and Dowdell took Toma’s truck while Shavens followed them to two different banks, but he repeatedly claimed that the gun was merely a toy.
At trial, Lincoln recanted, claiming he wanted “to deflect as much information as I possibly could away from” his girlfriend in an attempt to lessen her culpability. Lincoln moved to exclude his statement to police on the basis that police coerced him into involuntarily admitting his involvement in the crime.
The trial judge denied the motion. On appeal following his conviction, Lincoln contended that the police made implicit promises of leniency for Dowdell, who was pregnant with Lincoln’s child, in exchange for Lincoln’s admissions.
Lincoln subsequently claimed that he did not know whether the child was his.
Lincoln argued that the police continually emphasized that Dowdell was facing a long prison sentence for her involvement in the offense, including the possibility of life in prison, and they told Lincoln that “Brittany needs you” to “save her.” The police told Lincoln, “You want—you want to know what’s on the table? That’s what’s on the table, okay. We need to know how involved she is.”
Throughout the interrogation, the police exhorted Lincoln to “do the right thing,” to be the “voice” for Dowdell and “save her,” he claimed. They also repeatedly told Lincoln that his cooperation would “matter.”
The jury found Lincoln guilty of kidnapping for ransom or extortion; kidnapping during a carjacking; carjacking; kidnapping for robbery; and criminal threats. Dowdell was found guilty for kidnapping for ransom or extortion and kidnapping for robbery.
Justice Miguel Marquez, writing for the Court of Appeal, acknowledged that a promise of lenient treatment for a relative may render a confession invalid, and that the officer did, in fact, make such promises implicitly.
But Lincoln did not confess because of the officer’s promise, Marquez wrote:
“We conclude that Lincoln’s confession was not coerced by the officers’ implicit promises of leniency. Because of his sophistication and experience with the criminal justice system, Lincoln knew the officers’ implicit promises were hollow. In fact, he explicitly stated that he was aware the police lacked the authority to make charging decisions regarding Dowdell in exchange for his statements.”
The case is People v. Dowdell, 14 S.O.S. 3680.
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