THE 8TH DISTRICT HOLDS: CUYAHOGA COUNTY DIVISION OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES MUST PROVIDE MIRANDA WARNINGS WHEN INTERROGATING IN-CUSTODY DEFENDANTS.

Posted by Zukerman on Saturday, February 25, 2017

In State v. Jackson, the 8th District Court of Appeals reversed and remanded Mr. Jackson’s conviction of Rape, Gross Sexual Imposition, and Kidnapping because an agent of law enforcement violated Mr. Jackson’s constitutional rights by interrogating him without first providing Miranda warnings.

On August 5, 2015, Mr. Jackson was arrested for the alleged rape, gross sexual imposition, assault, and kidnapping of a 14-year-old female. Upon his arrest, Mr. Jackson was unable to post bond and therefore remained in the custody of the Cuyahoga County Jail where he awaited trial. During this pre-trial incarceration, Mr. Jackson was approached numerous times by “H.M.”, who is an employee of the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services (“CCDCFS”).

One of H.M.’s duties as a child advocate in the Cuyahoga County Jail is to interrogate alleged perpetrators connected to child abuse and neglect cases. These interviews occur in the county jail with defendants who remain incarcerated while awaiting trial. Often times, these defendants have already been appointed counsel at arraignment, but counsel is not present during these interrogations. H.M. meets with these individuals to discuss their case. During the meetings, H.M. “identifies herself, advises [the defendants] they have been named as a perpetrator and what the allegations are that have been levied against them and . . . that anything they tell [her] can be subpoenaed by the courts.” State v. Jackson, 2016-Ohio-8144, at ¶10. As required by Ohio law under O.R.C. § 2151.421(F), H.M. then submits a report of her investigation, in writing, to law enforcement. However, throughout these interrogations, H.M. never provides Miranda warnings to the incarcerated individual.

H.M. conducted the same protocol in this case; she interrogated Mr. Jackson without reading him his Miranda rights. As a result, Mr. Jackson divulged highly incriminating information to H.M., who then testified against Mr. Jackson at his own trial, reporting everything Mr. Jackson had told her to the court. Needless to say, this greatly impacted Mr. Jackson’s trial and resulted in his ultimate conviction and 11-year prison sentence.

Although H.M. is not a police officer, the 8th District Court of Appeals concluded she was an agent of law enforcement because she conducted these interviews under the direction of law enforcement and solely to aid their investigations. The 8th District explains:

“In order to qualify as an agent of law enforcement, the agent must act under the direction or control of a law enforcement agency . . . This requirement is satisfied in this instance due to the formal procedure established by CCDCFS and local law enforcement for routinely conducting interrogations of defendants without providing Miranda warnings. These interrogations are proceeding under the direction, and for the benefit, of law enforcement pursuant to a ‘memorandum of understanding’ required by Ohio law . . . We can find no legitimate purpose for the child advocate’s interview of appellant in this case other than to directly assist the investigation of law enforcement pursuant to R.C. 2151.421(F).” Id. at ¶18 & ¶21.

Law enforcement, or any agent of law enforcement, must read a suspect his or her Miranda rights prior to conducting a custodial interrogation. See State v. Clark, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 44015, 1982 Ohio App. LEXIS 11323 (1982), citing State v. Watson, 28 Ohio S.2d 15, 275 N.E.2d 153 (1971). Miranda v. Arizona defines custodial interrogations as, “[Any] questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.” 384 U.S. 436. When law enforcement, or an agent of law enforcement, interrogates a suspect in a custodial manner, the law enforcement agent must inform the suspect that: (1) the suspect has the right to remain silent; (2) anything the suspect says may be used against him or her in a court of law; (3) the suspect has the right to have an attorney present during questioning; and (4) if the suspect cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed by the court. See Id at 444.

Unfortunately, H.M. never informed Mr. Jackson of these rights prior to her interrogation. Since H.M. acted as an agent of law enforcement in this case, her failure to read Mr. Jackson his Miranda rights prior to the interrogation violated his rights. The 8th District noted, “It is absolutely undisputed that if sworn law enforcement officers conduct interviews in the manner [that H.M. conducted this interrogation], the practice would violate defendants’ Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.” Jackson, at ¶19.

            Consequently, the Eighth District Court of Appeals reversed and remanded Mr. Jackson’s conviction and sentence. Ultimately, the Eighth District determined: (i) H.M. acted as an agent of law enforcement, (ii) H.M. conducted a custodial interrogation upon Mr. Jackson, and (iii) H.M. violated Mr. Jackson’s Sixth Amendment rights because he never executed a valid waiver of counsel prior to the interrogations. H.M. used the information she obtained from Mr. Jackson against him in trial, and, over the defense’s objection, the trial court allowed the testimony into evidence. The 8th District concluded that child advocates, when acting in this capacity, must provide Miranda warnings to incarcerated defendants prior to interrogating them. Failure to do so in this case was clear grounds for reversal. The State has appealed the 8th District Court of Appeals’ decision to The Ohio Supreme Court, who has yet to schedule a hearing date for this appeal. For now, the 8th District ruling stands in Cuyahoga County and, depending on how The Ohio Supreme Court rules, it may very well become law for the entire state of Ohio.

It is important for every person who comes in contact with the police to know his or her rights. If you find yourself in an unfortunate situation with the law, it is best to exercise your right to remain silent and call your attorney as soon as possible. Here at Zukerman, Daiker & Lear Co., L.P.A., we never rest, and we will be happy to answer your call, any day, any time.

[The State v. Jackson Judicial Opinion can be read in its entirety at: State v. Jackson, 2016-Ohio-8144]

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