Assigned on Briefs January 4, 2018
from the Circuit Court for Tipton County No. 8700 Joe H.
Walker, III, Judge
Defendant, Jason Levi Butts, fired a shot from a rifle toward
a home, and the bullet penetrated the wall and hit the
sleeping victim in the hip. The trial court ruled that all
three statements which the Defendant made to law enforcement
during the investigation of the shooting were admissible. The
Defendant was convicted after a bench trial of reckless
endangerment, a Class C felony, and reckless aggravated
assault, a Class D felony, and the trial court sentenced him
to concurrent sentences of three and two years, respectively.
The Defendant appeals, asserting that the trial court erred
in denying his motion to suppress his statements and that the
evidence is insufficient to support the verdicts. We conclude
that the trial court erred in admitting the Defendant's
initial statement to police, which he made without being
advised of his rights and after law enforcement twice told
him he could not leave the police station. However, we
conclude that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable
doubt, and we affirm the convictions.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Circuit
R. Huffman, Covington, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jason
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrew
C. Coulam, Assistant Attorney General; Mark E. Davidson,
District Attorney General; and Walter Freeland, Jr. (at
motion hearings and sentencing) and Sean Hord (at trial),
Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State
Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Alan E. Glenn and Camille R. McMullen, JJ., joined.
EVERETT WILLIAMS, JUDGE
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Defendant was involved in a quarrel with Mr. Myron Robinson,
and on April 23, 2016, he drove with some companions to a
mobile home where they expected to find Mr. Robinson. The
Defendant observed Mr. Robinson's vehicle and shot his
rifle toward the home, where the victim, Ms. Dana Rapp, was
asleep in bed next her nine-year-old daughter. Numerous other
individuals, including Mr. Robinson and several minors, were
in the home. Ms. Rapp suffered a gunshot wound to her hip.
The Defendant gave police a statement two days later at the
police station, acknowledging that he was present at the
shooting but asserting that the shooter was a passenger in
his vehicle. The Defendant was arrested at his mother's
home two days after his initial statement. Law enforcement
officers contacted the Defendant's mother by telephone
for permission to search her home, and the Defendant spoke to
her within earshot of law enforcement, acknowledging that he
had shot a woman. The Defendant then gave a third statement
after his arrest, in which he admitted that he drove to the
house and fired a random shot. He expressed remorse for his
actions. Prior to trial, the Defendant moved to suppress all
Jay Rodriguez of the Tipton County Sheriff's Office
testified that he was called to investigate the crime and
that he developed the Defendant as a suspect approximately
two days after the shooting. On April 25, 2016, at around
2:30 p.m., the Defendant drove himself to the police station
for an interview. The Defendant indicated during the
interview that he believed his presence was related to a drug
seizure that had occurred at a trailer which he owned and
rented to tenants. The interview was video recorded and took
place in an area of the building that required a code for
either entry or departure.
Rodriguez testified that the Defendant was not under arrest
and was free to go at any time. He was not informed of his
rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436,
479 (1966). The Defendant testified that he did not believe
he was under arrest but also did not feel "free to go,
" in particular because he could not access his keys. He
clarified, however, that "nobody had them. It was in an
office." The Defendant and Detective Rodriguez agreed
that there were two to three officers who were "in and
out" of the room during the interview.
video of the interview, which contains frequent lapses in
audio, was attached as an exhibit. The Defendant was
interviewed in a small room with a circular table. While one
officer was sitting closer to the door than the Defendant,
the Defendant had a direct and unobstructed route to the
door. The interview began conversationally, with the
Defendant describing how he suffered from a sinus infection.
The parties discussed the seizure of drugs from the tenants
at the trailer owned by the Defendant.
Rodriguez began the interview by asking the Defendant about
an injury over his eye, and the Defendant stated that he fell
onto a nail while moving a box of books. Detective Rodriguez
then told the Defendant that he was not under arrest and that
he could go at any time he wanted. Demonstrating that the
door to the room remained unlocked, Detective Rodriguez
stated, "There's the door, right?" Detective
Rodriguez discussed the drug seizure at the trailer briefly,
then began to ask the Defendant regarding his whereabouts on
the night of the shooting.
Defendant gave a statement essentially asserting that he had
been ill on the day of the shooting and had remained at home
except for a trip to the doctor and the pharmacy. He
initially denied knowing anyone named Myron but then
acknowledged that he knew Mr. Robinson and that he had heard
one of the tenants of his trailer discussing Mr. Robinson
earlier in the week.
Rodriguez asked the Defendant if law enforcement could
examine his telephone. The Defendant deflected the question,
stating that it was in his vehicle. Asked again a few minutes
later, he stated it would be an invasion of his privacy.
After further discussion of the drug seizure at the
Defendant's trailer, Detective Rodriguez asked if the
Defendant's telephone would confirm that he had been at
his residence during the time of the shooting. At that point,
the Defendant asserted that he had misplaced his telephone on
the day of the shooting and that he only regained possession
later that weekend.
Rodriguez absented himself from the room briefly. While he
was gone, the Defendant asked Detective Brandon Shelton,
"Am I free to go?" Detective Shelton responded,
"Let me ask him real quick." After stepping out of
the room, Detective Shelton informed the Defendant,
"Hey, man, we got a couple more questions."
Detective Shelton proceeded to offer the Defendant water or a
"tic tac." The Defendant stated that he just wanted
to go home and sleep.
Detective Rodriguez returned to the room, he accused the
Defendant of lying. He told the Defendant, "It's
fixing to be bad on you." The Defendant responded,
"Okay. Well, then, lawyer." Detective Rodriguez did
not ask the Defendant further questions but told him,
"Let me walk out to your car. I'm going to take your
phone. I'm seizing your phone." The Defendant
objected, and Detective Rodriguez responded that he would get
a warrant. All present left the room for three minutes.
Defendant and officers returned to the room and the following
Defendant: Am I under arrest?
Detective Rodriguez: No, we're fixing to get a sear- You
can't leave. We're fixing to get a search warrant on
Defendant: How can I not leave? I'm not under arrest?
Detective Rodriguez: You can go walk all you want to, bubba.
room was again abandoned, but the audio reveals that
Detective Rodriguez was nearby describing the evidence that
could support a search warrant. He noted that the Defendant
was "out there now. He's trying to leave. He
won't let us get his phone." Detective Rodriguez
described the Defendant as "out there somewhere
with" Detective Shelton. Detective Sherry Wassel can
then be heard recounting that the Defendant was searching for
his telephone in the car with Detective Shelton ...