ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s highest court Wednesday reversed the burglary conviction and sentence of a Centreville man who incriminated himself after a police officer showed him some evidence before reading him his rights.
The Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that a police officer was in effect interrogating Dwayne Anthony Drury without a Miranda warning, a requirement that officers remind suspects of their right to remain silent and to an attorney.
The decision overrules the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which the high court said incorrectly interpreted the law when it found Drury’s statements were not the result of the officer’s actions.
“The police officer’s conduct was tantamount to interrogation … The officer should have known that placing the evidence in front of (Drury), and telling him that it would be fingerprinted, was likely to elicit an incriminating response,” wrote Court of Appeals Judge Irma S. Raker for the majority. “He expected to elicit a statement.”
Drury was taken into police custody on July 15, 1996, by Centreville Police Cpl. Mark Whaley for questioning after witnesses indicated he was a suspect in a burglary at a local market.
At the police station – before reading Drury his rights – Whaley placed a bag containing magazines and a tire iron collected from the crime scene on a table in front of the suspect. Whaley took the tire iron out of the bag and told Drury he planned to lift fingerprints from the iron.
“My fingerprints could be on that and are on hundreds of tire irons around Centreville,” Drury said, according to court records.
The statement was admitted in trial and Drury was convicted of second-degree burglary, fourth-degree burglary and theft and sentenced to 10 years in prison. His case will be retried in Queen Anne’s County Circuit Court.
Drury’s lawyers successfully argued to the Court of Appeals that their client’s Fifth Amendment rights were violated when Whaley did not issue a Miranda warning before showing him the evidence and stating that it would be fingerprinted.
It is premature to gauge the full impact of Drury’s victory, but it could have a broad application in Miranda cases, said Stacy McCormack, appellate lawyer for the Office of the Public Defender who argued the case.
“It is the right ruling in this case,” McCormack said. “It could definitely be applied in other instances.”
Two members of the seven-panel high court disagreed. Judge Lynne A. Battaglia, who wrote the dissenting opinion, said the ruling could be applied too broadly, stifling police officers’ actions.
“From the majority’s perspective … the police station creates an environment which is instantaneously infused with coercive and compelling elements for a suspect,” Battaglia wrote. “In their view, being taken to the police station itself could be sufficient to trigger the administration of Miranda warnings.”
The threshold requiring officers to read suspects their rights should be higher, she said.
Centreville Police declined to discuss the case.
– 30 – CNS 3/8/02