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State v. Harris

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

August 20, 2019

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
HARVEY D. HARRIS, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lincoln County Honorable James D. Beck Judge.

          KURT S. ODENWALD JUDGE.

         Introduction

         Harvey D. Harris ("Harris") appeals his conviction following a bench trial of the class B misdemeanor of driving while intoxicated. In his sole point on appeal, Harris argues the trial court erred in overruling his motion to suppress his statement that he had "a couple" or "a few" drinks because the statement was elicited without a Miranda warning.[1] Because Harris was not in custody for purposes of Miranda, we deny the point. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Factual and Procedural History

         State Trooper Nathan Cockrum ("Trooper Cockrum") arrived at the scene of a motor vehicle accident and saw a truck overturned. Harris was inside the truck, pinned upside down with his legs twisted behind the steering wheel. The truck's fuel line was ruptured and leaking into the cab. Trooper Cockrum retrieved his first aid kit and approached the vehicle to provide emergency assistance. Trooper Cockrum crawled underneath the truck to make contact with Harris, who exhibited labored breathing and unintelligible speech. Trooper Cockrum attempted to keep Harris calm as he observed him for injuries and also sought to keep bystanders away from the truck due to the gas fumes.

         Shortly thereafter, other first-responders arrived. Firefighters extracted Harris from the truck, then paramedics strapped him to a backboard. Trooper Cockrum smelled alcohol on Harris's breath as he helped paramedics carry Harris on the backboard to the awaiting ambulance.

         While Harris was restrained inside the ambulance, Harris provided Trooper Cockrum with his name, address, and medical condition, and told Trooper Cockrum what had happened in the accident. Harris also spoke with the paramedics about his health and what occurred in the accident. Trooper Cockrum noted that Harris understood the questions, did not have much difficulty answering them, and gave coherent, appropriate responses. Harris was cooperative and thanked Trooper Cockrum for his service. Trooper Cockrum recognized a strong odor of alcohol while speaking with Harris and further noted Harris's eyes were watery and his speech was slurred. Trooper Cockrum had also observed a number of beer cans near the crash site, including some cans that were still cold to the touch. Trooper Cockrum asked Harris how much he had to drink, and Harris answered "a few" or "a couple." Trooper Cockrum testified that he did not give Harris a Miranda warning before asking him how much he had to drink because Harris was not under arrest at that time. Trooper Cockrum also indicated in response to a hypothetical that even if Harris had not been strapped inside a moving ambulance, he would have preferred Harris stay and answer his questions.

         Trooper Cockrum then requested Harris submit to a preliminary breath test. Harris consented to the breath test, which tested positive for alcohol consumption. Subsequently, Trooper Cockrum placed Harris under arrest based on his observations of Harris, the odor of alcohol on Harris's breath, Harris's breath test, and Harris's statement that he had "a few" or "a couple" drinks. Trooper Cockrum read Harris Missouri's implied consent law, and Harris consented to a blood draw by a paramedic, which recorded a blood alcohol content above the legal limit. Harris was taken to a hospital for further medical treatment.

         The State charged Harris with driving while intoxicated. Prior to trial, Harris moved to suppress his statement that he had "a few" or "a couple" drinks based on Trooper Cockrum's failure to provide Harris a Miranda warning before asking Harris whether he had been drinking. The trial court held a hearing on Harris's suppression motion. At the hearing, the State countered that an officer may detain a person and conduct an initial investigation as to whether he or she was driving while intoxicated before a Miranda warning is required. The trial court overruled Harris's motion to suppress, holding that no Miranda warning was necessary because Trooper Cockrum was permitted to ask preliminary investigative questions without issuing a Miranda warning in a routine traffic stop.

         The case proceeded to a bench trial. The trial court found Harris guilty of the class B misdemeanor of driving while intoxicated. The trial court then sentenced Harris to thirty days in jail. Harris now appeals.

         Point on Appeal

         In his sole point on appeal, Harris argues the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress and objection to his statement that he had "a couple" or "a few" drinks because the statement should have been suppressed as the product of a custodial interrogation without a Miranda warning.

         Standard ...


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