While Mr. Forrester was a juvenile when interviewed, he also had prior dealings with law enforcement and stated his rights had been read to him in the past … we find the trial court did not err in finding Mr. Forrester understood and validly waived his Miranda rights.

 

State v. Forrester

2023 – Ohio – 3025

Fifth District Appellate Court

Stark County, Ohio

August 28, 2023

Murder on Third Street

On April 20, 2022, a shooting took place at a residence on Third Street Northwest in Canton, Ohio. Then 17-year-old Antoine L. Forrester was identified as a suspect and arrested the following day. He was transported to the Canton Police Department where he was questioned by Detectives Szaniszlo and Premier.

On April 20, 2022, a homicide occurred at a residence on Third Street Northwest in Canton, Ohio [the exact address was not identified in the case.]. Mr. Antoine L. Forrester was identified as a suspect and arrested the following day. He was tried and convicted.  His custodial interrogation would be the center of his appeal.  Did seventeen-year-old Mr. Forrester have the legal ability to waive his Fifth Amendment rights?

Miranda Warning and Interview

Before questioning took place, Detective Szaniszlo provided Mr. Forrester with his Miranda warnings. Relevant to this appeal, the following conversation took place:

Det. Szaniszlo: Okay. Alright, before we get started, okay, got to read you somethin’, okay? Obviously here against your will. You don’t want to be here, right?

Mr. Forrester: No response.

Det. Szaniszlo: Alright. So I have to ask you some questions. I want your side of the story. Before I do that, I want you to know somethin’. It says I’m a police officer. I warn you anything you say be [sic] used in a court of law. You have the absolute right to remain silent. You have the right to the advice of a lawyer…the presence of a lawyer with [you] here during questioning. If you can’t afford a lawyer, one will be appointed or you free before any questions if you desire. You understand that?

Mr. Forrester: Yeah.

Det. Szaniszlo: Okay. Like I said, I want your side of the story, okay? That’s all I want. If you agree with that, I’m asking you to waive that. You know what that means?

Mr. Forrester: What?

Det. Szaniszlo: It means I’m asking you to give that up and talk to me. You can always re-invoke if you wan…if you don’t wanna do it anymore. Okay? You understand that? Can you read and write? Read that line for me.

Mr. Forrester: I have…I have the above Con…

Det. Szaniszlo: Constitutional.

Mr. Forrester: Constitutional Rights read to me and I fully understand them and do…

Det. Szaniszlo: Hereby.

Mr. Forrester: …and hereby waive these rights.

Det. Szaniszlo: You understand what that means?

Mr. Forrester: What?

[Detective Premier interrupts]

Det. Premier: Don’t sign yet. Just listen to what he’s saying.

Det. Szaniszlo: It means that I’m asking you to give up those rights for now. Okay? I’m saying that you have these rights. They’re always your rights. You understand that? You’re cool with that?

[Mr. Forrester nodding his head up and down]

Mr. Forrester: Yeah I’m cool.

Det. Szaniszlo: You understand what those rights mean to you?

Mr. Forrester: A little bit.
Det. Szaniszlo: Do you have questions for me?

Mr. Forrester: Humm. [Mr. Forrester shaking his head side to side.]

Det. Szaniszlo: Okay. Have you had your rights read to you before?  

Mr. Forrester: Huh?

Det. Szaniszlo: Have you had your rights read to you before?

[Mr. Forrester nodding his head up and down]

Incriminating Statements Lead to Multiple Felony Indictments

Mr. Forrester made incriminating statements and was subsequently bound over from the juvenile court and charged as an adult. The June 15, 2022 indictment charged Mr. Forrester with complicity to aggravated burglary, complicity to felonious assault, complicity to commit murder, complicity to commit aggravated robbery, aggravated murder, murder, aggravated burglary, and felonious assault, all with attendant gun specifications.

Motion to Suppress his Inculpatory Statements

On August 9, 2022, Mr. Forrester filed a motion to suppress arguing his waiver of his Miranda warnings was not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily made. A hearing was held on the matter on September 16, 2022. Detective Szaniszlo was the sole witness. The state played the video of Mr. Forrester’s interview, and Mr. Forrester offered his exhibit A, the transcript of the video interview.

Motion to Suppress is Overruled

On September 20, 2022, the trial court issued its judgment overruling Mr. Forrester’s motion, finding Mr. Forrester was properly advised of his rights, and voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his rights.

Plea Agreement Leads to Life with Possibility of Parole After Twenty Years

On November 15, 2022, Mr. Forrester entered pleas of no contest to each count of the indictment. The trial court found Mr. Forrester guilty, convicted him, and imposed a sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 20 years. The trial court additionally imposed a three-year firearm specification and ordered Mr. Forrester to serve that sentence consecutive to his life sentence.

Mr. Forrester Appeals the Admissibility of his Voluntary Statements

Mr. Forrester filed an appeal and the matter is now before this court for consideration. He raises one assignment of error as follows:

In his sole assignment of error, Mr. Forrester argues the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress because he was not properly advised of his right to remain silent and therefore did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive his Miranda rights. We disagree.

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)

In Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), the United States Supreme Court held a suspect must be notified of his/her constitutional rights to remain silent and to have counsel present during a custodial interrogation by the police.

The Suspect must make a Knowing, Intelligent, and Voluntary Waiver

Before the interrogation can begin, the suspect must make a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of those rights. If these procedural safeguards are not complied with, the confession may not be admitted at trial as evidence against the accused. According to Miranda at 444:

[T]he prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination. By custodial interrogation, we mean 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.

More Established Case Law

In determining voluntariness, we must look at the totality of the circumstances as set forth by the Supreme Court of Ohio in State v. Edwards, 49 Ohio St.2d 31 (1976), paragraph two of the syllabus: “In deciding whether a defendant’s confession is involuntarily induced, the court should consider the totality of the circumstances, including, the age, mentality, and prior criminal experience of the accused; the length, intensity and frequency of the interrogation; the existence of physical deprivation or mistreatment; and the existence of threat or inducement.”

Mr. Forrester Argues he did not Knowingly Waive his Miranda Rights and he was not Properly Advised of his Rights

We must first address the state’s argument that Mr. Forrester has waived the argument that he was not properly advised of his right to remain silent because he did not adequately raise the argument below. Upon review of Mr. Forrester’s motion to suppress we find the issue was adequately raised. First, the right to remain silent is necessarily included in standard Miranda warnings and Mr. Forrester challenged whether he knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived the entirety of his Miranda warnings. Second, the final sentence of Mr. Forrester’s motion argues he was not properly advised of his right to remain silent. We therefore reject the state’s forfeiture argument.

The parties do not dispute that Mr. Forrester was in custody when questioned, and that Miranda warnings were therefore required. The parties also agree Mr. Forrester was 17-years-old at the time of the interview.

Mr. Forrester was a Recidivist and had Previously Been Mirandized

Mr. Forrester was placed in a large interview room with Detectives Szaniszlo and Premier. He was provided with a written copy of his Miranda warnings and Szaniszlo went over the written warnings orally as outlined in our statement of facts. While Mr. Forrester was a juvenile when interviewed, he also had prior dealings with law enforcement and stated his rights had been read to him in the past. There is no evidence to suggest the detectives mistreated, threatened, or induced Mr. Forrester in order to procure his waiver.

Mr. Forrester Never Asked for his Miranda Rights to be Explained

Mr. Forrester argues, however, that he demonstrated difficulty understanding his waiver. He focuses on his response of “what?” when asked if he understood what it meant to waive his constitutional rights, and his response of “a little bit” when again asked the same question. Mr. Forrester never alleged he was in any way mentally deficient. Further, as noted by the trial court, while Mr. Forrester stumbled over the pronunciation of a couple words while reading aloud, he did not appear confused. Asked if he had any questions regarding his rights, Mr. Forrester shook his head no and signed the waiver. The Supreme Court of Ohio has held that Miranda warnings were proper and the confession was voluntary where a suspect was advised of his Mirandarights but never asked for a further explanation of them. State v. Foust, 2004-Ohio-7006.

Conclusion

Upon examination of the totality of the circumstances, we find the trial court did not err in finding Mr. Forrester understood and validly waived his Miranda rights.

Holding

The sole assignment of error is overruled.

The judgment of the Stark County Court of Common Pleas is affirmed.

Information for this article was obtained from State v. Forrester, 2023 – Ohio – 3025.

State v. Forrester, 2023 – Ohio – 3025 was issued by the Fifth District Appellate Court on August 28, 2024 and is binding in the following Ohio Counties: Ashland, Coshocton, Delaware, Fairfield, Guernsey, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Perry, Richland, Stark and Tuscarawas.

Lessons Learned:

  1. When is a Miranda Warning Required? Miranda is a two-part test: 1) Was the suspect in custody; and 2) Was the suspect interrogated? As the U.S. Supreme Court held “We hold that when an individual is taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom by authorities in any significant way and is subjected to questioning, the privilege against self-incrimination is jeopardized.” Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 477 (1966).  Here, Mr. Forrester was in custody and was going to be interrogated.  So, a Miranda warning was required prior to interrogating Mr. Forrester, and he was properly advised.
  2. When Does a Juvenile Require a Parent to Properly Waive His Fifth Amendment Right to Counsel? The U.S. Supreme Court issued Fare v. Michael C., 442 U.S. 707 (1979) and held “[The] totality of the circumstances approach is adequate to determine whether there has been a waiver even where interrogation of juveniles is involved.  This includes evaluation of the juvenile’s age, experience, education, background and intelligence, and into whether he has the capacity to understanding the warnings given him, the nature of his Fifth Amendment rights and the consequences of waiving those rights.”  This is why Det. Szaniszlo asked Mr. Forrester if he ever had his Miranda rights read to him before.  This question and Mr. Forrester’s nodding his head in the affirmative was instrumental in the court determining that he could waive his Fifth Amendment rights without a parent.  The court specifically stated “While Mr. Forrester was a juvenile when interviewed, he also had prior dealings with law enforcement and stated his rights had been read to him in the past.”.  Because Mr. Forrester was familiar with custodial interrogation this was influential on the court’s decision.
  3. When do Custodial Interrogation Interviews have to be Recorded? All custodial interrogation of a suspect for aggravated murder, murder, voluntary manslaughter, first or second-degree involuntary manslaughter or vehicular homicide, rape, attempted rape or sexual battery that occur in a place of detention and are recorded are presumed voluntary. See O.R.C. §2933.81.  Here, Mr. Forrester was being investigated for murder so Canton Police properly recorded Mr. Forrester’s interview.
  4. Pre-Sent Arms! Both Canton Police Detective Szaniszlo and Detective Premier should be highly commended for their investigation and custodial interrogation of Mr. Forrester.  Well done!

Does your agency train on Custodial Interrogation?

Don’t fail your training.

Don’t let your training fail you!

Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!

Robert H. Meader Esq.