THE STATEMENT “I don’t know, just, I’m done talking. I don’t have nothing to talk about” IS SUFFICIENT TO INVOKE ONE’S RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT

The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Joshua Michael Lukach, No. 693 MDA 2016 (April 11, 2017), holding that Lukach’s statement “I don’t know, just, I’m done talking. I don’t have nothing to talk about” was a clear and unequivocal invocation of his right to remain silent, rejecting the Commonwealth’s argument that he should have said solely, “I don’t want to talk to you” to invoke that right.

Lukach was suspected of being involved in a murder and, during the course of the investigation, he was arrested on two outstanding summary offense warrants and brought to City Hall for questioning. The police Chief advised him of his Miranda rights, and he acknowledged he understood them.

The interrogation began at approximately 1:05 p.m. and, approximately twenty minutes later, in response to some general questioning, he stated “I don’t know, just, I’m done talking. I don’t have nothing to talk about.” Nonetheless, the Chief continued to interrogate him for approximately thirty minutes prior to Lukach’s request to speak to the District Attorney. The Chief thereafter turned off the video camera in the interrogation room for twenty minutes until the prosecutor arrived approximately twenty minutes later.

After the prosecutor arrived, Lukach was again advised of his Miranda rights by the Chief and he subsequently, gave a detailed statement to police, confessing his involvement in the murder. As a result of his statement, police obtained video surveillance of him accessing an ATM on the morning of the homicide. Police also recovered from a storm drain the following evidence: the victim’s credit card, hat, shirt, and sunglasses.

Lukach was charged with murder and, prior to trial, he filed an omnibus pre-trial motion, seeking to suppress statements made to police after he stated that he “[did not] want to talk” and was “done talking.” The motion also sought to suppress evidence recovered as a result of Lukach’s statements, including Lukach’s shoes.

After a hearing, the trial court court suppressed the following evidence: any statements made by Lukach following his assertion that he was done talking; Lukach’s shoes (seized during the interrogation) and any evidence obtained from them; and the items recovered from the storm drain. The court admitted all statements made prior to Lukach’s assertion that he was done talking and surveillance video from the ATM machine.

The Commonwealth appealed the suppression court’s ruling, arguing that the trial court erred in suppressing Lukach’s statement because his invocation of his right to remain silent was not clear and unambiguous.

The Superior Court  concluded that, although ineloquently phrased, Lukach’s statements were not qualified. They were not ambiguous. They were not equivocal. In response to continued questioning, Lukach stated, “I don’t know, just, I’m done talking. I don’t have nothing to talk about.”

The Superior Court rejected the Commonwealth’s argument that the statement was not “clean and clear” and suggesting that Lukach should have said solely “I don’t want to talk to you.” To the contrary, the Superior Court found this to be a clear statement that Lukach did not wish to talk anymore and the sort of statement that would lead a reasonable police officer, in those circumstances, to understand the statement to be a request to remain silent.

Thus, the Superior Court concluded that Lukach invoked his right to remain silent and the suppression court did not err in finding that he had made a clear and unambiguous invocation.

The Commonwealth also contended that Lukach ultimately made a conscious and knowing decision to confess, and that his confession was not coerced. Indeed, while Miranda protections prohibit the continued interrogation of an interviewee in custody once he has invoked his right to remain silent, further interrogation does not constitute a per se violation of that right.

The Superior Court’s stated that when considering a confession obtained after illegal conduct by police officers, the relevant factors the court considers when determining whether the original taint has been sufficiently purged include: (1) whether Miranda warnings were again administered; (2) the “temporal proximity” of the illegal police conduct to the confession; (3) the presence of intervening circumstances or events; and (4) the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct.

As the Superior Court detailed, Lukach stated that he was “done talking,” but, the Chief continued to interrogate him for another thirty minutes. This interrogation included informing Lukach that police officers were recovering evidence from the scene as well as pressuring him to confess. During this time period, Lukach’s shoes were taken from him so that evidence could be gathered from them, further heightening the coercive nature of this continued interaction. Further, there was no pause in the interrogation; it continued in the same location, by the same police officer.

Accordingly, the Superior Court held that all statements made by Lukach and evidence recovered from him during this time period were properly suppressed.

DISCLAIMER – The information contained in this article is for general guidance on the subject matter only. The application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved. Given the changing nature of laws, rules and regulations, and the inherent hazards of electronic communication, there may be delays, omissions or inaccuracies in information in this article. Case summaries are primarily excerpted directly from the decisions authored by the Courts. The decisions are cited and linked and the reader is encouraged to read the entire decision. Accordingly, the information in this article is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not herein engaged in rendering legal or other professional advice and services. As such, it should NOT be used as a substitute for consultation with a McMahon & Winters Law Firm attorney. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should always consult with a McMahon & Winters Law Firm attorney.