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Commonwealth v. Tremblay

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

September 25, 2017


          Heard: April 14, 2017.

         Constitutional Law, Admissions and confessions, Voluntariness of statement, Waiver of constitutional rights, Search and seizure. Evidence, Admissions and confessions, Voluntariness of statement, Videotape, Intoxication. Practice, Criminal, Motion to suppress, Admissions and confessions, Voluntariness of statement, Waiver, Findings by judge. Waiver. Intoxication. Search and Seizure, Clothing.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on March 10, 2015. A pretrial motion to suppress evidence was heard by Kenneth W. Salinger, J.

         Applications for leave to prosecute interlocutory appeals were allowed by Geraldine S. Hines, J., and Robert J. Cordy, J., in the Supreme Judicial Court for the county of Suffolk, and the appeals were reported by them to the Appeals Court.

          Zachary Hillman, Assistant District Attorney (Amy J. Galatis, Assistant District Attorney, also present) for the Commonwealth.

          Patrick Levin, Committee for Public Counsel Services, for the defendant.

          Present: Trainor, Agnes, & Neyman, JJ.

          AGNES, J.

         The defendant, Randall Tremblay, was arrested and subsequently indicted for the murder of Stephanie McMahon, based on statements he made to the police both at the scene and in two subsequent custodial interrogations, and blood discovered on his clothing, which the police seized when they arrested him. The defendant moved to suppress all statements he made to the police and all evidence seized from him. The judge conducted an evidentiary hearing, during which he heard testimony from three police officers and viewed a videotape recording of the second custodial interrogation of the defendant following his arrest on a warrant for an unrelated offense.[1] Based on the contents of that videotape recording, the judge concluded that the defendant was so intoxicated when he was questioned at the police station that he was incapable of making a knowing and intelligent waiver of his Miranda rights. As a result, the judge ruled that all of the statements made by the defendant at the police station must be suppressed. The judge also ruled that while the police lawfully seized the defendant's clothing in order to preserve evidence of an apparent homicide, they acted unlawfully in subjecting the clothing to forensic testing without first obtaining a search warrant. Therefore, the judge made a further ruling that all forensic testing results from the defendant's clothing must be suppressed.

         For the reasons more fully explained in the discussion that follows, our independent review of the judge's ultimate finding that the defendant was too intoxicated to waive his rights leads us to conclude that it is erroneous. See Commonwealth v. Jones-Pannell, 472 Mass. 429, 431 (2015).[2] In addition, our independent review of the judge's ruling of law that the Commonwealth failed to meet its burden to prove a valid waiver of the defendant's Miranda rights leads us to conclude that it too is erroneous. Finally, mindful of the limits on appellate fact finding, see Id. at 438, we conclude that the unusual circumstances of this case brings it within the rule applied in Commonwealth v. Novo, 442 Mass. 262, 266 (2004), Commonwealth v. Hoyt, 461 Mass. 143, 148-151 (2011), and Commonwealth v. Newson, 471 Mass. 222, 231-232 (2015). In those cases, the Supreme

         Judicial Court declined to defer to the factual findings made by the motion judge, conducted an independent review of a videotaped interrogation session, and determined whether there was compliance with the Miranda rights doctrine (Hoyt) and whether the statements were voluntary (Newson and Novo), without the need for a remand. In the present case, the judge relied on the videotaped interrogation session to find the facts that led him to conclude that the defendant was too intoxicated to waive his Miranda rights.[3] However, based on our independent review of the same documentary evidence, we conclude that there is ample evidence to support the conclusion that the Commonwealth met its "heavy burden, " Commonwealth v. Hoyt, supra at 152, to establish that the defendant made a valid waiver of his Miranda rights, and that his statements were voluntary.


         The following facts are drawn from the findings made by the judge, and testimonial evidence presented at the motion to suppress hearing that is consistent with those findings. See Commonwealth v. Isaiah I., 448 Mass. 334, 337 (2007). We reserve certain details for our analysis of the issues raised on appeal.

         1. At the crime scene.

         Shortly after 2:00 A.M. on November 18, 2014, Boston police Sergeant Scott Yanovitch arrived at an apartment in the Hyde Park area of Boston shortly after the victim, Stephanie McMahon, had been pronounced dead. Another officer and two emergency medical personnel were already on scene, after responding to a 911 call reporting that a woman had died in the apartment. Sergeant Yanovitch requested that the police dispatcher issue a "full notification" for a crime scene team and homicide detective to come to the scene. He then interviewed two witnesses who were present at the apartment when the police arrived, Michael Doucette and Gay Finley.[4] At one point, Sergeant Yanovitch stepped outside for some fresh air. He observed a man, later identified as the defendant, walk past the apartment while talking and mumbling to himself. Sergeant Yanovitch had no interaction with the defendant at that time. Later, Doucette asked to go outside and smoke a cigarette. Sergeant Yanovitch accompanied him. While outside, Sergeant Yanovitch again observed the defendant walk by the apartment while talking to himself. The defendant stopped and asked Doucette for a cigarette. Sergeant Yanovitch told the defendant to move along, but otherwise had no interaction with him.

         At the time of dispatch to the victim's apartment, Boston police Officer Shawn Roberts was on patrol with his partner in a marked police cruiser. Officer Roberts recognized the address as one that he had previously responded to some months earlier for a report of a broken window. He was also aware of a number of incident reports related to that address, most of which were for domestic violence incidents between the victim and a man named Randall Tremblay. When Officer Roberts received the full notification from Sergeant Yanovitch, he looked up Tremblay and discovered that there was an active restraining order against Tremblay requiring him to stay away from the victim's apartment, as well as an active arrest warrant against Tremblay for failing to register as a sex offender. He also obtained a photograph of Tremblay. Officer Roberts contacted Sergeant Yanovitch and informed him of the previous domestic violence incidents between the victim and Tremblay and the active restraining order. Shortly thereafter, Sergeant Yanovitch radioed Officer Roberts and asked him to come to the scene to determine if Doucette, who did not have identification, was the person whom Officer Roberts had radioed him about. Officer Roberts arrived on scene and told Sergeant Yanovitch that Doucette was not Tremblay; Officer Roberts then left.

         Later, around 3:40 A.M., Sergeant Yanovitch was inside the apartment when he heard loud yelling coming from the street outside. He went outside and discovered the defendant, who was yelling things like, "What's going on in there? I know what happened, " and "She was my friend." The defendant approached Sergeant Yanovitch and asked him what was happening in the apartment and repeated that "she was [his] friend." Sergeant Yanovitch asked for the defendant's name, who replied, "What, are you going to run me?" Because the defendant had just suggested that he knew the victim and may have information about her death, Sergeant Yanovitch radioed Officer Roberts to return to the scene. Officer Roberts returned and informed Sergeant Yanovitch that the defendant was Randall Tremblay, and that he had an active arrest warrant. Officer Roberts placed the defendant under arrest and advised him of his Miranda rights.[5]

         2. Unrecorded custodial interrogation.

         Officer Roberts and his partner brought the defendant to police headquarters to be interviewed. Beginning at around 4:00 A.M., Sergeant Detective Michael Stratton interviewed the defendant in an interview room. Sergeant Detective Stratton believed that the interview was being recorded, but the recording equipment was inadvertently turned on for a different interview room. As a result, the interview was not recorded.[6] However, Officer Roberts was able to observe and listen to the interview on the recording system's monitor outside the interview room.

         Sergeant Detective Stratton began the interview by explaining that the interview would be recorded and advising the defendant of his Miranda rights. The defendant was shown a form with each right listed, and the detective went over each right with the defendant. The defendant signed his initials next to each right, and indicated that he understood it. He also signed and printed his name at the bottom of the form.

         During the course of the interview, the defendant made statements implicating himself in the victim's death. He stated that two days previously he had been with the victim at her apartment when they got into an argument around 9:00 P..M. The defendant stated that he struck the victim in the head twelve to fifteen times, that "she got it good, " and that "I think I killed her." After he struck the victim, she lay on the couch, not moving, with blood on her face. The defendant fell asleep, and woke up early the next morning to find the victim had not moved. He believed he had killed her.

          The defendant told Sergeant Detective Stratton that he then left the apartment and took a train to meet his friend, Doucette. He told Doucette, "I think I killed [the victim], " and asked Doucette to return with him to the victim's apartment to check. Before they did so, they purchased beer, drank some together, and met with Finley. The three returned to the victim's apartment, where Doucette confirmed that the victim was deceased. They remained in the apartment and drank another beer while the defendant cleaned up. The defendant stated that he "mopped up some big puddles of blood in the apartment and took out some trash." Finley then called 911 to report that the victim was deceased. Doucette told the defendant that he should leave the apartment because the victim had an active restraining order against him, so he left the apartment and waited around the corner.

         After he concluded the interview and left the room, Sergeant Detective Stratton learned of the error with the recording equipment. He returned to the interview room and explained to the defendant that the interview had accidently not been recorded, and asked the defendant if he was willing to do another interview. The defendant agreed, asking if he could have a cigarette first.

         3. Recorded ...

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