January 9, 2017
State of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Respondent
Nathaniel Showalter, Defendant Below, Petitioner
Nathaniel Showalter, by counsel Ward Morgan, appeals the June
12, 2015, order of the Circuit Court of Mercer County denying
petitioner's motion to suppress his confession to the
police first-degree robbery. Respondent State of West
Virginia, by counsel Zachary Aaron Viglianco, filed a
response in support of the circuit court's order.
Petitioner filed a reply. On appeal, petitioner alleges that
the circuit court erred in denying his motion to suppress his
Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record
on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately
presented, and the decisional process would not be
significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of
the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented,
the Court finds no substantial question of law and no
prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision
is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate
of 2014, petitioner was arrested for possession of a
controlled substance with intent to deliver. The magistrate
court set petitioner's bond in the amount of $10,
000.00. Unable to post bond, petitioner was remanded to
the Southern Regional Jail. While being held on only the
possession charge, Detective Adams of the Bluefield Police
Department interviewed petitioner regarding an unrelated bank
robbery. Prior to the interview, Det. Adams thoroughly
explained petitioner's rights to him pursuant to
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16
L.E.2d 694 (1966). Subsequently, petitioner signed a
Miranda rights waiver form prior to giving a
recorded statement to Det. Adams wherein he confessed to the
bank robbery of First Community Bank.
February of 2015, a Mercer County grand jury indicted
petitioner on one count of first-degree robbery and the
unrelated count of delivery of a controlled substance.
filed a motion to suppress his statement regarding the bank
robbery to Det. Adams. On June 11, 2015, the circuit court
held a hearing on the motion to suppress. Det. Adams'
testimony revealed that he Mirandized petitioner and that
petitioner signed a Miranda rights waiver form prior
to giving his statement; that Det. Adams advised petitioner
that he did not have to speak to him; and that
petitioner's statement corroborated facts of the robbery,
including his description of the pellet gun used during the
commission of the offense, the black clothing worn, and the
direction in which he fled following the crime. On
cross-examination, Det. Adams admitted that petitioner did
not, at the time of the confession, have an attorney
appointed to represent him on the robbery charge, but that
petitioner was instructed prior to the interview that he
could speak to an attorney. Det. Adams also acknowledged that
despite the fact that the DNA test results had yet to be
completed, certain DNA evidence linked petitioner to the
robbery. Thereafter, petitioner testified that while he
confessed to the robbery, his confession was coached, that
Det. Adams promised to get his drug charge dismissed, that he
would be placed in the Anthony Center following sentencing,
and threatened to "jail" everyone in
petitioner's grandmother's home. After considering
the testimony, the circuit court denied petitioner's
motion to suppress his confession finding that he was
properly Mirandized prior to giving his confession to Det.
Adams, and "that the confession was voluntary and not
the product of duress or coercion by law enforcement."
The circuit court further found petitioner's testimony
regarding Det. Adams' alleged promise to get
petitioner's drug charge dismissed or to have him placed
at the Anthony Center to be "incredible." The
circuit court also appropriately considered and rejected
petitioner's stance that his low intelligence affected
his ability to provide a voluntary statement.
a two-day jury trial, petitioner was convicted of one count
of first-degree robbery. Subsequently, the circuit court
sentenced petitioner to a term of incarceration of sixty
years. Petitioner filed a Motion for Reduction of Sentence
pursuant to Rule 35(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Criminal
Procedure arguing that he should receive an alternative
sentence. Ultimately, the circuit court denied
petitioner's motion by order entered on December 29,
2015. This appeal followed.
appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in
denying his motion to suppress his statement to Det. Adams
because it was obtained through the use of threats and
implied promises of leniency as noted during his testimony at
Court has held as follows:
"When reviewing a ruling on a motion to suppress, an
appellate court should construe all facts in the light most
favorable to the State, as it was the prevailing party below.
Because of the highly fact-specific nature of a motion to
suppress, particular deference is given to the findings of
the circuit court because it had the opportunity to observe
the witnesses and to hear testimony on the issues. Therefore,
the circuit court's factual findings are reviewed for
Syllabus point 1, State v. Lacy, 196 W.Va. 104, 468
S.E.2d 719 (1996).
Syl. Pt. 13, State v. White, 228 W.Va. 530, 722
S.E.2d 566 (2011). Moreover,
[b]y employing a two-tier standard, we first review a circuit
court's findings of fact when ruling on a motion to
suppress evidence under the clearly erroneous standard.
Second, we review de novo questions of law and the
circuit court's ultimate conclusion as to the
constitutionality of the law enforcement action. Under the
clearly erroneous standard, a circuit court's decision
ordinarily will be affirmed unless it is unsupported by
substantial evidence; based on an erroneous interpretation of
applicable law; or, in light of the entire record, this Court
is left with a firm and definite conviction that a mistake
has been made. See State v. Stuart, 192 W.Va. 428,
452 S.E.2d 886, 891 (1994). When we review the denial of a
motion to suppress, we consider the evidence in the light
most favorable to the prosecution.
State v. Lilly, 194 W.Va. 595, 600, 461 S.E.2d 101,
106 (1995). Upon consideration of the above standard of
review, this Court finds no error in the circuit court's
denial of petitioner's motion to suppress his statement.
Petitioner voluntarily spoke with Det. Adams, and his
confession was not obtained illegally or involuntarily. This
Court has stated that
It is the mandatory duty of a trial court, whether requested
or not, to hear the evidence and determine in the first
instance, out of the presence of the jury, the voluntariness
of an oral or written confession by an accused person prior
to admitting the same into evidence.
Syl. Pt. 2, State v. Black, 227 W.Va. 297, 708
S.E.2d 491 (2010) (internal citations omitted). Moreover,
"[t]he State must prove, at least by a preponderance of
the evidence, that confessions or statements of an accused
which amount to admissions of part or all of an offense were
voluntary before such may be admitted into the evidence of a
criminal case." Syl. Pt. 10, State v.
Keesecker, 222 W.Va. 139, 663 S.E.2d 593 (2008)
(citations omitted). "Whether an extrajudicial
inculpatory statement is voluntary or the result of coercive
police activity is a legal question to be determined from a
review of the totality of the circumstances." Syl. Pt.
4, State v. Jones, 220 W.Va. 214, 640 S.E.2d 564
(2006) (citations omitted).
In examining the totality of the circumstances, a court must
consider a myriad of factors, including the defendant's
age, intelligence, background and experience with the
criminal justice system, the purpose and flagrancy of any
police misconduct, and the length of the interview. State
v. Sugg, 193 W.Va. 388, 456 S.E.2d 469 (1995).
State v. Bradshaw, 193 W.Va. 519, 527, 457 S.E.2d
456, 464 (1995).
present case, it is clear that petitioner's confession
was voluntary and not obtained as a result of coercive police
activity. The interview was only approximately ten minutes
long, conducted by only one officer, and petitioner
affirmatively waived his Miranda rights before
giving the confession which was corroborated by the facts of
the bank robbery including petitioner's description of
the pellet gun, the black clothing he wore, and the direction
in which he fled following the robbery. Furthermore, the
circuit court considered the December 8, 2014, psychological
evaluation which indicated that petitioner had sufficient
mental capacity to "assist in the preparation of his
defense" and did not suffer "from a mental disease
to the extent that he lacked substantial capacity to
appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his
conduct to the requirements of the law."
regard to petitioner's claim that Det. Adams made
promises of leniency in exchange for a confession, this Court
has stated that "[r]epresentations or promises made to a
defendant by one in authority do not necessarily invalidate a
subsequent confession. In determining the voluntariness of a
confession, the trial court must assess the totality of all
the surrounding circumstances. No one factor is
determinative." Syl. Pt. 7, in part, State v.
Farley, 192 W.Va. 247, 452 S.E.2d 50 (1994). After
considering the testimony during the suppression hearing, the
circuit court clearly found that petitioner's testimony
regarding law enforcements promise to dismiss his drug charge
or placement at the Anthony Center to be
"incredible." We have previously held that
"[a] reviewing court cannot assess witness credibility
through a record. The trier of fact is uniquely situated to
make such determinations and this Court is not in a position
to, and will not, second guess such determinations."
Michael D.C. v. Wanda L.C., 201 W.Va. 381, 388, 497
S.E.2d 531, 538 (1997). Indeed, this Court has explained that
"a trial court's credibility determinations are
entitled to special deference." Bartles v.
Hinkle, 196 W.Va. 381, 389, 472 S.E.2d 827, 835 (1996).
Furthermore, the circuit court was aware of the circumstances
in which Det. Adams questioned petitioner, that petitioner
signed a Miranda rights waiver form before giving
his confession, and the brevity of the interview. For these
reasons, we find no error in the denial of the motion to
foregoing reasons, we affirm.
CONCURRED IN BY: Chief Justice Allen H. Loughry II, Justice
Robin Jean Davis, Justice Margaret L. Workman, Justice Menis
E. Ketchum, Justice Elizabeth D. Walker.
evaluation, conducted on December 8, 2014, concluded that
petitioner was "competent to stand trial" and that
he "lacked any mental disease or defect to the extent
that he lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the
criminality of his conduct or conform . . . to the
requirements of the law." A second psychological
evaluation completed on November 23, 2015, concluded that,
while petitioner scored within the "Low Average to
Borderline range of intelligence, " petitioner "did
not reveal any impairment that would impact his competency to
stand trial or criminal responsibility."