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Rhynes v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

August 5, 2019



         Following a jury trial, Gregory Adrian Rhynes appeals his conviction for the malice murder of Michael Holmes, contending that the trial court erred by partially denying his motion to suppress all statements he made to police during an interview on December 11, 2015.[1] For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         1. In the light most favorable to the verdict, the record shows that, at approximately 8:00 a.m. on December 9, 2015, David Foreman was helping his cousin, Holmes, move out of his apartment. As the two were packing Holmes's belongings into Foreman's vehicle, Rhynes approached them from around the side of an adjacent apartment building. Rhynes asked, "What's up now, ni**er?" and began shooting at Holmes. Foreman initially fled, but returned shortly after the shooting ended. Holmes was shot eight times, and later died from his wounds. Fifteen .40-caliber shell casings were found at the scene. In addition, a digital scale and a cell phone were found on the ground in the same area between apartment buildings from which the shooter initially emerged. A search of the phone's contents produced both a photograph of Rhynes and a phone number listed as "Mama." That phone number belonged to Rhynes's mother, whom the recovered phone had been used to call on the day that Holmes was shot. On the day following the shooting, Foreman identified Rhynes as the shooter from a photographic lineup. During a subsequent search of Rhynes's residence, law enforcement discovered a pair of sneakers with a blood stain on top of them. Subsequent testing showed that Holmes's blood was on the sneakers. Rhynes's DNA was also found inside the sneakers.

         This evidence was sufficient to enable the jurors to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that Rhynes was guilty of malice murder.[2] Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. Before trial, Rhynes filed a motion to suppress all statements he made in a video-recorded interview with police on December 11, 2015, contending that his Miranda[3] rights had been violated during questioning. Specifically, Rhynes argues that he was in custody from the moment that the interview began and that he should have been advised of his Miranda rights immediately. We disagree.

"'In reviewing a ruling on the admissibility of a defendant's statements where the facts are disputed, we accept the trial court's factual findings and credibility determinations unless they are clearly erroneous, but we independently apply the law to the facts.'" (Citation omitted.) Teasley v. State, 293 Ga. 758, 762 (3) (749 S.E.2d 710) (2013). . . . [In addition, ] the reviewing court may "consider facts that definitively can be ascertained exclusively by reference to evidence that is uncontradicted and presents no questions of credibility, such as facts indisputably discernible from a videotape." (Punctuation and citation omitted.) State v. Allen, 298 Ga. 1, 2 (1) (a) (779 S.E.2d 248) (2015). On the other hand, to the extent that legally significant facts were proved by evidence other than the video recording, the trial court as fact-finder was entitled to determine the credibility and weight of that other evidence. See State v. Chulpayev, 296 Ga. 764, 771 (2), n. 5 (770 S.E.2d 808) (2015).

State v. Abbott, 303 Ga. 297, 299 (1) (812 S.E.2d 225) (2018).

In general,
Miranda warnings are required when a person is (1) formally arrested or (2) restrained to the degree associated with a formal arrest. Unless a reasonable person in the suspect's situation would perceive that he was in custody, Miranda warnings are not necessary.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Freeman v. State, 295 Ga. 820, 822-823 (764 S.E.2d 390) (2014). The decisive factor in this case is the point at which a reasonable person in Rhynes's situation would have perceived he was in custody.

         With regard to Rhynes's interview, the trial court found the following pertinent facts based on evidence presented at a Jackson-

         Denno[4] hearing:

Det. Baker testified that, after he contacted Deborah Grant, [Rhynes's] mother, on December 10, 2015, he asked her for [Rhynes's] phone number. Grant declined to give Det. Baker her son's contact information, but said she would give her son Det. Baker's phone number. A few minutes later, [Rhynes] called police headquarters and spoke to Det. Allison Nichols. Det. Nichols asked [Rhynes] to come to the station to talk; at some point during the conversation, [Rhynes] mentioned that he knew something about a shooting. [Rhynes] arrived at police headquarters on December 11, 2015, having driven himself to the station. He was greeted by Det. Nichols and met Det. Baker in the interview room; both detectives participated in the interview of [Rhynes]. For the first two hours of the interview, the atmosphere was calm and fairly relaxed, despite the fact that the officers repeatedly noted the various inconsistencies in [Rhynes's] statements regarding the status of his cell phone and his activities on the morning of the shooting. [Rhynes] was not handcuffed at this point, and notably, Det. Nichols told [Rhynes] that he would be going home that day. However, at approximately 3:55 pm, around two hours into the recording, the atmosphere grew noticeably more tense as the detectives made [Rhynes] aware of their belief that he was involved in the murder. At 4:05 pm, Det. Nichols told [Rhynes] that, unless he told them he had a reason to shoot the victim, such as self defense, then she and Det. Baker were going to "do what we've got to do." Det. Baker then clarified that "do what we've got to do" meant that [Rhynes] would go to jail. Despite these threats, [Rhynes] was again told at 4:19 pm that he would be going home. However, after the detectives consulted with other officers, [Rhynes] was advised of his Miranda rights, handcuffed, and formally placed under arrest.

         Based on these findings, the trial court determined that, for purposes of Miranda, Rhynes was not in custody until 4:05 p.m. and was in custody after that point, despite the fact that he was subsequently told that he would be going home that day. As a result, the trial court partially granted Rhynes's motion to suppress, finding that all ...

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