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Tanksley v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

September 19, 2019

TANKSLEY
v.
THE STATE

          DOYLE, P. J., COOMER and MARKLE, JJ.

          Coomer, Judge.

         After a jury trial, Samoney Tanksley, who was 15 years old at the time of the alleged offenses, was convicted of armed robbery, aggravated assault, burglary in the first degree, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. Tanksley filed a motion for new trial, which the trial court denied. On appeal, Tanksley contends that the trial court erred by admitting her statement to law enforcement into evidence because the legal requirements for a juvenile Miranda[1] waiver were not met. We agree and reverse.

         Tanksley's indictment arose from an armed robbery on March 5, 2014. Tanksley's sister, Keoshamine Lydasia Nero, pretended to be sexually interested in the victim to gain entry to his home and, once inside, apparently unlocked the door, allowing four people with a handgun to enter the victim's bedroom, where they forced him into a closet, shot at him, and robbed him.

         On March 7, 2014, an investigator with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office interviewed one of Tanksley's co-defendants, Daeshun Ellis, who implicated Tanksley in the March 5 armed robbery. Tanksley was already at the Richmond County Sheriff's Office because she had been brought in for questioning as a potential witness for an unrelated crime, the murder of her cousin. After interviewing Ellis, the investigator questioned Tanksley about the March 5 armed robbery. During the interview, Tanksley implicated herself in the armed robbery.

         Tanksley was indicted and charged with armed robbery, aggravated assault, burglary in the first degree, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. Before trial, the court conducted a Jackson-Denno[2] hearing. After reviewing the video of Tanksley's statement to the investigator, the trial court found that her statement was admissible. The trial court found "from a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was advised of each of her Miranda rights, that she understood them, that she voluntarily waived them, and that she thereafter gave her statement freely and voluntarily without hope of benefit or fear of injury."

         A jury found Tanksley guilty on all charges. Tanksley filed a timely motion for new trial, which the trial court denied. This appeal followed.

         In her sole enumeration, Tanksley contends that the trial court erred by admitting her statement to law enforcement into evidence because the legal requirements for a juvenile waiver were not met.[3] We agree.

Under Georgia law, only voluntary incriminating statements are admissible against the accused at trial. When not made freely and voluntarily, a confession is presumed to be legally false and cannot be the underlying basis of a conviction. To make a confession admissible, it must have been made voluntarily, i.e., without being induced by another by the slightest hope of benefit or remotest fear of injury. The State bears the burden of demonstrating the voluntariness of a confession by a preponderance of the evidence.
. . .
Confessions of juveniles must be scanned with more care and received with greater caution than those of adults. The question of a voluntary and knowing waiver depends on the totality of the circumstances, and the State has a heavy burden in showing that the juvenile did understand and waive [her] rights.

Swain v. State, 285 Ga.App. 550, 551-552 (647 S.E.2d 88) (2007) (citations and punctuation omitted).

         "Unless clearly erroneous, a trial court's factual and credibility determinations related to the admissibility of a confession will be upheld on appeal." State v. Roberts, 273 Ga. 514, 514 (1) (543 S.E.2d 725) (2001) (citation omitted), overruled on other grounds by Vergara v. State, 283 Ga. 175, 178 (1) (657 S.E.2d 863) (2008). In this case, the relevant facts are undisputed. The only person who testified at the Jackson-Denno hearing about Tanksley's interview was the investigator who conducted the interview. A recording of Tanksley's interview was admitted into evidence at the Jackson-Denno hearing, and counsel consented to the trial court reviewing the video after the hearing. The recording of the interview is demonstrative, objective proof of the circumstances surrounding Tanksley's statement. Roberts, 273 Ga. at 514-515 (1). Therefore, the question to be resolved is whether the trial court erred in its legal conclusion that, based upon this undisputed evidence, Tanksley's statement was admissible. Id. at 515 (1). "In resolving this issue, it is the duty of this Court to independently review the evidence to determine whether the State has carried its burden of proving the admissibility of [Tanksley's statement] by a preponderance of the evidence." Id. at 515 (1) (citations and punctuation omitted). Accordingly, we have considered the transcript of the Jackson-Denno hearing and have viewed the video of the interrogation itself. Id. at 515 (1).

         This Court must consider the following factors in determining whether a juvenile's custodial statement ...


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