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Case Number: 2021-ca-0084
Court: Court of Appeals of Kentucky on appeal from the Jefferson County Circuit Court
Plaintiff's Attorney: Kentucky Attorney General's Office
Description: Louisville, Kentucky criminal defense lawyer represented Defendant charged with first-degree manslaughter.
Tavion Miley has directly appealed from the judgment of the Jefferson Circuit Court finding him guilty of first-degree manslaughter and first-degree robbery, and sentencing him to 18 years' imprisonment. On appeal, Miley challenges the orders denying his motion to suppress statements he made during an interrogation and transferring him to circuit court to be tried as a youthful offender pursuant to Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS) 635.020(2) and KRS 640.010(2). We affirm.
On the night of July 24, 2017, Miley, who was 17 years old, and several other juveniles robbed and beat Lonnie Baird to death in an alley. A cell phone was stolen during the incident, and it was recovered in Miley's possession two days later. The Uniform Citation completed by Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) Detective Micah Cohn originally charged Miley with murder and three counts of first-degree robbery and set forth the following factual basis for the charges:
Subject was present and participated in an assault on an elderly victim with injuries that caused his death. Subject took the victim's cell phone and continued to use it after his death. Subject gave a Mirandized statement admitting to his actions. Subject was also present for additional robberies/assaults in the same area, near the same time.
This case originated in the district court as a juvenile action (No. 15-J-700955-007) because Miley was a minor at the time of the offense. On February 26, 2018, the juvenile court held the first of two hearings to determine whether Miley should be transferred to the circuit court as a juvenile offender to be tried as an adult. The first hearing addressed whether probable cause existed to support the charges of robbery and murder. Detective Cohn testified first. In the course of his
investigation of the victim's death, he had identified seven juvenile suspects. A cell phone had been stolen during the incident, and it was recovered in Miley's possession two days later. Miley was taken into custody, and he confessed to his involvement with the beating and robbery during an interview with Detective Cohn. Miley named the six other subjects with him and described that they had met at the liquor store and discussed robbing people. They saw the victim standing at the corner, and all seven juveniles assaulted him. Miley admitted that he struck the victim with his fist on his head and arm and that he took the cell phone. During the interview, Miley admitted the cell phone he had in his possession belonged to the victim. Detective Cohn interviewed two other juveniles who had been involved in the incident, and one corroborated Miley's account. Miley was arrested around 10:00 p.m. on July 26, and he was taken to headquarters to be interviewed. Miley did not request an attorney or to contact his parents. Miley did not appear to be confused as to why he was arrested, and although he initially denied being involved in the incident, he eventually confessed. Detective Cohn was not aware of Miley's mental health history, and he did not know if Miley had taken any medication or drugs, or had consumed any alcohol that night.
Miley did not call any witnesses, and the parties then argued their respective positions. Miley argued that while the competency evaluation in the juvenile file showed that he was competent, the report indicated that Miley had
serious cognitive limitations and mental health issues. This would go to whether he was easily influenced or threatened in order to say what the detective wanted to hear. There was no forensic evidence, video recordings, or neutral witnesses to establish any proof of Miley's involvement. Only statements made by Miley and an adult with the same charge provided support for the charges. The Commonwealth argued that probable cause existed to believe that Miley caused the victim's death based on the cell phone in his possession. There was no reason for the detective not to believe what Miley told him about his participation in the assault on and robbery of the victim. The juvenile court ruled that the information provided, including the cell phone ping, established probable cause for robbery and murder.
On March 26, 2018, the juvenile court held the second of the two transfer hearings to hear evidence concerning the eight statutory factors pursuant to KRS 640.010(2)(b). By that time, Miley had turned 18 years old. Amanda Leo testified for the Commonwealth. She is a juvenile probation officer for the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), and she began working with Miley in January 2018. She testified about Miley's prior juvenile record. He had been committed to the DJJ on a charge of second-degree robbery in May 2017, and he was placed at a youth development center about three hours away from Jefferson County in June 2017. Miley went absent without leave (AWOL) with a peer on July 20, 2017, after stealing a nurse's car. They returned to Louisville in the car, after which Miley assaulted the person with whom he escaped.
At the conclusion of the testimony, counsel for Miley introduced certified copies of his records obtained from the DJJ, Our Lady of Peace, and Uspiritus to establish Miley's cognitive deficits and mental health issues. Counsel then discussed the statutory factors in KRS 635.020 and argued that the issue was Miley's mental health history. He had been hospitalized three times for psychiatric issues and placed in a treatment facility rather than with a foster home when he came under the child protective services due to his mental health problems. Counsel went on to address Miley's early life with his mother, where he had experienced neglect and abuse. He had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and behavioral disorders. His cognitive skills were borderline based on the evaluation. Based on this, counsel asked the court to deny transfer. The resources available to the juvenile court were sufficient to rehabilitate and punish Miley. There had been very little determination of what the level of culpability between the juveniles was or that Miley's conduct caused the victim's death, noting Miley's short height and light weight, and the lack of weapons used in the assault.
The Commonwealth argued that seven of the eight factors supported transfer. It noted the juvenile court had already found probable cause to support the charges (against a person, the most serious offense); Miley had reached the age of 18, meaning the DJJ's resources had been exhausted and there was no reasonable likelihood of rehabilitation if he remained in juvenile court; his prior record included second-degree robbery when he beat the victim; his acts indicated that he would engage in these acts in the community; and it was in the best interest that he be tried as an adult so that the public would be aware of what he had done. There was no evidence of gang activity, although a large group had engaged in this behavior that led to the victim's death.
In orally ruling on whether transfer would be appropriate, the juvenile court considered the maturity of the child factor, which included not only the child's age but environmental factors. The court recognized that Miley suffered from mental health issues and lower cognitive abilities. The court also considered records of Miley's schooling. The May 22, 2017, predisposition report included an interview with Miley's father, in which he reported that Miley refused to follow rules and jumped out of a second-floor window because he did not want to do his chores. He went to stay with his aunt for a "new start" but on the first day with her, he stole money from his grandfather as well as his aunt's car and drove back to Louisville. His father reported that he often did not know where Miley was, and he
was concerned that he would eventually be killed or kill someone. His father believed Miley needed an intervention to save him from the streets. This was two months prior to the incident leading to the victim's death. The court did not find enough to offset the factors favoring transfer, and it therefore transferred the case to circuit court to be heard by the grand jury.
After the hearing, the juvenile court entered an order memorializing its oral ruling on the eight factors, finding that six of the eight factors favored transfer. Regarding Miley's maturity, the court noted that he had reached the age of 18 but struggled with a low IQ, and it deemed that factor to be a "wash." And there was no evidence of gang participation. Based upon these findings as well as a finding of probable cause that Miley committed the offenses, the juvenile court transferred Miley to the circuit court in an order entered March 26, 2018.
In May 2018, the Jefferson County grand jury indicted Miley on charges of murder (complicity) pursuant to KRS 507.020 and KRS 502.020, and first-degree robbery (complicity) pursuant to KRS 515.020 and KRS 502.020. At his arraignment, Miley entered a plea of not guilty.
In July 2019, Miley, through his retained counsel, moved the court to suppress his statements, admissions, and confessions made during his interrogation by police, and he requested a hearing. He argued that he suffered from "serious mental cognitive functioning disabilities that made him more susceptible to the
overly coercive interrogation techniques utilized by police[.]" This, he asserted, violated his constitutional rights and made his statements involuntary. In addition, Miley argued that his statements were obtained in violation of his rights protected by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966).
The court held a suppression hearing on July 19, 2019. Detective Cohn testified first. He is a detective assigned to the Homicide Department of the LMPD, and he was the lead detective for this case. Regarding his investigation, Detective Cohn explained that officers determined where the victim's cell phone was and set up surveillance. Miley and two other individuals were seen getting into a vehicle and driving away from that location. Officers then performed a traffic stop and found Miley sitting in the vehicle with the cell phone on his lap. Detective Cohn went to the area to determine whether the cell phone belonged to the victim. All three occupants of the vehicle were taken to headquarters, where they were interviewed. Miley said that the cell phone belonged to him prior to the start of the interview. Miley told him that his name was Tavion Murphy and that he had a different birthday. He signed, as Tavion Murphy, a waiver of his Miranda rights, which was introduced as an exhibit. Detective Cohn read the waiver to Miley, and he signed it before the interview began. A recording of clips from the interview was also introduced. The video of the interview established that Miley was read both his Miranda rights and the portion detailing the waiver of his rights.
After signing the waiver, Miley unlocked the cell phone at Detective Cohn's request and told him what happened the night of incident. During his response, Detective Cohn testified that Miley appeared to be sober, calm, and communicative. He did note Miley's "calculated deception" as to his identity and who was in the vehicle. This showed Miley was smart enough be able to "configure" things how he wanted. Detective Cohn thought Miley understood the questions he was asking and the gravity of the situation. Examples of Miley's deception included giving a fictitious last name (which he signed on the Miranda waiver), a false date of birth, and a false residence; and stating that he did not know his social security number, that he did not know his cell phone number (because he had recently gotten it), and that his father was in the vehicle with him. He denied having escaped from a boot camp, despite a warrant being out due to his escape from one. Miley was street smart enough to think he could deceive the detective so that he could get out of the situation. Miley was arrested on a commissioner's warrant for his escape. Miley's description of the victim and the area was consistent with what Detective Cohn knew from the investigation. He did not ask any questions to Miley that he did not appear to understand. He received logical answers from Miley. Detective Cohn did not have any concerns about Miley's cognitive or mental functioning.
Detective Cohn reviewed Miley's Miranda waiver files in several juvenile cases, and the four forms included information about his right to remain silent that were checked. The forms were dated from January 2016, January 2017, March 2017, and May 2017. These were all prior to the date that he interviewed Miley for the present case. During the interview, Miley did not act like a novice to the criminal justice system. He denied that any other agent of the Commonwealth or law enforcement had made any threats, engaged in any coercive activity, or intimidation as to Miley with regard to his statement.
On cross-examination, Detective Cohn admitted that approximately two hours elapsed between the time of the arrest and the time Miley signed the Miranda waiver. Miley communicated effectively and understood what was going on. Detective Cohn stated that he had not been trained to interrogate juveniles in a different manner from adults but that he was certified as a child forensic interviewer. He did not have a standardized approach for interviewing a juvenile as opposed to an adult. He had not reviewed Miley's competency and responsibility reports filed in the juvenile action. He did not have any information about Miley's IQ or educational background.
On redirect examination, Detective Cohn confirmed that during the time Miley sat in the interrogation room prior to his interview, he was not deliberately denied food or water, or the ability to sleep. The room temperature was not uncomfortable, and Miley had a chair. He had no cause for concern about Miley's cognitive functioning; the detective testified that, in his opinion, Miley understood what was going on.
During Detective Cohn's testimony, the court, with the agreement of the parties, opted to consider the case under the assumption that Miley was in custody at the time of the interrogation. The court raised a question about whether a parent should have been called based upon a recent newspaper article about a Marshall County school shooting. Detective Cohn responded that at the time he went over the waiver with Miley, Miley had given him a last name of Murphy and told him that one of the two other people in the vehicle with him had been his father.
Miley testified in his defense. He was 19 years old at the time of the hearing and had been 17 years old on the day he was arrested. Miley testified about the vehicle stop, stating that more than two officers were present. He said he was handcuffed when he was taken from the vehicle. He did not recall talking with Detective Cohn at the scene. Detective Cohn did not ask him if he would agree to go to the station; rather, he said the detective said, "we know who you are" and knew that he had run away from the boot camp. He did not agree to go to the station that night. He admitted he gave the officer a false name that night. He used that name because it was his father's last name.
Miley testified that the other individuals in the car with him the night he was arrested were Anthony Mucker and Mucker's father, whose first name is also Anthony. He did not remember telling any of the officers that his own father was in the vehicle with him. He had been drinking alcohol the whole day and had also been smoking marijuana. He stopped drinking and smoking when he got into the vehicle with the Muckers; he did not recall how much time passed before they were stopped. He did not tell any officers that he had been drinking and smoking, and no one asked him if he had.
Miley said he asked for food the evening of his interview; the detective said he would look for something but never brought him food. None of the officers offered to contact his parents or to allow him to contact his parents at any time. After he signed the waiver, the detective did not offer to call his parents or allow him to do so. No other officer had discussed his constitutional rights with him. Miley eventually gave the detective his real name and date of birth. He did not provide his father's address because he did not know where he was living.
Regarding his education, Miley stated that he was in special education classes in middle school to help with his reading and that he had failed 3rd and 9th grades. The last grade of school he attended was 9th grade. He never attended any other school, and he never obtained a General Educational Development diploma (GED). Miley went on to testify that he had been in foster care for three years before coming to Louisville in 2008 to live with his father. He had been physically and sexually abused while living with his mother; his mother and her boyfriend physically abused him, and the boyfriend sexually abused him. He had been removed by child protective services. Miley had seen a psychiatrist for several years until he was 14 or 15 years old, and he was prescribed medication. He had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and something else he could not remember. He had been hospitalized at Our Lady of Peace at the age of 15; he did not remember what this was for. He began smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol when he was 15 years old. At the time he was arrested, Miley stated he had been homeless since he ran away from boot camp. He had been at the camp for a couple of months due to a prior juvenile case. Prior to that, he had been living with his father.
On cross-examination, the Commonwealth addressed Miley's credibility, including statements Miley made about his date of birth, the identity of his father and where his father lived, his escape from boot camp, and how he got the phone. Miley had been able to describe what happened that night, both before and after the incident with the victim. Based upon his guilty pleas in the earlier juvenile actions, he was aware of his right to remain silent. He admitted that he was able to read and write.
In a bench conference, Miley's counsel explained that Miley had deficits in his intelligence that affected his ability to understand and intelligently and voluntarily waive his constitutional rights. Miley's competency report from the juvenile action was later filed under seal.
After the hearing, the Commonwealth filed a response to the motion to suppress. It argued that Detective Cohn had read Miley the Miranda warning before he began questioning him, that Miley's statements were voluntary and not the product of coercion, and that Miley appeared rational and understood the situation. It also argued that parental and court-designated worker notification under KRS 610.200 and/or KRS 610.220 was a factor to consider when determining the voluntariness of the statement. The Commonwealth went on to attack Miley's credibility, noting that he provided false information to the officer, including his name.
In an order entered September 17, 2019, the circuit court denied Miley's motion to suppress. It made the following findings:
1. This does appear to have been a custodial interrogation.
2. Mr. Miley was informed of his Miranda rights in suitable detail. Furthermore, there is reason to believe,
based on Defendant's prior interactions with law enforcement, that he was already familiar with his rights.
3. The conduct of the interrogating officer was not coercive as that term has been developed in Kentucky and federal due process jurisprudence.
4. Based on the totality of the circumstances, Defendant did not appear to be impaired - either by reason of lack of cognitive abilities (he was able to formulate a planned deception regarding his identity) or secondary to substance abuse (based on his demeanor and speech while being interrogated - which seemed comparable to his demeanor while being examined by attorney at the hearing).
5. Based on the totality of the circumstances, Defendant's youth, in and of itself, does not support suppression of his statement. He was a worldly 17-year-old at the time.
6. Kentucky common law appears to support the Commonwealth's position on this motion. Taylor v. Comm., 276 S.W.3d 800 (Ky. 2008).
The matter proceeded to a jury trial in October 2019. The jury was instructed that it could find Miley guilty of murder (complicity), first-degree manslaughter (complicity), second-degree manslaughter (complicity), or reckless homicide (complicity), and/or first-degree robbery (complicity). The jury returned guilty verdicts under the instructions for first-degree manslaughter and first-degree robbery. Following the penalty phase, the jury recommended 18-year sentences for both convictions, to be served concurrently. The circuit court entered a
judgment of conviction and sentence in accordance with the jury's recommendation on February 19, 2020. This belated appeal now follows.
On appeal, Miley seeks review of the orders denying his motion to suppress and transferring him to the circuit court as a youthful offender. The Commonwealth disputes that Miley is entitled to relief on either argument.
Miley v. Commonwealth (Ky. Ct. App. 2022)