We have all seen on television shows like “Elementary” the scene in the police interview room where the detective interrogates a suspect, only a few of whom seem to think of refusing to talk and asking for a lawyer. The first round of appeals in the Norwood case, involving the Bethesda murder of a co-worker where the defendant then claimed she was also a victim, addresses when in the interrogation process the accused must be given her Miranda warnings that her statements may be used against her and she has the right to counsel.
The sensational and much reported facts of the case involved a violent encounter at a Bethesda store, which resulted in the defendant lying on the floor apparently tied up near the body of her co-worker. The victim had been stabbed 331 times, and the defendant claimed two assailants had assaulted them and robbed the store. After interviewing the defendant four times and investigating other evidence, the police concluded that Norwood had killed the victim, altered the scene to try to cover her tracks and tied herself up to support her story. A Montgomery County jury convicted Norwood of first degree murder and she was sentenced to life without parole.
On appeal, the defense attorneys challenged the admission of a video of a March 16 interview with the police and part of a March 18 interview. During those encounters with the police no Miranda warnings were given to Norwood. Those warnings must be given when the defendant 1) is in police custody and 2) subject to interrogation. One of the issues in this case was at what point Norwood was “in custody” so as to require that her Miranda rights be read to her, which the courts have said is determined by reviewing the totality of the circumstances.
The Court of Special Appeals reviewed the video and transcript of the March 16 police, interview agreed with the trial judge that the defendant was not in custody during that visit to police headquarters. It noted that Norwood appeared voluntarily along with her two siblings. She spoke to the police casually and in a calm and friendly manner. The doors to the interview room were open, and she was allowed to use the rest room and could have left at any time. At the end of the interview she was allowed to leave with her sibling. The March 18 interview occurred at Norwood’s request, because she advised the police there was additional information she wanted to provide. The Court agreed that it was only near the end of that session when she appeared uncomfortable, and when asked to leave was told she could probably leave in a few minutes, that she was in custody and Miranda warnings should have been given.