City woman's murder conviction overturned by state's top court

Police should have given Miranda warnings before questioning her, judges say

May 06, 2011|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

The state's highest court erased Friday the first-degree murder conviction and life sentence of a Baltimore woman accused in the 2007 fatal shooting of her boyfriend, ruling that city police violated her constitutional rights.

Investigators should have advised Juanita Marie Robinson, now 31, of her Miranda rights — the well-known warnings that begin with, "You have the right to remain silent" — before her second and third statements about the killing of Andre McBride, the justices decided.

The Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that she was in custody at the time and was not given the warnings until after she made her first two statements.

McBride's death marked the second time that Robinson had been accused of killing someone. In 2004, Robinson pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing death of her twin sister's boyfriend, Derrick Colbert, 16. She was not sent to prison but was placed on probation after the victim's mother asked for leniency. Robinson said Colbert had been abusive.

In the 2007 case, she told police at the scene that she and McBride, 21, had been arguing all day, and then she heard shots, according to the court opinion. That statement would be admissible in a retrial.

But immediately after speaking to an officer, the judges said, Robinsonwas put in a police car, had her hands tested for gunshot residue, was driven to the homicide unit and then kept in a holding cell for five hours. The court ruled that she had no reason to think she was free to leave when she was questioned in an interview room. In that statement, she said she opened a door to leave the house and shots came through.

The judges said detectives used a question-first-and-warn-later approach, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled is illegal. Five weeks after McBride's death, she was arrested and given her Miranda warnings. Afterward, a detective recounted details from her second statement to her, and she agreed to them, giving a similar statement, according to the ruling.

Prosecutors will study the opinion before deciding what their next step will be, said Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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