When many of us think about our right to remain silent, we think of the things we could say during or after arrest. But there are many people who should exercise their right to silence a little bit more.
In State v. Heiges, it is likely Ms. Samantha Heiges never would have even seen the inside of a courtroom let alone face any charges if she had just kept her mouth shut. Instead, now she has been convicted of second-degree murder for drowning her baby in a bathtub just after it was born. She was sentenced to 299 months (almost 25 years) in prison.
The case, decided almost two weeks ago by the Minnesota Supreme Court, decided a few different issues. However, the most interest one here is whether statements Ms. Heiges made to two friends after the offense constituted confessions.
Back in mid-2004, Ms. Heiges was living in Burnsville, Minnesota with her boyfriend, Erik Matlock, when she realized she was pregnant. The 19-year-old said she had been in an abusive relationship with Matlock, and said at one point Matlock had started punching her in the stomach in an attempt to abort the baby. Even though she said she wanted to keep the baby, Ms. Heiges also made attempts to end her pregnancy by drinking large amounts of alcohol and taking drugs.
The baby was born alive on May 6, 2005 in a bathtub at Ms. Heiges apartment. At the end of the birth, Ms. Heiges said Matlock to her to hold the baby under water and threatened to kill Ms. Heiges and the baby is she refused. She held the baby under water for two minutes until it stopped trying to breathe. She put the baby in a shoe box and said that a couple days later Matlock threw the shoe box down the trash chute in their apartment building. Several days later, Ms. Heiges was so upset she cut her wrists and wrote Sydney (the name she had given the baby) on the walls with blood. Ms. Heiges did not receive medical help for this depression. The couple broke up less than a year later.
Matlock disputed these facts saying Ms. Heiges was the one who was violent toward him, and that he did not know the baby had even been born till after she told him she had killed it. He also said he did not throw the box down the trash chute, saying he did not even know the apartment had a trash chute.
During November 2006, Ms. Heiges moved out of the apartment and began dating A.B. One night, A.B. showed up to Ms. Heiges apartment to find her extremely upset and intoxicated. She told him that she had given birth to a baby, but had drowned it in a bathtub right after it was born. Later, after getting advice from his parents about what he should do, A.B. went to the Burnsville Police Department with her story.
Detective Jeffrey Pfaff took over the case and later contacted Ms. Heiges, who agreed to speak with him at her new apartment. During the interview, Pfaff pretended to sympathize with her and told her he considered her a victim in this case. (This is an excellent example of why you should never speak to the police without a lawyer. They can lie to you to get a confession.) She related the entire story to Pfaff almost exactly as she had to A.B.
Pfaff continued to investigate after speaking with Ms. Heiges three different times. He spoke with several of her friends and colleagues during this investigation, all of whom she has discussed her pregnancy and/or the baby with. She told her colleague that she had given birth, but that Matlock had caused the baby’s death. Ms. Heiges had told another classmate that she had miscarried and the classmate said she had seen bruises on Ms. Heiges body. Another friend testified that she saw Matlock throwing things at her.
She told another friend, R.C., about her efforts to abort the pregnancy and said if those efforts did not work, she was going to deliver the baby at a cabin in northern Minnesota, kill it and bury it in the woods. R.C. also testified that Ms. Heiges called him after she had given birth to tell him that she had drowned the baby and put it in a shoebox.
On appeal, the Minnesota Supreme Court had to decide whether Ms. Heiges’ postoffense, preinvestigation statements to A.B. and R.B. constituted confessions under Minnesota Statute Section 634.03. First, the court defined a confession as “a statement made after the commission of the offense in which the defendant implicitly or explicitly acknowledges guilt.”
The court held that because the statute says a person may confess to a private person and because the term confession has been interpreted to mean any statement where the defendant confesses guilt, the statements Ms. Heiges made to A.B. and R.B. were confessions because they were after she committed the act.
The laws may protect certain privacies between relationships such as conversations between husband and wife or attorney and client, but does not acknowledge any sort of privacy among friendships. Ms. Heiges was clearly in an abusive relationship and a difficult situation. Even though she merely wanted to confide in friends and was tricked into a confession by a police officer who she thought was on her side, she could have avoided this entire situation by exercising her right to remain silent and contacting a defense attorney instead.
By Kari Wilberg
Landon J. Ascheman, Esq.
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