Talk Nice, Think Mean, Be a Hero for Someone

by | June 29, 2023

United States v. Jackson, 2023 WL 4038128 (7th Cir. 2023)

There are so many heroes among the ranks of America’s law enforcement officers. St. Joseph County (IN) Police Department Detective Phillip Williams is one I’ve never met. He’s a hero to Jane Doe and to me.

After Jane Doe’s father went to prison for child molesting, she was raised by her mother and grandparents. Doe often felt alone. When Doe was a teenager, her sister introduced her to Khalil M. Jackson. Knowing Doe was a survivor of sexual assault, Jackson assured Doe she was “his best friend,” and promised he would “protect” her and was “never going to let anybody touch” her again. Jackson pursued a relationship with Doe and eventually helped her run away from home.

When Doe was still a minor, Jackson coaxed her into prostitution for his benefit, picking up customers at gas stations and truck stops and in driveways, then taking them to apartments, houses and hotel rooms as arranged by Jackson. Jackson posted over 400 online advertisements for men to have sex with Doe, using nude photos of Doe and a video of Jackson sexually abusing her. Jackson eventually transported Doe across state lines for multiple paid sexual encounters.

Doe tried to run away, but Jackson always caught her. Jackson destroyed her cell phone and prevented Doe from contacting family members. He beat her “more times than Doe could count.” When Jackson learned the FBI was investigating him, he moved Doe to a different hotel where “the cops weren’t looking.” Jackson beat Doe and dragged her from his car, by her hair, into the road. A friend saw her and took her home. Doe ended up in a hospital, bruised, bloodied and in a neck brace. She was too afraid of Jackson to tell police about the sex trafficking.

Jackson then made threatening phone calls to Doe’s family, saying he planned to “make people pay, to shoot up the place, and to burn down the house” with the family inside. When Doe’s grandfather reported the threats and played recordings for Detective Williams, the detective painstakingly unraveled the evidence from Jackson’s advertisements on an escort website and a web-based texting app, his text messages and hotel records where Doe was trafficked. Investigators also collected 400 advertisements including nude photos of Doe.

Detective Williams obtained a search warrant for Jackson’s apartment and interviewed Jackson at his dining room table. Jackson was charged with child sex-trafficking, producing child pornography, possessing child pornography, transporting child pornography and cyberstalking. A jury convicted Jackson on all counts. The trial court sentenced him to 40 short years in prison.

The court observed, “Jackson barely took a breath between saying he would rather have a lawyer and then asking: ‘What is there more I can do to help myself?’”

Jackson appealed, claiming the trial court should not have admitted his confession to Detective Williams. In the first few minutes of the interview at Jackson’s dining room table, Jackson told Detective Williams: “I’d rather have a lawyer. You guys are taking me to jail. What is there more I can do to help myself?” After about a minute, Detective Williams (no doubt thinking mean while he talked nice) said, “I was getting ready to tell you and explain all that to you, and you said you wanted an attorney. Now, if you want an attorney, that’s fine. Or, if you want to talk to me, you can talk to me. And if we get a question you don’t want to answer, don’t answer.”

A few minutes later, Detective Williams asked Jackson, “Do you want me to read you your rights?” Jackson responded, “You might as well tell me. I might as well.” Detective Williams asked a clarifying question: “Are you saying you’re willing to talk to me?” Jackson replied, “Of course I’m willing to talk to you.” Detective Williams read the Miranda rights. Jackson said he understood them, then made admissions that were eventually told to the jury. The interview ended after about 30 minutes when Jackson said, “I want a lawyer.”

When a suspect has clearly requested counsel, any interrogation must stop. However, a suspect may open the door to further interrogation if the suspect himself initiates further communications with the police (Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981)). Though the suspect’s invocation of the right to counsel absolutely cuts off interrogation, the suspect may open the door to interrogation by initiating communication with officers (Minnick v. Mississippi, 498 U.S. 146 (1990); Edwards v. Arizona). The court will ask two questions: 1) Did the suspect actually initiate the conversation and indicate a desire to talk about the crime, and 2) was the suspect again given a warning and then voluntarily waived Miranda rights, including the right to legal counsel? Since the prosecution bears the heavy burden of showing the suspect wanted to talk about the crime, officers may need to ask clarifying questions when a suspect indicates a desire to speak with them. In Davis v. United States (512 U.S. 452 (1994)), the Supreme Court stated: “It will often be good police practice for the interviewing officers to clarify whether or not the suspect actually wants an attorney.” Nonetheless, asking clarifying questions is a best practice, not a constitutional mandate.

The appellate court held each of Jackson’s statements were made after he was advised of his Miranda rights. The court observed, “Jackson barely took a breath between saying he would rather have a lawyer and then asking: ‘What is there more I can do to help myself?’” The court held that question had the legal effect under Miranda and Edwards of opening the interrogation back up and rendering Jackson’s statement properly admissible.

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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