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Teen Waived Miranda Rights in Torture and Murder Case

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 30, 2015 5:59 AM

When Samantha Bachynski was arrested by Michigan police -- after being found in a stolen truck with the dead owner in the back -- the 19-year-old initially invoked her Miranda rights, refusing to speak until she had an attorney present. But when it came time to pick a lawyer, she changed her mind, confessing to murder, torture, and other crimes.

Bachynski later moved to suppress her confessions, arguing that they were coerced in violation of her Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Her confessions were admitted anyway and she was convicted. The Sixth Circuit upheld that conviction last Wednesday, finding that Bachynski voluntarily waived her Miranda rights.

Grisly Murders, Followed by a Confession

Samantha Bachynski was a 19-year-old high school honors student when she was arrested with her boyfriend, Patrick Selepack, for three murders. According to the Michigan state courts, Bachynksi and Selepack robbed, tortured, and murdered Scott Berels after strangling his pregnant wife, Melissa. The next day, they met Frederick Johnson at a dance club and, according to the Sixth Circuit, "seduced him later that night and in the days that followed," eventually killing him and stealing his truck. Both Bachynski and Selepack were arrested, while in Johnson's truck and with his body still in the car.

When Bachynksi was brought in for questioning, she was repeatedly read her Miranda rights and requested a lawyer. After invoking her Miranda rights, Bachynski wasn't questioned, according to police. But, when detectives returned later with a phone book for Bachynski to find an attorney in, she grew nervous, said she did not want to spend her life in prison, and asked "I can change my mind, can't I?" Bachynksi then pointed to a detective and declared "I want to talk to you."

After consulting with a prosecutor, the detectives interviewed Bachynksi. She confessed to the crimes and said Selepack had pressured her into the crimes. "He made me feel like a terrific person, and that is what any 19-year-old girl wants," she told the detectives, according to Court TV. "They want the six-foot-tall beautiful guy to make them feel like they are wanted, and that's what I got at first."

A Voluntary Waiver

Bachynski soon regretted her confessions. At trial, she argued that they were the result of coercion and "psychological intimidation." When bringing a phone book for her to find an attorney, the detectives, Bachynski claims, had told her Selepak had waived his rights and was cooperating. They also mentioned that Selepak's accomplice in an earlier crime had gotten a tougher sentence for refusing to waive his Miranda rights. That, Bachynski argued, was an illegal interrogation.

Neither the state courts nor the Sixth Circuit agreed. The Michigan Court of Appeals found that the detectives' communication "was not an interrogation or the functional equivalent of an interrogation," since it was solely aimed at helping her contact and attorney.

The Sixth Circuit ruled similarly, finding that Bachynksi had waived her right to counsel after properly invoking it. There is little evidence that the detectives interrogated her in any manner before she waived her right to counsel, the court found. Indeed, "the idea that offering a suspect a phone and a phone book to call an attorney is somehow a ruse to convince her to do just the opposite -- to waive the right she has just invoked -- is a heavy lift," the court wrote.

Further, even presuming that the detectives had told Bachynski that Selepack was cooperating, that does not in itself amount to an interrogation. Sixth Circuit precedent like the 2010 case, Shaneberger v. Jones, the court explains, supports a finding that informing a suspect that she has been implicated or "that things don't look good" does not count as an interrogation or invalidate a free waiver of one's Miranda rights.

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