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Supreme Court Permits Prosecution To Comment on Defendant’s Silence

A divided Supreme Court held that prosecutors may argued that a defendant’s un-Mirandized reaction to an officer’s question can suggest guilt.

The case is SALINAS v. TEXAS, No. 12–246 (Decided June 17, 2013).

The case began in 1992 when two brothers were shot and killed in their Houston home. There were no witnesses to the murders, but a neighbor who heard gunshots saw someone run out of the house and speed away in a dark-colored car. Police recovered six shotgun shell casings at the scene.

The defendant had been a guest at a party the victims hosted the night before. He agreed to hand over his shotgun to the police for ballistics testing and to accompany police to the station for questioning.

The defendant was not read Miranda warnings. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436 (1966).  The defendant answered the officer’s questions until he was asked whether his shotgun “would match the shells recovered at the scene of the murder.” At that time, he “[l]ooked down at the floor, shuffled his feet, bit his bottom lip, cl[e]nched his hands in his lap, [and] began to tighten up.” At his trial, prosecutors used his reaction to the officer’s question as evidence of his guilt.

Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy, found that no the prosecutor’s action was legitimate because the defendant never asserted his right to remain silent. Justice Alito suggested that it was “undisputed that [the defendant’s interview with police was voluntary.”

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Ohio Supreme Court Holds That Juveniles Do Not Have Right to Counsel During Interrogation

The Ohio Supreme Court determined that a juvenile has no statutory right to counsel during a police interrogation conducted before a complaint is filed or an appearance is made in juvenile court.

The case is In re M.W., Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-4538.

The case started in 2009.  A Cleveland Police Sergeant stopped a vehicle driven by the juvenile and determined he had no valid Ohio driver’s license and had also provided a false name.  When the Sergeant asked the juvenile why he lied about his name, M.W. stated he “thought [he] could get away with it.”

The juvenile also mentioned another juvenile who had been arrested for aggravated robbery the previous day.  When asked about the robbery, the juvenile admitted that he had served as the lookout. Back at the station, the juvenile was provided with his Miranda warnings and then provided a written statement.

The juvenile argued that the state had violated R.C. 2151.352, a statute providing juveniles with a right to representation by legal counsel at all stages of the proceedings.  The juvenile argued that giving a written statement was “a proceeding” and therefore triggered his statutory right to counsel.  He also argued that any waiver of his Miranda rights was invalid based because he had not consulted with an attorney or parent.

The Ohio Supreme Court rejected the statutory argument.  The court said:

the term “proceedings” denotes acts or events taken between the time of commencing an action at law until the entry of a final judgment by a judicial tribunal.  “Proceedings” evokes a court of law, not the investigatory action taken by police prior to the filing of a complaint or a juvenile’s initial appearance before a tribunal.

The court conclude that the juvenile was not entitled to an attorney during the interrogation because only the complaint filed by the police commenced the delinquency proceeding, and invoked the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, and afforded the juvenile the right to counsel pursuant to the statute.

The court emphasized that the decision was limited to the statutory issue.  Although the juvenile had a Fifth Amendment right to counsel pursuant to Miranda, he did not exercise that right.

Justice O’Connor dissented, saying that the “majority’s holding offends the United States Supreme Court’s constitutional commands on a juvenile’s due process and Fifth Amendment rights . . .”  Also:  “Because  it is founded in due process, the juvenile’s right to counsel in proceedings is a malleable right rather than a rigid one; it is driven by concerns for fundamental fairness.”



Miranda Not Violated When Warnings Given in Spanish and Not Signed

An Ohio Appeals Court has affirmed a murder conviction after finding the the defendant’s Miranda rights were not violated.

The case is State v. Hernandez-Martinez, 2012-Ohio-3754.

The defendant was convicted for his role in a gang-related drive-by shooting in 2008 in Fairfield.  According to the opinion, the local leader of the MS-13 gang, Hector Retana, was identified as the driver and shooter.  The defendant aided Retana as a passenger.  He was convicted of aggravated murder and other offenses, and sentenced to 78 years to life in prison.

The defendant was interviewed on four separate occasions.  He argued that the statements should have been suppressed because he did not knowingly or voluntarily waive his Fifth Amendment rights.

The key issue involves Miranda warnings.  A recent law review article I wrote about Miranda issues appeared in the Seton Hall Circuit Review.  The Attorney General also maintains slides from a presentation I made on this issue to a Law Enforcement Conference.  The Miranda decision requires that a suspect in custody must be advised of his Miranda rights and make a knowing and intelligent waiver of those rights before any statements obtained during the interrogation will be admissible as evidence.  Mirandarequires that the suspect be warned:  that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.

The defendant argued that any waiver of his Miranda rights was not knowing and voluntary because: (1) police could not confirm whether he had been Mirandized upon his arrest; (2) he was suffering from an obvious head injury; and (3) while he was read an unsigned rights explanation form in Spanish, he was interrogated in English.

The court rejected these arguments.  The court noted that the defendant was read his Miranda rights from a Spanish Miranda card.  The defendant indicated that he understood the warnings and that he wished to speak to him without an attorney.  The court noted that the defendant appeared to understand and be able to communicate in both English and Spanish.  The court also noted that the defendant had refused medical treatement.

The court also rejected an argument that defendant had to sign a Miranda waiver.  The court said:  “The record indicates that [the defendant] orally expressed that he understood his rights and was willing to talk to the detectives without the presence of an attorney.  The failure of the detectives to have [the defendant] sign the waiver form does not render that waiver invalid.”

The court affirmed the conviction, rejecting other arguments by the defendant based on discovery, procedural, and other issues.


Juvenile Rape Conviction Reversed for Miranda Violation

An Ohio court of appeals has reversed the conviction of a juvenile convicted of rape.  The court found that the juvenile’s statements were obtained in violation of his Miranda rights.

The case is In re J.S., 2012-Ohio-3534.­

The juvenile, a thirteen year old boy, was found to have committed rape by the Clermont County Juvenile Court.

At the trial, a witness testified that the juvenile and the female juvenile victim were in an upstairs bedroom at the witness’ apartment.  When the witness heard a door close upstairs, “which was against house rules,” she went upstairs to check on the children.  The witness observed the victim “standing with her panties and pantyhose pulled down to her boots.  [The juvenile] was next to [the victim] with his hands and mouth around [her] vaginal area.”  The victim said that the juvenile had “touched her boo-boo” while pointing toward her vaginal area.

The juvenile argued that a statements he made to the police should have been suppressed because he was never advised of his Miranda rights.  In addition, he argued that the statements were not voluntary.

Miranda only applies when a person is in custody.  The Juvenile Court found that he was not in custody at the time he made his statements.  The court of appeals disagreed, finding that he was in custody for the purposes of Miranda.   The court said:

First, there is no evidence in the record that appellant voluntarily went to the police station.  Rather, his father was instructed by police officers to follow them to the Union Township Police Department so that [the juvenile] could be questioned.  Second, [the juvenile] was only 13 at the time of the interview and, consequently, there was a likelihood that appellant was unaware of his rights, including the right to be silent or request a lawyer.  Third, although [the officer] testified at the adjudication hearing that he informed [the juvenile] he was not under arrest, the videotape of the interview reveals that no such statement was made.  Rather, [the officer] stated only that [the juvenile] would be returning home after the interview, implying at times that the interview would end once [the juvenile] finally told the truth.  Further, [the officer] never told appellant that he had the right to end the interview at any time. 

The case was remanded to the Juvenile Court for a new trial.  Also:  read coverage in the Cincinnati media.


Spontaneous Statement in Back of Police Cruiser Not Subject to Miranda

An Ohio Court of Appels has held that a defendant is in custody while in the back of a police cruiser, but that his spontaneous statement to the police was not a Miranda violation.

The case is State v.Moody, 2012-Ohio-3390.

In this case, two police officers decided to patrol a high-crime area.  They saw The Defendant standing on a stoop that was several steps above the ground; several other individuals were standing on the ground around the stoop.  The officers observed the people standing on the ground begin to move away from the stoop as the officers approached.  The subsequently observed a baggie containing crack cocaine next to The Defendant’s foot on the stoop.

The officers grabbed the Defendant and put him in the back of the cruiser.  According to the opinion, “The officers did not speak to the Defendant before or while grabbing him, patting him down, and placing him in the cruiser with the door closed.  . . . The Defendant was not read his Miranda rights during this time.”

One of the officers said to the other that the crack had tested positive while the officers were seated in the front of the cruiser and the Defendant was seated in the back seat.  The Defendant made “’an excited utterance’ that he knew he had been standing over crack cocaine on the stoop.”  After making this  statement, the Defendant was advised of his  Miranda rights and he subsequently made confessed to drug possession and trafficking.

The issue was whether the Defendant’s statement before receiving Miranda warnings should be suppressed.  Miranda warnings must be provided before a custodial interrogation.  Custodial interrogation is questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.  In this case, the court concluded that the Defendant was in custody:  “[B]ased on the  officers’ conduct, which included grabbing The Defendant by his waistband, patting him down, and placing him in the back seat of the cruiser, a reasonable person in The Defendant’s position would have believed that he was under arrest.”

The argued that, even if the Defendant were in custody, his statements should not have been suppressed because his statements were “volunteered” and he was not interrogated.   The court also accepted this argument:

In our view, however, an officer sharing the result of a field test with  another officer while detaining a suspect for drug possession is a routine, necessary  communication and does not, without more, suggest that the officers were attempting to evoke a response from the suspect.  [The Officer] made a straightforward statement to his  partner about the field test result; the officers did not engage in a lengthy conversation, nor was  the conversation framed in such a way as to encourage a response from The Defendant.  We see no “measure of compulsion above and beyond that inherent in custody itself” under the facts presented in this case.