Whenever a suspect confesses to a crime to a jailhouse informant, defense attorneys scrutinize the circumstances of the conversation, straining to find any evidentiary issue that may allow exclusion of the confession.
In a Nutshell: A Miranda admonition is not required when a suspect in jail confesses to the crime to an informant placed in the cell to elicit such a confession, although the issue was arguable, as the following summary explains.
A Miranda violation is a primary consideration. Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, 444. Miranda held that, under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a judge may admit into evidence for a jury to consider any statements made by suspects during a custodial interrogation only if police first warn suspects of their right to an attorney and their right to remain silent.
Miranda addressed concerns that a “police-dominated atmosphere” creates “inherently compelling pressures” that “undermine the individual’s will to resist” questioning. Illinois v. Perkins (1990) 496 U.S. 292, 296 [quoting Miranda, supra, 334 U.S. at pp. 445, 447]. In other words, the individual is faced with a person he or she knows is a police officer and feels pressure to talk because the individual may not be free to leave or stop the process. The person may then confess involuntarily to the commission of a crime.
Miranda, however, does not apply when someone is voluntarily talking to someone else who the individual does not believe is a police officer because there is no “police-dominated” atmosphere and there is no “compelling pressure” to answer questions. Perkins, supra, at 294.
It is against this framework that Giovanny Rodriguez was in a Los Angeles County Jail cell with a man Rodriguez did not know was a police informant.
Rodriguez, a “gang-banger,” and a fellow gang member followed a man to Monterrey Park, where Rodriguez shot and wounded the man.
Twin Towers LA County Jail Downtown LA
Eight months later, Rodriguez was in jail on an unrelated matter and police placed an informant in his holding cell. The informant dressed and acted like an inmate. Rodriguez was not read his Miranda rights. The two then began to talk and Rodriguez confided that he “did a shooting . . . attempted murder.” This was not as an explanation, however, of why he was in jail, but Rodriguez mentioned this to his cellmate.
A detective then entered the cell and advised Rodriguez that he would be charged with attempted murder. The informant at this point did not let on that he was a cop. Instead, being informed of the anticipated charge led to more discussion between Rodriguez and the informant, all of which was recorded. The talking lasted one hour and forty minutes.
Police then pulled Rodriguez out of the cell, Mirandized him, asked him some questions and returned him to the cell with the informant.
The informant asked Rodriguez, “What happened, fool?” Rodriguez replied, “Fuckin, uh, they know everything fool.” After talking some more, Rodriguez said to the informant, “Look, here’s what happened. I can have a little bit of trust in you.” Rodriguez then told the informant the details of the shooting. This conversation lasted twenty minutes.
At trial, Rodriguez tried to exclude his conversations with the informant. The trial court judge downtown on this case, Mark S. Arnold, denied the motion (our office knows Mark Arnold quite well from his prior time on the bench in Torrance. We regard him as an exceptionally good judge). The prosecution then played the recording for the jury.
The jury convicted Rodriguez of attempted murder and other crimes. Judge Arnold sentenced Rodriguez to nine years for the attempted murder, then ten more years for the crime being for the benefit of a criminal street gang (Penal Code § 186.22(b)(1)(C)), then 25 years to life for the Penal Code § 12022.53(d) gun enhancement.
Rodriguez appealed the verdict and the sentence on several grounds, but this article will just consider the Miranda issue. Rodriguez filed his appeal with the Second Appellate District in Downtown Los Angeles.
The Second Appellate District denied the appeal and affirmed Judge Arnold’s ruling to admit the recorded conversation. The appellate court rejected Rodriguez’s claim that Miranda was required because he felt coerced to talk to the cell mate because the cell mate was older (9 years older) and Rodriguez was trapped in the cell, so he had to talk to him. The appellate court disagreed quite strongly, noting that the two seemed to be quite at ease talking and noted Arnold’s comment that “when they split up, they were new best friends. There was not one iota of evidence that Mr. Rodriguez was pressured.” The trial court found and the appellate court agreed that Rodriguez’s confession was voluntary.
We present this summary to exemplify that Miranda only applies if one is in some type of prolonged detention and not free to leave, but more importantly, the suspect must know he or she is speaking to a police officer. It must be a “police-dominated” atmosphere, which is not present when one is in a jail cell talking to someone else who appears to be a crime suspect as well.
The citation for the Second Appellate District Court ruling discussed above is People v. Giovanny Rodriguez (2d App. Dist., 2019) 40 Cal.App.5th 194.