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Does Minimal Answer Waive One’s Miranda Rights?

Victor M. Miranda-Guerrero was arrested in May 2000 for an attack on Deena L. in Huntington Beach and was thereafter interviewed three times by two Huntington Beach Police Department detectives over the next three days.

Deena L. testified at trial that on the evening of May 25, 2000, she went with her boyfriend and a few friends to Gallagher’s Bar in downtown Huntington Beach.  She stayed there until shortly before midnight and then left to walk home.  Her friends and her boyfriend remained at the bar.

As she was walking home, Mr. Miranda-Guerrero grabbed her hair and put his hand over her mouth.  He slammed her head into a brick planter next to the sidewalk four to six times, but Deena L. then bit his hand and Mr. Miranda-Guerrero ran away.  Deena L. then found a police officer in a coffee shop and reported the attack.  Police then found Miranda-Guerrero the same evening and arrested him.

Once police arrested him, they immediately understood that he was the suspect in five other similar attacks.  They interviewed him in Spanish, with one of the officers serving as an interpreter.  At the start of the interview, the officers gave Mr. Miranda-Guerrero a Miranda advisement. Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436.

After receiving the warnings and indicating he understood his rights, Mr. Miranda-Guerrero indicated he wanted to talk to the detectives.  He said, in Spanish, “Pues si, pero . . .” translated, “Well, yes, but . . .”  The interview then proceeded for about two hours.

It merits mention that the detectives understood he was not a citizen of the United States and was a citizen of Mexico, but did not inform him of any rights he may have had under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.  He had the right to be advised of his right to assistance from the Mexican consulate under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (April 14, 1963) 21 U.S.T. 77, T.I.A.S. No 6820 (Article 36) and to have the Mexican consulate notified of his detention.

After the first interview lasting about two hours, the officers stopped and allowed Miranda-Guerrero to sleep a few hours.  The officers then continued interviewing him a second time and a third time.  His statements during the interview linked him to five other crimes.

The Orange County District Attorney’s office then charged him with six crimes, of which he was convicted of five: kidnapping to commit rape, murder, attempted carjacking, assault with intent to commit rape and receiving stolen property.  The jury found true the special allegation that the murder was committed during the commission of an attempted rape and it returned a verdict of death.

On automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court, Miranda-Guerrero challenged the admission at trial of his statements he made to police officers, arguing that the statement were made in violation of Miranda because they were involuntary.  He argued that under the totality of the circumstances, given his limited English ability and being detained at the time and anxious.

The California Supreme Court found no violation of Miranda and no error in admitting his admission at trial.

It explained that the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”  To safeguard a suspect’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination from the “inherently compelling pressures” of the custodial setting (Miranda, supra, 384 U.S. at 467), the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a set of prophylactic measures requiring law enforcement officers to advise a suspect of his right to remain silent and to have counsel present prior to any custodial interrogation. Id., at 444-445.

“A suspect who has heard and understood these rights may waive them,” but the prosecutor “bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the waiver was knowing, intelligent and voluntary under the totality of the circumstances.” People v. Leon (2020) 8 Cal. 5th 831, 843.  The totality of the circumstances mandates an inquiry into all the circumstances surrounding the interrogation, including the defendant’s “age, experience, education, background, and intelligence,” and “whether he has the capacity to understand the warnings given him, the nature of his Fifth Amendment rights and the consequences of waiving these rights.” Fare v. Michael C. (1979) 442 U.S. 707, 725.
“A statement made in violation of a suspect’s Miranda rights may not be admitted to establish guilty in a criminal case.” People v. Jackson (2016) 1 Cal. 5th 269, 339.

The California Supreme Court then evaluated the recorded interview transcript of Mr. Miranda-Guerrero waiving his right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present and found, under the totality of the circumstances, that he understood his rights and waived them “knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently” because he interacted with the officers during the warnings and showed he appreciated the gravity of such rights before agreeing to answer the officers’ questions.

For more information about Miranda issues, please click on the following articles:
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