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Murder Conviction Reversed Based on Miranda Violation

On Friday, May 25, 2012, 18-year-old high school student Ismael Avalos was drinking beer in his family’s garage in Anaheim.  Avalos was with some of his friends, including George Galvan. 

Avalos showed his friends a handgun.

At about 4:00 p.m., Galvan drove Avalos and two others to Balsam, an alley in Anaheim where young people were known to hang out and drink.  Avalos brought the handgun.  He stayed at Balsam for several hours drinking beer.

At about 10:30 p.m., Galvan drove Avalos to a Mayfair Street, where there were about 15 to 20 young people hanging out in a cul-de-sac, including Angel Rivera.

According to witnesses, Avalos and his companion approached Rivera.  Rivera raised his hands and said, “What’s up?”  Avalos and his companions lifted their shirts and drew guns.  Avalos and his companion each fired two shots.  Rivera sustained a gunshot wound to his head.

Police responded to the scene immediately, but Rivera was pronounced dead at 11:12 p.m. 

The following day, police arrested Avalos as he was driving away from his home.  Police also searched his house and found 44 rounds of .38 caliber ammunition and a receipt from Del Taco located near the crime scene with a time stamp just after the shooting.

Two detectives interviewed Avalos the day of his arrest in a small room at the Anaheim Police Station.  Avalos was handcuffed to a table at the time and was forced to wear a thin paper gown, the police having taken away his clothes.

After about five hours of questioning by police, Avalos said, “I wanna talk to a lawyer.”  After some further dialog, a detective said, “I respect your decision that you wanna talk to a lawyer, but if for some reason you want to change your mind and you wanna talk to me, you can, just ask for me.  I don’t care if its 2:00, 3:00 in the morning.  I’ll come back.  Okay?  Because I care about you getting your story the right way out.  Okay?” (Italics added by the Fourth Appellate District Court).

During the interrogation, before he asserted his right to an attorney, it was clear that Avalos regarded what he told the detectives as the same thing he would tell his attorney, if he had one.  The police did nothing to explain to Avalos that what he told his attorney might be different than what he told police.  Avalos also complained quite a bit about being cold due to just wearing the paper gown.

After spending the night in a holding cell, Avalos told one of the jailers he wanted to speak to the detectives again.  He was brought back to the same interrogation room and was wearing the same paper gown from the day before.  He then admitted to shooting Rivera, stating, “I, I self-defended myself, you know?”

Avalos was then convicted of murder with a firearm enhancement and a substantive gang crime. 

On appeal, Avalos contended the trial court erred by admitting the second interview into evidence over objection.

The Fourth Appellate District Court agreed, reversing the judgment and remanding the case for the prosecution to retry Avalos with exclusion of the contents of his second interview.

The Fourth Appellate District explained that, given Avalos’ state of mind and the surrounding circumstances (Avalos was in high school with no record of prior arrests, his confusion about the role of a detective versus a lawyer, the apparent coldness, his clothes being taken away, and he was wearing just a paper gown), he did not make a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent Miranda waiver prior to the second interview. Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436 (a suspect’s rights must be “scrupulously honored.”); People v. Nelson (2012) 53 Cal. 4th 367, 374-375 (“To establish a valid [Miranda] waiver, . . . the prosecution must show . . . the waiver was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. . . . Determining the validity of a Miranda rights waiver requires ‘an evaluation of the defendant’s state of mind’ [citation] and ‘inquiry into all the circumstances surrounding the interrogation.’”).

Further, given the detective’s statement encouraging Avalos to speak to her because she cared about him getting his “story the right way out” – after he had invoked his right to counsel – it appears the detective, rather than Avalos, initiated the second interview.

The court further found the admission of the second interview into evidence was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

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