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Murder Conviction Reversed; Cop Coerces Confession

Brief Synopsis: Father confesses to murder when police threaten to charge the father’s sons with murder if he does not confess.  The appellate court found this confession was inadmissible because it was the product of coercion when there was no probable cause to otherwise arrest the father’s sons.         
On the night of May 19 to May 20, 2016, around midnight, Sheriff’s Deputy Jeffrey Casey was on patrol in Highland when he noticed a white Chevrolet suburban, with an attached trailer, parked next to an open field.  He then saw three males with two trash cans in the field.

When the men realized they were being watched by the police, they ran to the Suburban, got in and drove away. 

Deputy Casey suspected they had committed illegal dumping.  He followed the Suburban and started to make a traffic stop by turning on his car’s flashing overhead lights.

The Suburban sped away.  After going a few blocks, however, it made a U-turn and went back to where the trash cans were.  The driver leaned out of the window, lifted the lid on one of the trash cans, and used a lighter to set fire to its contents.

To stop him from destroying evidence, Deputy Casey used his car to ram the back of the Suburban.  The Suburban drove off again.  After a few blocks, the driver dropped off the other two men.  Officers arrested them.  They were identified as E.J. (age 14) and J.P. (age 17), then sons of the driver, Enrique Mayorga Jimenez.

Jimenez then drove from Highland to Downey, where his elderly father lived, and was arrested.

Police had since inspected the contents of the trash cans and found that one contained the body of another man.

When Detective John Munoz interviewed Jimenez, he admitted killing the victim.  He explained that the victim, who he referred to as “Maurice,” was a neighbor.  Maurice was a gang member of a gang that “do home invasions.”  Jimenez lived with his elderly mother, who was disabled. 

Detective Munoz then told Jimenez that his two sons were innocent of murder, but he intended to charge them anyway if Jimenez did not confess. 

Jimenez then explained that he thought that Maurice and his fellow gang members would try to rob his house, enter the house and find his elderly mother, but nothing to steal and kill his elderly mother.  So, he killed Maurice by stabbing him.

Jimenez was later charged and convicted in San Bernardino Superior Court with first degree murder (Penal Code §§ 187(a), 189), with an enhancement for use of a deadly weapon (Penal Code § 12022(b)(1)), recklessly evading a police officer (Vehicle Code § 2800.2(a)) and other charges.  He was sentenced to 29 years to life.

On appeal to the Fourth Appellate District in Riverside, Jimenez contended, among other things, that his confession was involuntary because the police officer induced it by threatening to charge his sons with murder.

The Fourth Appellate District agreed and reversed the confession.  It observed, “[A] threat by a police officer to arrest or punish a close relative, or a promise to free the relative in exchange for a confession, may render an admission invalid.  However, where no express or implied promise or threat is made by the police, a suspect’s belief that his cooperation will benefit a relative will not invalidate an admission.”  People v. Steger (1976) 16 Cal. 3d 539, 550.  There is an exception to this general rule when police have probable cause to arrest the relative.

Put another way, “A confession secured by a promise of reward or other inducement cannot be received into evidence.”  People v. Manriquez (1965) 231 Cal. App. 2d 725, 730. 

The Fourth Appellate Court then explained that it could not say, beyond a reasonable doubt, that if defendant’s confession had been excluded, he would have still been convicted of first degree murder.  Indeed, they observed, it was reasonably probable that the jury would have found him guilty of a lesser offense, such as second degree murder or involuntary manslaughter, or acquitted him on this count.

We bring this summary to the reader’s attention because police use implied threats and coercion as part of their job of gathering evidence.  However, it is important to understand that police do not charge anyone with any crime; they only arrest people and then recommend certain charges.  The District Attorney, not the police, file charges and decide what charges to allege.

The citation for the Fourth Appellate District Court ruling discussed above is People v. Enrique Mayorga Jimenez (4th App. Dist., 2021) 73 Cal. App. 5th 862, 287 Cal. Rptr. 3d 484.

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