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Police Promise of Leniency, Then Confession – Inadmissible?

In a Nutshell: Conviction reversed when investigating detective promises suspect in a murder case that if he confesses no case will be filed and “maybe you’ll go into the Marines.”  The suspect then confesses and the confession is used to convict him.
Fabian Florence Perez was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  The sentence followed a conviction for first degree murder in a robbery murder of a taxi driver in Indio.

The jury in the Riverside County courthouse found Perez guilty after hearing his recorded confession at the police station.  During the interview, a police sergeant told Perez that if he “[told] the truth” and was “honest,” then “we are not going to charge you with anything.”

The sergeant continued, telling Perez that he was either a “suspect that we gonna prosecute,“ or a “witness,” and added that Perez had “witnessed something terrible that somebody did.”  The police officer also told Perez that if he was honest and told the truth, “[Y]ou’ll have your life, maybe you’ll go into the Marines. . .  and you’ll chalk this up to a very scary time in your life.”

In response, Perez confessed to his involvement in the robbery in which Perez’s accomplice killed the victim.

At trial, Perez made a motion to suppress the statements made during the police interview because the statements were obtained as a result of a promise of leniency and therefore, were involuntary as a matter of laws. People v. Linton (2013) 56 Cal. 4th 1146, 1176-1177.  Indeed, the California Supreme Court has stated that “a confession is considered voluntary if the accused’s decision to speak is entirely ‘self-motivated,’ i.e. he freely and voluntarily chooses to speak without any form of compulsion or promise of rewards…”

Riverside Police DepartmentRiverside Police Department

However, where “a person in authority makes an express or clearly implied promise of leniency or advantage for the accused which is a motivating cause of the decision to confess, the confession is involuntary and inadmissible as a master of law.”  People v. Tully (2012) 54 Cal. 4th952, 985.

Perez also sought to enforce the police officer’s promise in arguing to suppress his confession.

The trial court denied the motion, the confession was played to the jury and Perez was convicted.

Perez then appealed the conviction, contending the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress and that the conviction must be reversed.  In People v. Fabian Florence Perez (2016 DJDAR 201), the Fourth Appellate District agreed.

The appellate court explained that the police falsely promised Perez that he would not be charged with a crime, in order to elicit a confession.  It noted that to enforce such a promise, defendant must show that the promisor had “actual authority” to make the particular promise.  People v. C.S.A. (2010) 181 Cal. App. 4th 773, 779.  State and local law enforcement officers have no independent authority to make promises about the filing and prosecution of state criminal charges” Id.  

Indeed, at trial, Perez’s counsel asked the police officer if his statement , “we’re not going to charge you with anything” was a ruse.  The officer testified at trial that it was.

The appellate court then explained that while such a promise of leniency was unauthorized, the remedy for the breach of an unauthorized cooperation agreement is usually a sanction to the prosecution short of dismissal. People v. C.S.A., supra, at 780, citing State of North Carolina v. Sturgill (1996) 121 N.C. App. 629 [469 S.E.2d 557,568-569] [concluding exclusion of evidence, rather than dismissed of charges, was the proper remedy for defendant’s reliance on an unauthorized cooperation agreement and stating “[w]e are not required, as a result of a ‘constable’s blunder’ to place defendant in a better position than he enjoyed prior to making the agreement with the police.”].

The appellate court thus reversed the conviction.  The court stated that “the People may retry Perez on a charge of murder within the time limit set forth in section 1382 in a manner consistent with this opinion.”  Penal Code § 1382 sets forth the right of a defendant to have his or her case brought to trial within sixty days of arraignment on an indictment or information, as would be the case in Perez’s case, unless he waived his right to a speedy trial.

The citation for the Fourth Appellate District Court ruling discussed above is People v. Fabian Florence Perez (4th App. Dist., 2016) 243 Cal.App.4th 863.

For more information about the issues in this police misconduct case involving Miranda issues, please click on the following articles:
  1. Confession is Inadmissible When Probation Officer Promised Shorter Sentence if Probation is Waived Right to An Attorney
  2. Detective Use of “False Choice” Interrogation Technique of Juvenile Ruled Coercive; Confession Ruled Involuntary and Juvenile Adjudication Reversed
  3. Defendant’s Confession to Arson After Nine Hours of Police Questioning is Admissible Despite No Miranda Warnings Because Defendant Always Free to Leave
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