Miranda Violations Lead to New Trial in DUI Murder Case

Interrogation-by-officer-300x200When a suspect is in the custody of a law enforcement officer, the officer must provide Miranda warnings before questioning the suspect.  If the officer does not give sufficient warnings, the suspect’s statements made in response to questioning cannot be used at trial.  In a recent DUI Murder case in California, Miranda violations resulted in an appeals court ordering a new trial.

People v. Moreno – Trial Court
Jesus Rodriguez Moreno was involved in a crash which killed a pedestrian.  Investigators from the California Highway Patrol suspected Moreno was under the influence at the time of the crash.  According to KGET TV, the investigators interviewed Moreno three times.  At the beginning of the first interview, an investigator provided Miranda warnings, including the advisement, “If you cannot pay an attorney, one will be called for you free of charge before the investigation.”  Moreno talked with the investigators and apparently made incriminating statements.  Those statements were used as evidence in Moreno’s trial.  Moreno was convicted and ordered to serve a prison term of 20 years to life.

Miranda v. Arizona
The requirement of issuing interrogation warnings was initiated in the case of Miranda v. Arizona.  In that case, police arrested the defendant and took him to an interrogation room.  Without advising the defendant of his Constitutional rights, the officers questioned the defendant, and the defendant confessed.  The defendant was convicted and ultimately appealed his conviction to the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court wanted to protect the Constitutional right against being compelled to incriminate oneself, as well as the right to have the assistance of counsel.  The court emphasized that these rights exist not only in the courtroom, but also during custodial interrogations.  The Court was concerned that, in a custodial setting, overzealous police practices may lead to suspects making inculpatory statements involuntarily and/or without knowing their rights.  Accordingly, the Court established procedural safeguards to ensure custodial statements are made knowingly and voluntarily.

Required Content of Miranda Warnings
Regarding what procedural safeguards are required, the Court stated:

He must be warned prior to any questioning that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that, if he cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.

After these warnings are given, a suspect may knowingly and intelligently waive these rights and agree to answer questions.  If a suspect answers questions, his statements cannot be used at trial unless the prosecution demonstrates the warnings were given and the suspect waived his rights.

People v. Moreno – Appellate Court
The issue in the Moreno appeal was whether the warnings provided by the investigator complied with the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona.  The investigator told Moreno, “If you cannot pay an attorney, one will be called for you free of charge before the investigation.”  According to Miranda, the investigator was supposed to say, “If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you prior to any questioning.“

The appellate court found the investigator’s warning left open to interpretation whether the attorney was free or the call was free.  The appellate court concluded this discrepancy made the warnings insufficient, so Moreno’s statements should have been excluded from evidence in his trial.  As the statements were erroneously admitted as evidence during the trial, the appellate court ordered a new trial.

Litigating Miranda Issues
The admissibility of the defendant’s statements is a subject of litigation in DUI cases (called ‘OVI’) in Ohio.  It is important for OVI lawyers to carefully review video evidence to determine if clients are given sufficient Miranda warnings.

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