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Ninth Circuit Rules Detective’s Persistent Questioning After Invocation of Right to Counsel Entitles California Prisoner to Habeas Relief

by Richard Resch

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a California prisoner convicted of murder is entitled to habeas relief because a detective continued to interrogate him even after he clearly and repeatedly invoked his right to counsel, and the detective’s persistent unlawful badgering eventually resulted in the prisoner waiving his right and providing incriminating statements.

The Court ruled that he established a sufficient showing of prejudice because there was grave concern that his improperly admitted statements affected the jury’s verdict.

Daniel Martinez was charged with the murder of a rival gang member during a neighborhood dispute in December 2005. Martinez was arrested and interrogated by detective Navarro. After obtaining some biographical information and informing Martinez of why he was present, Navarro read his Miranda rights, which resulted in Martinez stating that he wanted to contact his attorney. Rather than ending the questioning at that point as required, Navarro continued a dialogue that eventually resulted in Martinez waiving his right to counsel and making incriminating statements.

Over Martinez’s objection, the trial court allowed his incriminating statements into evidence. He was convicted as charged and sentenced to 40 years to life in prison. His appeal and state postconviction relief motions were denied. A California federal district court denied his habeas corpus petition but granted a certificate of appealability.

The Ninth Circuit held that Navarro failed to scrupulously honor Martinez’s right to counsel and had grave concerns that his improperly obtained statements may have influenced the jury’s verdict.

The Court began its discussion with the now axiomatic rule established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, and it progeny: “Once a suspect invokes his right to counsel during custodial interrogation, the officer must immediately cease questioning and honor that right.” The Supreme Court subsequently instructed that waiver of this right “must not only be voluntary, but must also constitute a knowing and intelligent relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege.” Edwards v. Arizona, U.S. 451 U.S. 477 (1981). The Edwards Court held that “a valid waiver of that right cannot be established by showing only that [a suspect] responded to further police-initiated custodial interrogation.”

The Court continued by explaining that the Supreme Court in R.I. v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291 (1980), defines the term ‘interrogation’ as either express questioning or its functional equivalent and that not all types of questions amount to interrogation. Functional equivalent interrogation is “any words or actions” by the police that they “should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect.” Id. So-called “booking questions” are exempt from Miranda considerations. They include questions pertaining to biographical data required to complete the booking process or pretrial services. United States v. Williams, 842 F.3d 1143 (9th Cir. 2016).

Applying the governing case law to the present case, the Court concluded that Navarro’s express questioning about whether Martinez had an attorney and the name of Martinez’s father constituted booking questions, not “likely to elicit an incriminating response.” As such, they did not run afoul of Miranda.

The Court then discussed whether Navarro engaged in the functional equivalent of interrogation after Martinez invoked his right to counsel. It focused on two statements: (1) “all I wanted was your side of the story. That’s it. OK. So, I’m pretty much done with you then. Um, I guess I don’t know another option but to go ahead and book you. OK. Because” and (2) “your [sic] going to be booked for murder because I only got one side of the story OK.”

The Court determined that, in the context of the situation, they constitute interrogation. They were intended to elicit an incriminating response. In reaching its conclusion, the Court pointed to the conditional nature of the statements and observed: “The obvious implication of that linkage is that if Martinez were to give his side of the story, by waiving his just-invoked right to counsel, he will not be booked, or not be booked for murder.” The Court added, “Martinez responded as if he were being asked to give a statement, and that by doing so he would be able to avoid booking.”

After ruling that an Edwards violation had occurred, the Court examined the prosecution’s use of Martinez’s improperly obtained statements during his trial and concluded that “we have grave doubts that their admission did not affect the verdict.”

Accordingly, the Court reversed, remanded, and instructed that unless the State “elects to retry Martinez within a reasonable period of time … the district court shall issue the writ granting Martinez’s habeas petition.” See: Martinez v. Cate, 903 F.3d 982 (9th Cir. 2018). 

 

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