Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Thompson v. Runnel, 621 F.3d 1007 (9th Cir. 2010)

The Ninth Circuit majority panel opinion (2-1) once again ignores a Supreme Court admonition, cited by the dissenting judge, that "a federal appellate court 'lacks' the fact finding and record keeping capabilities of a district court; McNary v. Haitian Refugee Ctr., 498 U.S. 479)1991)." Not only that, the majority panel writes its decision as though acting in the role of defense counsel. The court majority sets aside the decision of the California Court of Appeal affirming a 1998 conviction in state court, and reverses the U.S. District Court habeas corpus decision affirming the conviction of an admitted murderer. Reversed twelve years after the murder by a court that never saw or heard a single witness, disagreed with the trial court, the state court appellate judges, and rejected its U.S. District Court finding. The defendant and former boy friend of the murder victim told his father he was worried about his girl friend. He and his father went to her house and found she had been stabbed to death and her throat slit. Police immediately focused on the defendant and drove him to the police department to ask questions about the murder. The majority describes the interview room: "The [detectives] moved the defendant into an interview room containing three chairs and no other furniture. . . [t]he officers invented an eyewitness account that put the defendant at the victim's house at 2:30 p.m." As the dissenting judge points out, the defendant slept in the room all the time awaiting the officers who apologized for the delay, the room was air conditioned and he was offered food and drink. In any event, the defendant was not Mirandized but ultimately incriminated himself. Quoting the panel: "The interrogation continued . . . and the the officers told the defendant -again-, falsely that they found "evidence connecting him with the crime . . .Taking the bait . . . [t]he questioning resumed and the defendant elaborated on the details of the murder. At that point the officers gave him the Miranda admonition . . . The following day they repeated the Miranda admonition and the defendant offered more details." Without recounting all the additional details of defendant's custody, the dissenting judge adds a significant amount of information: that the interrogation room had a couch and television; the defendant was not handcuffed or searched; he never asked for food or water, was not cold; police were not in uniform or armed; the officers offered to let him answer questions at another time if he elected to do so; when he claimed the room was cold the officers turned up the heater. The majority and dissenting judges both agreed the officers did not originally warn the defendant before questioning him but did so after his confession. Failure to warn originally does not, under Supreme Court law, necessarily undermine Miranda if there is a subsequent voluntary confession. In the instant case, the leading Supreme Court decision on invocation of the Miranda decision is Oregon v. Elstad; 470 U.S. 298 (1985). In Elstad, the Supreme Court held "Miranda does not require that subsequent statements [by a suspect] given after unwarned statements [should] be discarded as inherently tainted, and admissibility of any subsequent statement should turn solely on whether it is knowingly and voluntarily made." In a subsequent case, the Supreme Court decided Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004). The majority Ninth Circuit panel cites Seibert, a 5-4 decision, denying admissibility in evidence of unwarned statements if police use a "two step technique" designed to subvert the Miranda warnings by failing to warn, obtaining a confession, subsequently warn a suspect and obtain a second confession.

No comments:

Post a Comment