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Name: Lujan v. Garcia
Case #: 10-55637
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 10/29/2013

California Court of Appeal’s harmless error analysis violated the Harrison v. United States (1968) 392 U.S. 219 exclusionary rule. Lujan was convicted of two murders that occurred in 1998. Prior to trial, Lujan’s motion to suppress his statements to police was denied. He was thereby induced to testify to counter his out-of-court confession. Although the California Court of Appeal found Lujan’s statement was obtained in violation of Miranda because he was not fully advised of his right to counsel, it found the error harmless because Lujan’s trial testimony confirmed the same facts. The federal district court granted Lujan’s habeas petition. Held: Affirmed on this point. The Court of Appeal’s consideration of Lujan’s trial testimony as independent evidence of his guilt in its harmless error analysis was contrary to clearly established federal law. In Harrison v. United States, the court found that “the same principle that prohibits the use of confessions so procured [in violation of the Fifth Amendment] also prohibits the use of any testimony impelled thereby—the fruit of the poisonous tree . . . .” Although Harrison interpreted federal law, it is also a Fifth Amendment case and, as such, applicable to the states. Under Harrison, when a defendant’s trial testimony is induced by the erroneous admission in the prosecution’s case-in-chief of an illegally obtained confession, that testimony may not be used in either a later prosecution or to support the conviction on harmless error review, “because to do so would perpetuate the underlying constitutional error.”

The question whether Lujan’s confession was involuntary need not be determined in light of the reversal and remand. Having provided Lujan with federal habeas relief, which removes the taint of the improperly admitted confession, the court declined to consider his further argument that his confession was involuntary. While a confession obtained in violation of Miranda may be used for impeachment purposes, an involuntary confession may not. (Mincey v. Arizona (1978) 437 U.S. 385.) However, Lujan claimed he would not have testified but for the admission of his illegally obtained confession. Therefore, finding the confession involuntary would not accomplish the purpose of placing Lujan back in the position of a non-testifying defendant, a position in which he would have been had his illegal confession not be admitted.