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Name: People v. Elizalde
Case #: S215260
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 06/25/2015
Summary

During booking, a defendant’s unadmonished answers to routine questions regarding gang affiliation are inadmissible in the prosecution’s case-in-chief. Defendants were arrested on several counts of murder and other offenses for a gang-related shooting. During booking into jail, but before Miranda warnings were given, defendant Mota was asked about his gang affiliation and gave incriminating responses. Prior to trial his request to suppress the statements was denied. The Court of Appeal found the statements inadmissible, but that the error was harmless. The California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Affirmed. In Miranda the U.S. Supreme Court established procedural safeguards during a custodial interrogation, to protect a defendant’s right against self-incrimination. “Interrogation” includes any words or actions by police that police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response. For certain booking questions involving biographical data, Miranda warnings are not required and admission of a defendant’s answers to such questions does not implicate the Fifth Amendment. However, police may not ask questions during booking which are designed to elicit incriminating admissions (Pennsylvania v. Muniz (1990) 496 U.S. 582). Questions about gang affiliation cannot be characterized as mere biographical information, given that gang activity in California often has penal consequences. Such questions qualify as “interrogation” as they are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response. While it is permissible to ask arrestees questions about gang affiliation during the booking process, answers to unadmonished gang questions are not admissible in the prosecution’s case-in-chief. Here, the error in admitting Mota’s responses was harmless given the other evidence of his gang affiliation.

The “public safety” exception to Miranda does not allow the admission of a defendant’s unwarned responses to police questions regarding gang affiliation. The prosecution argued the booking exception to Miranda should be broadly interpreted to include questions that address an imminent threat to public safety. In circumstances posing a threat to public safety, the need for answers to questions may outweigh the need for a Miranda warning. (See New York v. Quarles (1984) 467 U.S. 649.) However, there must be an immediate danger, which was not present here.