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Name: People v. Elizalde
Case #: A132071
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 11/19/2013
Subsequent History: Review granted 4/9/2014: S215260

Un-Mirandized responses to booking questions regarding gang affiliation are inadmissible in the prosecution’s case-in-chief. Upon his arrest for murder, defendant Mota was taken to a detention facility where a deputy working in the classification unit asked him questions, including his gang affiliation. Mota identified himself as a Sureno gang member. Before trial, he moved to suppress the un-Mirandized statements. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the reason for the questions was to ensure security at the jail, not to elicit incriminating responses, and Mota’s statements were admitted at trial. Mota and two other defendants were convicted of three gang-related murders and other offenses. On appeal, Mota challenged the admission of his statements. Held: Harmless error. Generally, routine booking questions need not be preceded by a Miranda warning. The considerations in determining whether routine questions fall within this exception include an examination of “the facts surrounding the encounter to determine whether the questions are legitimate booking questions or a pretext for eliciting incriminating information.” Here, the officers were unaware that Mota had been charged with gang-related offenses and did not intend to elicit an incriminating response. However, the officers should have known the questions were likely to elicit an incriminating response because the substantive gang offenses and enhancements have been law for more than 20 years and the jail contained many gang members. The inquiry did not seek the “routine background information” of the sort that has been found outside the Miranda safeguards. (Pennsylvania v. Muniz (1990) 496 U.S. 582.) Thus, while officers may ask about gang affiliation during booking, an un-Mirandized response may not be admitted at trial. However, the error was harmless given the other evidence regarding Mota’s gang affiliation. [Editor’s Note: The Fourth District found such questions fall within the booking exception in People v. Gomez (2011) 192 Cal.App.4th 609.]