Opinion By: Justice Corrigan (unanimous decision)
Trial court prejudicially erred by admitting defendant’s statements to police after his clear request for counsel, following his initial waiver of his Miranda rights. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder with special circumstances, premeditated attempted murder, other offenses, enhancements, and priors. He received a death sentence. Defendant unsuccessfully moved to exclude his statements to police from evidence at the preliminary hearing and his trial. The trial court found that defendant validly waived his Miranda rights and did not thereafter unambiguously invoke his right to counsel. On review, defendant challenged the admission of his statements to police. Held: Reversed. “Once a suspect has invoked his right to counsel, police may not resume questioning until counsel is provided or the suspect himself reinitiates contact.” (Edwards v. Arizona (1981) 451 U.S. 477.) “In order to invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege after it has been waived, and in order to halt police questioning after it has begun, the suspect ‘must unambiguously’ assert his right to silence or counsel.” Here, when asked whether he was at the victims’ home on the night of the killing, defendant clearly stated he wanted to talk to an attorney. Although he went on to explain why he wanted counsel, his explanation did not create any ambiguity. Instead of honoring his request, the officers repeatedly asked defendant what he was taking responsibility for and said, “[L]et’s just talk about that, okay?” emphasizing “this is what we got to do.” After analyzing relevant case law and defendant’s interrogation, the court here concluded that defendant’s request for counsel was clear and unequivocal. “Under Edwards, the officers were required to stop the interrogation once defendant unequivocally requested counsel. [Cite.] They did not do so. Defendant’s postassertion statements in response to the officer’s continued questioning did not amount to a valid waiver of the right to counsel he had invoked.” His statements were inadmissible. As defendant’s admissions were central to the prosecution’s case, the error was not harmless under Chapman.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S098318.PDF