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Name: People v. Orozco
Case #: B288942
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 02/28/2019

Invocation of the Miranda right to counsel does not preclude admission of a confession made to a person defendant is unaware is functioning as an agent of law enforcement. Orozco struck his daughter so hard that he killed her. Orozco voluntarily accompanied officers to the police station but maintained his innocence. Orozco invoked his Miranda right to counsel at least five times. Several hours later, officers allowed Orozco’s girlfriend, the baby’s mother, to meet with Orozco in an interview room, directing her to get a full explanation. Orozco admitted that he hit and killed their baby. This confession was played for the jury, who convicted Orozco of second degree murder and assault on a child causing death. He appealed. Held: Affirmed. A suspect’s invocation of his right to counsel pursuant to People v. Miranda (1966) 384 U.S. 436 precludes further police-initiated custodial interrogation unless and until counsel is present or the suspect initiates further communication with the police. Miranda warnings are not required when the suspect is unaware that he is speaking to a law enforcement officer and gives a voluntary statement. (Illinois v. Perkins (1990) 496 U.S. 292, 294.) Miranda rights are designed to dispel the compelling psychological pressures that are inherent in custodial interrogations. There is no interrogation when a suspect speaks with someone he does not know is an agent of police. Here, Orozco was not aware that his girlfriend was acting as an agent of the police. Because the essential ingredients of a police-dominated atmosphere and compulsion are not present when an incarcerated person speaks freely to someone he thinks is a friend or family, Miranda’s purpose in combating that atmosphere and compulsion is not implicated in such situations.

Defendant’s subsequent confession to his girlfriend was not the tainted fruit of his first interview with police because it was voluntary. When the police violate a suspect’s Miranda rights, the statement immediately resulting from that violation is inadmissible. That violation may also warrant suppression of subsequent statements obtained as a result of the initial violation. (People v. Storm (2002) 28 Cal.4th 1007, 1027.) Because a violation of Miranda does not necessarily result in a “compelled” confession within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment, a defendant seeking to suppress a statement as the tainted fruit of a Miranda violation must establish that any subsequent confession was involuntary. Here, the officers’ initial Miranda violation in questioning Orozco despite his repeated request for counsel did not produce any confession. However, his statements to his girlfriend were voluntary because he mistakenly believed he was having a private conversation with her; he had no idea that police were exerting any pressure on him at all. Because his subsequent statement was voluntary and therefore not compelled, there is no Miranda violation.

Law enforcement did not violate due process by orchestrating the confession to defendant’s girlfriend because their actions did not amount to coercion. The constitutional right to due process secured by the federal and California Constitutions mandates the suppression of an involuntary confession. A confession is involuntary if official coercion caused the defendant’s will to be overborn, such that the resulting statement is not the product of “a rational intellect and free will.” (People v. Linton (2013) 56 Cal.4th 1146, 1176.) Here, the officers’ deliberate circumvention of Miranda’s protections by disregarding Orozco’s requests for counsel and orchestrating the monitored conversation between defendant and his girlfriend did not violate due process. Although the court described the police conduct as “deplorable,” to violate due process there must be coercion and, for the reasons set forth above, Orozco’s statements to his girlfriend were not coerced. As far as he knew, he was talking to his girlfriend and not to law enforcement. Further, law enforcement does not violate due process by informing a suspect of the likely consequences of the suspected crimes or pointing out the benefits that are likely to flow from cooperating with an investigation. There is no causal link between the officers’ promise of leniency and defendant’s confession because he maintained his innocence with officers, which tends to undercut the notion that his free will was overborne by the officer’s remarks. [Editor’s Note: The only unpublished portion of the opinion was footnote 3, rejecting appellant’s request for remand due to People v. Dueñas (2019) 30 Cal.App.5th 1157. The court concluded that the record in this case indicated Orozco had the ability to pay the $440 in fines based on his ability to earn $12 to $72 per month in prison during his 25-year sentence and evidence that Orozco was employed and going to college at the time of his crime.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: