Where police created an atmosphere equivalent to that of formal arrest but did not provide Miranda warnings to defendant, trial court prejudicially erred by allowing defendant’s confession to be admitted into evidence. The 58-year-old defendant, with no notable criminal history, was accused of committing lewd acts on three neighborhood girls (ages six, eight, and eleven). The veracity of the children’s claims was open to question. The older two watched a daily soap opera that frequently depicted adult themes, and the girls acted out episodes themselves afterward. The day before their accusation, they watched an episode involving child molestation. In response to a police request, the defendant went to the police station voluntarily. He was not advised of his Miranda rights. He was not handcuffed, and he was told at the beginning of the questioning that he could leave when he wanted and would not be arrested “right now.” Then the detective closed the door, and began the interview, which included 40 minutes of persistent, confrontational, and accusatory interrogation. The defendant denied the accusations more than 25 times, but eventually stated that he inadvertently touched two of the girls twice on the vagina, over their clothing. At trial, the court denied defendant’s motion to exclude the statement, finding that he was not in custody for purposes of Miranda. The defendant testified that he made that statement only because he thought he otherwise would not be allowed to leave. He was convicted of the charges involving two of the girls and appealed. Held: Reversed. If police take a suspect into custody and interrogate him without informing him of his Miranda rights, the person’s responses cannot be introduced into evidence to establish his guilt. Analyzing the custody factors identified in People v. Aguilera (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1151, the court concluded that a reasonable person in defendant’s circumstances would not have felt free to leave well before he confessed. As a result, he was in custody during the interrogation and his confession was inadmissible. The error in admitting the confession was prejudicial.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/D071432.PDF