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Name: People v. Sauceda-Contreras
Case #: S191747
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 08/13/2012

An officer may clarify the defendant’s intent to invoke or waive Miranda after there is a conditional, ambiguous, and equivocal statement about bringing him a lawyer. The defendant was found burning a body in his backyard. He moved to exclude a video recording of a statement that he made to police on the basis that he had invoked his right to counsel. The trial court found a knowing and intelligent waiver, the tape was introduced at trial, and the defendant was convicted of first degree murder. The Court of Appeal reversed the conviction, concluding that the defendant unequivocally invoked his right to counsel. The California Supreme Court reversed. Following Miranda advisements by a police officer acting as a Spanish translator, the defendant was asked if he would like to speak with a detective. His response was, “If you can bring me a lawyer, that way I[,] I with who. . . that way I can tell you everything that I know and everything that I need to tell you and someone to represent me.” The officer indicated that he may not understand and that the detective wanted to know if he was willing to speak right now without a lawyer. The defendant responded that this was fine and that he understood the decision was his. The court found that the defendant’s statement, “[i]f you can bring me a lawyer. . .” was not a clear invocation but a question that was equivocal and ambiguous in context with the statement that he desired to tell everything he needed to tell. From an objective standpoint, a reasonable officer would not have understood the response as a clear and unequivocal request for counsel. The officers were justified in seeking clarification. Following a less than artful statement, the officer’s inquiry into whether the defendant was willing to speak to a detective right now without a lawyer present cut to the core of the matter. The defendant impliedly waived his rights because he quickly and decisively expressed his willingness to proceed without an attorney and confirmed his choice several times after acknowledging that he understood his Miranda rights. [Editor’s note: Compare Sessoms v. Runnels (9th Cir. Aug. 16, 2012, No. 08- 17790) __ F.3d __ (en banc) [defendant’s invocation of right to counsel prior to waiving Miranda rights did not need to be unambiguous or unequivocal], which will be included in next week’s summaries]].