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Name: Rodriguez v. McDonald
Case #: 12-56594
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 09/29/2017

Federal habeas relief warranted where state court unreasonably determined police honored petitioner’s invocation of right to counsel during interrogation when he was fourteen years old. When he was fourteen years old, a California jury found Rodriguez guilty of second degree murder and attempted murder based on allegations that he participated in a drive-by shooting. Gang and firearm enhancements were found true. On appeal, Rodriguez challenged the denial of his motion to suppress evidence of his confession on the ground that it was obtained in violation of Miranda. The Court of Appeal affirmed, finding police ceased questioning after defendant invoked his right to counsel, and defendant later reinitiated the communication that lead to his confession. The California Supreme Court granted, then summarily dismissed, Rodriguez’s petition for review. After unsuccessfully seeking habeas relief in state court, he filed a federal habeas petition, which was denied. He appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Held: Reversed. On federal habeas review, a state court’s factual findings are entitled to a presumption of correctness, which may not be overturned unless rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. (28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).) A federal court is for the most part bound by the state court’s factual findings where they are based on credibility determinations, but there is an exception for the portion of events that were recorded and transcribed. Here, the video of Rodriguez’s interrogation at the police station showed that after he asked for a lawyer, detectives told him he would be charged with murder and to remember they tried to give him the opportunity to “straighten things out.” One detective then explicitly asked Rodriguez another question about the case. Thus, the video provided clear and convincing evidence sufficient to rebut the state court’s finding that police honored Rodriguez’s invocation of his right to counsel by immediately ceasing interrogation. Because the state court’s decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts, the court reviewed the legal issues de novo.

Petitioner’s post-invocation confession was obtained in violation of Miranda and Edwards where he did not validly waive his previously invoked right to counsel. After Rodriguez invoked his right to counsel, he later asked a detective what would happen to him and requested the detective’s business card. The detective explained they could not talk unless Rodriguez changed his mind about exercising his right to counsel, and he said he wanted to talk. Rodriguez then described the shooting to the detective and provided a written confession. Once an accused has invoked his right to counsel, he may not be subject to further interrogation until counsel has been made available to him. If the interrogation continues, “a heavy burden rests on the government to demonstrate that the defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his privilege against self-incrimination.” (Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, 475.) The prosecution must show the admission was voluntary and that the waiver was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. (Edwards v. Arizona (1981) 451 U.S. 477.) The voluntariness of the waiver is assessed by examining the police methods used to produce the waiver and the individual characteristics of the suspect to determine whether his will was overborne. At the time of the interrogation, Rodriguez was only fourteen years old, had ADHD, and was on the “borderline” of intellectual disability with an I.Q. of seventy-seven. His youth and mental capacity made him susceptible to suggestion and coercion. The police pressured him after he asked for a lawyer by suggesting he might be worse off if he spoke with a lawyer, which was calculated to get Rodriguez to change his mind. Finally, the evidence suggested Rodriguez did not fully grasp the meaning of his Miranda rights when he purported to waive them. Because Rodriguez asked for a lawyer and never got one, he would have believed that speaking to the detective was his last chance to help himself. Accordingly, Rodriguez’s waiver of his right to counsel was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent, and his subsequent confession was invalid.

Admission of petitioner’s coerced confession was prejudicial. Here, no physical evidence linked Rodriguez to the crime, the prosecutor relied heavily on the confession in opening and closing arguments, and the jury sent two notes during deliberations questioning the credibility of the confession. Under these circumstances, the court had grave doubts about whether the confession substantially and injuriously influenced the jury.

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