Garza v. State

Decision Date27 September 2000
Docket NumberNo. 04-99-00670-CR,04-99-00670-CR
Citation34 S.W.3d 591
Parties(Tex.App.-San Antonio 2000) Juan Cerda GARZA, Appellant v. The STATE of Texas, Appellee
CourtTexas Court of Appeals

Sitting: CATHERINE STONE, Justice, SARAH B. DUNCAN, Justice, KAREN ANGELINI, Justice

OPINION

Opinion by KAREN ANGELINI, Justice

Juan Cerda Garza pled nolo contendere to murdering his common-law wife and was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment pursuant to a plea bargain. The issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in denying Garza's motion to suppress his two written statements, which included a confession to the murder.1 Garza maintains the statements resulted from a custodial interrogation and that he was not given Miranda warnings prior to making them. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The State acknowledges Garza never received the warnings, but asserts that because he was not in custody when he made his statements, the Miranda requirements were not triggered.

a. Custodial Interrogation Defined

Unless questioning by law enforcement officials escalates to a custodial interrogation, the requirement to give Miranda warnings is not triggered. See Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 322 (1994). Custodial interrogation is "questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom in action in any significant way." Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444. See also Ruth v. State, 645 S.W.2d 432, 435 (Tex. Crim. App. 1979). The United States Supreme Court has delineated a two part inquiry to determine whether a suspect is in custody:

(1) what were the circumstances surrounding the interrogation, and

(2) under those circumstances would a reasonable person feel he or she was not free to terminate the questioning and leave.

See Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112 (1995); Stansbury, 511 U.S. at 322. The first inquiry is a factual determination regarding the circumstances surrounding the interrogation. See Thompson, 516 U.S. at 112. On review, we give almost total deference to the trial court's determination of these historical facts. See Guzman v. State, 955 S.W.2d 85, 89 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997). The second inquiry is an application of the legal standard to these facts, and is a mixed question of law and fact that does not turn on the evaluation of the witnesses' credibility and demeanor, which we review de novo. See Thompson, 516 U.S. at 112-13; Guzman, 955 S.W.2d at 89; Loserth v. State, 963 S.W.2d 770, 772-73 (Tex. Crim. App.1998); Hunter v. State, 955 S.W.2d 102, 105 & n. 4 (Tex. Crim. App.1997) (question of whether appellant was detained under Fourth Amendment a mixed question of law and fact that did not turn on evaluation of credibility and demeanor and reviewed de novo).

In Stansbury, the Supreme Court made it clear that the "determination of custody depends on the objective circumstances of the interrogation, not on the subjective views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the person being questioned." 511 U.S. at 323. Hence the subjective views of both the officers and the suspect are irrelevant to the question of whether the suspect is in custody, except to the extent those views are manifested by the words or actions of the officers and that manifestation would lead a reasonable person to believe he was not free to leave. See Stansbury, 511 U.S. at 325; Dowthitt v. State, 931 S.W.2d 244, 254 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996); In the Matter of M.R.R., 2 S.W.3d 319, 323 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1999)("The custody determination is based entirely upon objective circumstances.").

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has outlined four general situations which may constitute custody:

(1) when the suspect is physically deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way,

(2) when a law enforcement officer tells the suspect that he cannot leave,

(3) when law enforcement officers create a situation that would lead a reasonable person to believe that his freedom of movement has been significantly restricted, and

(4) when there is probable cause to arrest and law enforcement officers do not tell the suspect that he is free to leave.

See Dowthitt v. State, 931 S.W.2d at 255. The court added that, in situations (1) through (3), the restraint on freedom must be that associated with an arrest and not simply an investigative detention, and in situation (4), the officers' knowledge of probable cause must be manifested to the suspect, and such manifestation, considered in the totality of the circumstances, would lead a reasonable person to believe he is not free to leave. See id.

b. Circumstances Surrounding Interrogation

We now turn to the first part of our two-part inquiry: what were the circumstances surrounding the interrogation? At the hearing on Garza's motion to suppress, the State called three detectives to testify about the circumstances leading up to the acquisition of Garza's confession. In response, Garza testified in his own behalf. At a suppression hearing, the trial court is the sole trier of fact and may choose to believe or disbelieve any or all of a witness's testimony. See Villarreal v. State, 935 S.W.2d 134, 138 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996). In reviewing the historical facts, we give deference to the trial court's determination that Garza was not in custody and read the record in the light most favorable to that determination. However, in culling the relevant facts from the record, we must keep in mind that the determination of custody has to be made independently of any evidence of subjective intent on the part of either the defendant or the law enforcement officers. See Stansbury, 511 U.S. at 325; Dowthitt, 931 S.W.2d at 254; M.R.R., 2 S.W.3d at 323.

The record reflects that the victim, Veronica Garcia, was Garza's common-law wife with whom he had three children. She was reported as missing by her mother, with whom she usually stayed after she had fights with Garza. Her decomposed body was found on the banks of a creek, within walking distance from her home. She had been strangled to death with her own bra.

When they identified the body, the police went to Garcia's mother's home and notified her family, as well as Garza. The officers then asked several family members, including Garza, to come to the police station for interviews. Instead of taking them to the station right away, the officers returned to pick them up several hours later, around 6:00 p.m. that evening. Detective Matjeka testified at the suppression hearing that they did this as a courtesy, since no one in the family appeared to have access to a car. All the family members agreed to go to the stationhouse with the officers. Garza rode in the back seat of a patrol car, seated between his mother-in-law and sister-in-law.

Once at the stationhouse, the officers decided to question the other family members first, then question Garza. As a result, Garza waited in the homicide division waiting room from 6:15 to 8:00 p.m. Around 8:00 p.m. Garza was taken to an eight by ten foot room with one door and no windows, except for a window on the door. The door was kept closed during the interview process, which lasted until after 1:30 the next morning.

For the first hour and a half, from approximately 8:00 to 9:30 p.m., Garza was questioned by Detective Matjeka. During the questioning, Detective Matjeka showed him photographs of his wife's corpse. This interview resulted in Garza's first written statement, in which he does not confess to the murder. The statement was admitted into evidence. In it Garza reiterated his version of the events leading to Garcia's disappearance. He claimed he and Garcia had an argument, after which she left and never returned. He thought she was at her mother's house, where she typically went when they had arguments. He claimed he did not realize Garcia was missing until the police contacted him in their investigation of the missing person's report made by her mother. Since that time, he claimed, he had devoted himself to looking for Garcia.

At the suppression hearing, Detective Matjeka testified that he promised Garza nothing in return for this statement, and that he did not coerce or threaten him. He asserted Garza was not in custody at that time, and was never in custody until he was arrested the following day. He stated that he told Garza he could leave at any time.

After signing the statement, Garza was asked to wait in the interview room. Detective Matjeka went outside and briefly conferred with the detectives who had taken statements from the other family members and, based on that conference, decided to question Garza further. This time, he went into the interview room accompanied by Detective Gonzales.

The second interview lasted an hour and a half, from 9:30 to 11:00 p.m. Prior to beginning the interview, Detective Matjeka told Garza he had more questions for him. He told Garza he was not under arrest, that he did not have to answer their questions, and that the detectives would take him home any time he felt like leaving. Garza agreed to talk to them. Both detectives, Matjeka and Gonzales, testified at the hearing that the second interview was quite intense and confrontational. Detective Matjeka testified he raised his voice during the interview. The detectives accused Garza of lying to them and to Garcia's relatives. They told him they believed he killed Garcia and that they could prove it. They told him that the detective in charge of the missing persons investigation on Garcia said Garza told him he had gone down to the creek looking for Garcia after she left the house that last night, which was contrary to Garza's previous assertion that he did not do this. They attempted to mislead him by telling him they had found a hair from Garza tied in the knot in...

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