Gonzales v. State

Decision Date02 July 2015
Docket NumberNo. 64539.,64539.
Citation354 P.3d 654,131 Nev. Adv. Op. 49
PartiesNoel Lirio GONZALES, Appellant, v. The STATE of Nevada, Respondent.
CourtNevada Court of Appeals

Wright Stanish & Winckler and Monti Levy, Las Vegas, for Appellant.

Adam Paul Laxalt, Attorney General, Carson City; Steven B. Wolfson, District Attorney, Steven S. Owens, Chief Deputy District Attorney, and Megan Thomson, Deputy District Attorney, Clark County, for Respondent.

BEFORE GIBBONS, C.J., TAO and SILVER, JJ.

OPINION

By the Court, TAO, J.:

Appellant Noel Gonzales was convicted of multiple felonies following a jury trial, and part of the evidence introduced against him was his tape-recorded confession to the crimes during a custodial police interrogation. Because Gonzales claims to be a non-native English speaker, he asks us in this appeal to adopt the test set forth by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in United States v. Garibay, 143 F.3d 534, 538 (9th Cir.1998), to find that his confession should not have been admitted at trial because he was not provided with the assistance of an interpreter and therefore his confession was obtained illegally.

We conclude that the test set forth in Garibay provides a helpful guide in identifying and weighing some of the circumstances that may be relevant to the admissibility of confessions rendered by non-native English speakers. However, we decline to adopt the Garibay test as an overarching inquiry that must always be applied by district courts whenever an interrogated suspect is a non-native English speaker. After reviewing the totality of the circumstances in this case, we conclude that the district court did not err in ruling that appellant's confession was admissible even though English is not his native language and he was not provided with the assistance of an interpreter during his police interrogation. We also conclude that the district court did not err in admitting documents proffered to tie Gonzales to the scene that Gonzales characterizes as hearsay. In addition, we conclude the evidence presented to the jury in this case was sufficient to sustain convictions for the crimes of kidnapping and robbery arising from the same course of conduct.

FACTS

Michelle Damaya was in the garage of her home vacuuming her car while her 22–month–old daughter Abigail napped inside the house. Three people, a woman and two men, entered through the open garage door and accosted Michelle. The shorter of the two men, later identified as Gonzales, was wearing a mask and had the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head so that Michelle could not immediately see his face. Gonzales pointed a gun at Michelle and told her, we want your guns, we want your money.” The woman motioned for Michelle to go inside the house, and she complied.

At gunpoint, Michelle led the trio to the master bedroom, where they ransacked the room in search of valuables. The trio asked Michelle where any guns and money were kept, but Michelle answered that she did not know because her husband had recently moved his guns in order to prevent Abigail from accidentally finding them. The woman responded by calling Michelle stupid for not knowing where anything was. Eventually, after searching the entire room, the perpetrators found a safe and forced Michelle to open it. The perpetrators then forced Michelle to hold laundry baskets for them to fill with items from the safe.

Michelle asked if she could go get Abigail, but the perpetrators refused. Following repeated and increasingly insistent requests by Michelle, Gonzales eventually gave permission and Michelle retrieved her daughter. At some point Gonzales and the female perpetrator split up to search other rooms of the house while the taller man stayed in the master bedroom with Michelle and Abigail. The taller man continued searching the master bedroom and eventually discovered a hidden firearm owned by Michelle's husband.

After a few minutes, the woman called Michelle to another room, where Michelle watched her go through the drawers of a desk. Michelle asked the taller man why they were there, and he replied that they had been hired to “come get your guns and money.” The trio then scattered throughout the house in search of more valuables, leaving Michelle and Abigail alone. Michelle ran to a side door that she had previously left unlocked, but apparently had been locked by the perpetrators during the crime, unlocked it, and fled the house with Abigail to a neighbor's residence where she called 9–1–1. Police officers arrived moments later and quickly located the woman and the taller man who had accompanied Gonzales. They also found a car parked in Michelle's driveway in which documents bearing Gonzales' name were later discovered.

While police officers worked to establish a perimeter around the house, Gonzales voluntarily approached a police detective parked on the street and spontaneously uttered, in English, “I was involved. It was me. I was involved.” He was immediately arrested and searched, and property belonging to Michelle and her husband was found on his person. After the search, Gonzales asked, again in English, to be placed into the police car rather than be left standing in the street, and officers complied. Gonzales remained seated in the police car for approximately one hour with one back door open and the air conditioner turned on while the police continued to investigate the scene.

Gonzales was then transported to police headquarters and interrogated by Detective Patrick Flynn. Prior to the interrogation, Detective Flynn administered warnings, in English, pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). In English, Gonzales stated that he understood his rights and agreed to be questioned. Flynn repeated the warnings again, in slightly different and less formal language, later during the questioning. Gonzales, whose native language is Tagalog, never requested the assistance of an interpreter, and none was provided. The entire interrogation was conducted in English and tape-recorded. Gonzales subsequently confessed to the offenses in detail in English.

Gonzales and his two codefendants were each charged with the crimes of conspiracy to commit robbery, burglary while in possession of a firearm, robbery with use of a deadly weapon, and first-degree kidnapping with use of a deadly weapon.

Prior to trial, Gonzales filed a motion with the district court seeking to suppress incriminatory statements made during his recorded interrogation, asserting that he was under the influence of methamphetamine during the interrogation, and furthermore that he had not been provided with the assistance of a Tagalog interpreter even though English was not his native language. Following a two-day evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the motion. The recorded interrogation was played to the jury during Gonzales' trial, and he was convicted of all counts. This appeal followed.

ANALYSIS

In this appeal, we focus upon three contentions of error asserted by Gonzales.1 First, Gonzales contends the district court erred by admitting statements made during his recorded interrogation because those statements were not made freely or voluntarily. Second, he asserts the district court erred in admitting hearsay in the form of a rental car agreement and a Money Tree receipt bearing Gonzales' name found in a car parked in the driveway of the home. Third, Gonzales avers the evidence was insufficient to support convictions for both kidnapping and robbery, because those counts legally “merged” under the facts of this case.

Admission of Gonzales' incriminatory statements

Gonzales first contends that incriminatory statements made by him during his recorded interrogation should not have been admitted at trial because his grasp of the English language was insufficient for him to knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda rights, and because the circumstances demonstrate that the interrogation was coercive as he was not provided with the assistance of an interpreter. Therefore, Gonzales contends his confession should have been deemed inadmissible under the standard set forth in United States v. Garibay, 143 F.3d 534, 538 (9th Cir.1998).

When a confession is challenged and a hearing is requested under Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 380, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 12 L.Ed.2d 908 (1964), the State must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant's incriminatory statements are admissible. Dewey v. State, 123 Nev. 483, 492, 169 P.3d 1149, 1154 (2007). When a defendant has been subjected to “custodial interrogation,” the State must first demonstrate the police administered Miranda warnings prior to initiating any questioning. See State v. Taylor, 114 Nev. 1071, 1081, 968 P.2d 315, 323 (1998). If the warnings were properly given, the State must then prove the defendant voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently understood his constitutional right to remain silent and/or to have an attorney present during any questioning, and agreed to waive those rights. See Mendoza v. State, 122 Nev. 267, 276, 130 P.3d 176, 181–82 (2006) ; see also Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Even where such warnings were properly administered and waived, the State must also separately show that the defendant's incriminatory statements were voluntary under the totality of the circumstances. See Falcon v. State, 110 Nev. 530, 534, 874 P.2d 772, 775 (1994).

‘A confession is admissible as evidence only if it is made freely, voluntarily, and without compulsion or inducement.’ Echavarria v. State, 108 Nev. 734, 742, 839 P.2d 589, 595 (1992) (quoting Franklin v. State, 96 Nev. 417, 421, 610 P.2d 732, 734 (1980) ); see also Passama v. State, 103 Nev. 212, 213–14, 735 P.2d 321, 322 (1987) (“In order to be voluntary, a confession must be the product of a rational intellect and a free will.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Voluntariness must be determined by reviewing the totality...

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