Morales v. State, A15A2386

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Writing for the CourtBranch, Judge.
PartiesMorales v. The State.
Docket NumberA15A2386
Decision Date29 June 2016

337 Ga.App. 614
788 S.E.2d 535

Morales
v.
The State.

A15A2386

Court of Appeals of Georgia.

June 29, 2016


788 S.E.2d 537

Charles Christopher Flinn, for Appellant.

Robert D. James Jr., Deborah D. Wellborn, for Appellee.

Branch, Judge.

337 Ga.App. 614

On appeal from his conviction for rape, Christian Morales argues that the evidence did not support the jury's verdict and that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress his statement to police and when it admitted only the incriminating portions of that statement. We find no reversible error and affirm.

“On appeal from a criminal conviction, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, with the defendant no longer enjoying a presumption of innocence.” Reese v. State , 270 Ga.App. 522, 523, 607 S.E.2d 165 (2004) (citation omitted). We neither weigh the evidence nor judge the credibility of witnesses, but determine only whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, “any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia , 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781 (III) (B), 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979) (citation omitted).

So viewed, the record shows that on the evening of March 3, 2013, the victim, a mother of three, went to a DeKalb County club to dance, fully clothed, with men for a dollar per song. After she had danced with a few men, Morales approached the victim as she was eating and began talking to her. Morales, who was accompanied by several others, wrote his name and phone number on the victim's hand and asked her to call him. As the victim prepared to leave the club, Morales offered the victim a ride, which she refused, telling him that she was going to take a taxi. As the victim went down the steps to the club's taxi stand, Morales insisted that she ride home with him. When the victim continued to refuse, Morales put his hand over her mouth and told her to be quiet or something was going to happen to her.

Morales and another man, Elman Mendez, then forced the victim into the backseat of a car driven by a third man, Ruperto Mencho, who drove to a nearby park. A fourth man called Zurdo, who had been seated in the front seat of the car and was wearing a white shirt, took the victim out of the car, beat her, placed her on the grass, and told her that she was going to die. When it became clear that the victim was not going to lose consciousness, the man called the other men for help in taking the victim's clothes off and holding her down on the ground.

337 Ga.App. 615

Zurdo forcibly penetrated the victim's vagina with his penis while he held his hand over the victim's mouth. Zurdo then forced his penis into the victim's mouth, during and after which Mencho and Morales also had forcible intercourse with the victim. The victim's cell phone, money, and keys were taken during the attack. Morales later confessed to being present throughout the attack, to having intercourse with the victim, and to ejaculating inside her a “little.”

As Mendez also attempted to rape the victim, the three other men heard sirens and fled. When Mendez apologized to the victim, the victim responded that if he stayed with her, she would not tell the police anything about the incident. When Mendez agreed, the victim took him to a house nearby, telling him that her aunt lived there. No one answered the door at that house, however. At the second house, a woman opened the door, but she began to scream for the police when the victim told her that she had been raped. Although no one responded at the third house, two police cars soon arrived on the street, and the victim, who was found walking with Mendez, mouthed the words “Help me” to one of the police officers. After she had been separated from Mendez, the victim told the officers that she had been attacked by four men, including Mendez. On the basis of information gained from Mendez the following day, police arrested Mencho and Morales. Zurdo was never apprehended.

At the hospital to which the victim was taken by police, an examination showed that the victim, who was crying, dirty, and disheveled,

788 S.E.2d 538

had suffered numerous external injuries, including scratches on her face and bruises on her neck, inner thighs, and genitals, as well as injuries to her cervix. Two unarmed detectives were present at an interview with Morales, who was not restrained. One of the detectives, who spoke Spanish, read a Miranda warning printed in Spanish to Morales and obtained Morales's initials and signature on that warning. The detective then interviewed Morales in Spanish. During the first part of the fifty-two minute interview, all of which was transcribed, Morales admitted that the other men had told him that they “were going to rape” the victim, but denied that he had done so. Toward the end of the interrogation, however, Morales admitted that he had intercourse with the victim and had ejaculated a “little” into her body. In the course of the interview, the detective urged Morales to “tell the judge” “sincerely” that he had “made a mistake” and to write the words “Forgive me for everything” on his recorded statement.

Mencho, Morales, and Mendez were charged with rape and kidnapping. Only Mencho's DNA was detected in a swab taken from the victim's vagina. Mencho pled guilty to rape, and Mendez to aggravated assault with intent to rape. After a hearing, Morales's motion to suppress his statement on the ground that it was not

337 Ga.App. 616

voluntarily given was denied. After a trial at which Morales did not testify, a jury acquitted him of kidnapping but found him guilty of rape. Morales was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. His motion for new trial was denied.

1. Although Morales challenges the sufficiency of the evidence against him, that evidence, including his confession to having intercourse with the victim after his confederates had beaten and raped her, authorized the jury to conclude that Morales had sexual intercourse with the victim forcibly and against her will and was therefore guilty of rape. See OCGA § 16–6–1 (a) (1) (defining rape); McKenzie v. State , 187 Ga.App. 840, 842, 371 S.E.2d 869 (1988) (affirming co-defendants' convictions for rape when victim had cervical abrasions consistent with forcible sex); Jackson , supra.

2. Morales argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress his statement because (a) his Miranda rights were not waived knowingly and intelligently and (b) his statement to police was not freely and voluntarily given. We disagree.

On appellate review of “a trial court's grant or denial of a motion to suppress, the trial court's findings on disputed facts will be upheld unless clearly erroneous, and its application of the law to undisputed facts is subject to de novo review.” Barrett v. State , 289 Ga. 197, 200, 709 S.E.2d 816 (2011) (citation omitted). “[W]hether a defendant lacks the capacity to understand and waive such rights due to a mental deficiency or illiteracy is a question of fact for the trial court to determine.” Id. “The admissibility of a defendant's statements is determined based on the totality of the circumstances.” Drake v. State , 296 Ga. 286, 289, 766 S.E.2d 447 (2014) (citation omitted).

(a) The record shows that at the time of his interview, Morales was 18 years old, had been in the United States for four months, and had finished the sixth grade in Guatemala. The copy of the Miranda warnings that Morales initialed and signed was in Spanish, and was read to Morales in Spanish, and the transcript of the interview shows that when Morales responded to questions as to whether he understood his Miranda rights, he responded, “Hmm” and nodded his head, at which point the detective told him that he was required to respond affirmatively by saying, “Yes,” which Morales did. This trial court did not clearly err when it concluded that, under the totality of the circumstances, Morales understood his Miranda rights and knowingly and voluntarily, without coercion, waived those rights. Barrett , 289 Ga. at 200, 709 S.E.2d 816 (trial court's factual finding that defendant did not suffer from cognitive impairment sufficient to show that he did not have the capacity to understand and knowingly waive Miranda rights was not clearly erroneous).

337 Ga.App. 617

(b) OCGA § 24–8–824 provides: “To make a confession admissible, it shall have been made voluntarily, without being

788 S.E.2d 539

induced by another by the slightest hope of benefit or remotest fear of injury.”

The promise of a benefit that will render a confession involuntary ... must relate to the charge or sentence facing the suspect. Generally, the “hope of benefit” to which the statute refers has been
...

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6 practice notes
  • Danley v. State, A17A0634
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • June 23, 2017
    ...with the writing or recorded statement."); Westbrook v. State, 291 Ga. 60, 62, 727 S.E.2d 473 (2012) ; Morales v. State, 337 Ga. App. 614, 619 (3) (a), 788 S.E.2d 535 (2016).5 See OCGA § 24–4–403 ("Relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the d......
  • Holzheuser v. State, A19A0757
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • June 12, 2019
    ...that the trial judge may [favorably] consider his truthful cooperation with the police.") (punctuation omitted); Morales v. State , 337 Ga. App. 614, 617 (2) (b), 788 S.E.2d 535 (2016) (holding that exhortations to tell the truth are not improperly coercive).31 (Citation omitted.) State v. ......
  • In re Interest of L.J., A16A0424
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • June 29, 2016
    ...the truck so as to warrant his adjudication for delinquency based on OCGA § 16–5–20 (a) (2).5 As stated above, L.J. shot the tire on the 788 S.E.2d 535 rear-passenger side, on the opposite side from where the victim was sitting inside the truck. Moreover, the victim testified that he no lon......
  • Hudson v. State, A19A2108
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • November 14, 2019
    ...the truth" do not render a confession involuntary because "no hope of benefit springs from such an admonishment." Morales v. State , 337 Ga. App. 614, 617 (2) (b), 788 S.E.2d 535 (2016) (citation and punctuation omitted). Undoubtedly, the officer in this case admonished Hudson not to lie. B......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Danley v. State, A17A0634
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • June 23, 2017
    ...with the writing or recorded statement."); Westbrook v. State, 291 Ga. 60, 62, 727 S.E.2d 473 (2012) ; Morales v. State, 337 Ga. App. 614, 619 (3) (a), 788 S.E.2d 535 (2016).5 See OCGA § 24–4–403 ("Relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the d......
  • Holzheuser v. State, A19A0757
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • June 12, 2019
    ...that the trial judge may [favorably] consider his truthful cooperation with the police.") (punctuation omitted); Morales v. State , 337 Ga. App. 614, 617 (2) (b), 788 S.E.2d 535 (2016) (holding that exhortations to tell the truth are not improperly coercive).31 (Citation omitted.) State v. ......
  • In re Interest of L.J., A16A0424
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • June 29, 2016
    ...the truck so as to warrant his adjudication for delinquency based on OCGA § 16–5–20 (a) (2).5 As stated above, L.J. shot the tire on the 788 S.E.2d 535 rear-passenger side, on the opposite side from where the victim was sitting inside the truck. Moreover, the victim testified that he no lon......
  • Hudson v. State, A19A2108
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • November 14, 2019
    ...the truth" do not render a confession involuntary because "no hope of benefit springs from such an admonishment." Morales v. State , 337 Ga. App. 614, 617 (2) (b), 788 S.E.2d 535 (2016) (citation and punctuation omitted). Undoubtedly, the officer in this case admonished Hudson not to lie. B......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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