People v. Orozco

Decision Date28 February 2019
Docket NumberB288942
Citation32 Cal.App.5th 802,244 Cal.Rptr.3d 337
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Eduardo OROZCO, Defendant and Appellant.

Certified for Partial Publication.*

Brad Kaiserman, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Zee Rodriguez, Supervising Deputy Attorney General, and Daniel C. Chang, Deputy Attorney General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

HOFFSTADT, J.

While watching his six-month-old daughter by himself one evening, a man struck her so hard that he killed her. He confessed to doing so while meeting privately with the child’s mother in a police interview room, and the trial court admitted the confession at trial. That meeting, however, was orchestrated by police and occurred just hours after defendant had been questioned by police, had proffered an innocent explanation for the infant’s death, and had thereafter repeatedly asked for a lawyer. This appeal presents three questions bearing on the admissibility of confessions in criminal cases: (1) Does a suspect’s invocation of his right to counsel under Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 ( Miranda ) preclude the admission of a confession a suspect subsequently makes to a person he is unaware is functioning as an agent of law enforcement, (2) Does continued questioning of a suspect after invocation of the Miranda right to counsel automatically taint any subsequent confession, and (3) Does the above described law enforcement conduct otherwise violate due process? We conclude that the answer to all three questions is "no," and affirm the trial court’s ruling admitting his confession.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
I. Facts
A. Underlying crime

Mia was a little over six months old at the time of her death. Mia died from blunt trauma. She had 29 bruises, seven rib fractures, a punctured right lung, bruised lungs, and a lacerated liver. Most of these injuries had been inflicted in the hours prior to Mia’s death, as a pediatrician’s appointment earlier the same day revealed only a few bruises and no internal bleeding.

Just hours before her death, however, Mia was playing with toys and "look[ing] fine." That was how her mother Nathaly Martinez (Martinez) last saw Mia, when she left the infant in the sole custody of her boyfriend and Mia’s father, Edward Orozco (defendant).

A few hours later, defendant called Martinez to report that Mia was not breathing. Martinez rushed back home, but Mia’s body was cold to the touch and attempts at CPR by defendant, Martinez, and Martinez’s relative did not resuscitate her. Administering CPR did not inflict any of Mia’s injuries.

Someone called 911, and emergency medical personnel responded. A paramedic had to carry Mia out of the home while defendant, Martinez and other family members quarreled among themselves.

Attempts to revive Mia failed.

B. Subsequent interviews
1. Law enforcement interrogates defendant (the first interview)

A little before dawn the day after Mia’s death, defendant voluntarily accompanied police to the police station. He met with three officers in an interview room, and they told him he was "not in custody" and was "free to leave." One of the officers nevertheless read defendant his Miranda rights, and defendant indicated that he understood them.

Defendant then proffered his account of what happened. He said he gave Mia some baby Motrin when she was crying; that he put her in her crib; and that when he came back upstairs a few hours later to check on her, her face was up against the side of the crib and she was no longer breathing. Defendant had no explanation for how Mia got so bruised up.

The interviewing officers expressed some skepticism, pointing out that defendant was "the last one with her" and pressing for an explanation of the numerous bruises on her body. However, defendant stuck to his account of what happened and said he "would never hurt [his] daughter."

An officer then asked if defendant would be "willing to sit down and repeat the story on a polygraph machine." Defendant responded by asking, "Can I have an attorney?" The officer responded, "Sure you can have an attorney," but that officer and another officer then proceeded to ask defendant at least four times, "Why would you need an attorney"? In the midst of these further questions, defendant requested an attorney four more times, all the while maintaining that his account was truthful and that he had no explanation for Mia’s injuries.

At that point, one of the officers placed defendant under arrest for Mia’s murder. Another officer told defendant, "[Y]ou ask[ ] for your attorney ... but we’re asking for your honesty." The officer then told defendant, "[i]f you’re willing to talk to us right now" "[w]ithout your attorney present" "and [to] explain what happened[,] I’m not going to take you to jail." Defendant repeated his request for an attorney and the officer said, "All right. Go to jail. Done."

At that point, the interview ended. Defendant had not made any incriminating statements.

2. The conversation between defendant and Martinez

a. Pre-conversation

Several hours after the first interview, the police allowed defendant and Martinez to meet in an interview room at the police station. It is not clear who suggested the meeting. Before placing Martinez in the interview room, one of the police officers told her that maybe "you can get the full explanation out of [defendant]." The officer reminded her, "You are the mother of Mia and that you ha[ve] a right to know, that you ha[ve] to know, and that you ha[ve] to know everything." The officer did not give Martinez specific questions to ask or describe the particular information to get from defendant, but Martinez felt like she had to report back to the police.

b. First portion of conversation

The officer escorted Martinez into the interview room and immediately left, leaving Martinez alone with defendant. Their conversation was recorded.

Martinez asked defendant what happened while he was watching Mia. Defendant gave Martinez the same explanation he had previously given the police. Defendant said he was "scared," but Martinez assured him that "[she] knew" he "didn’t do anything."

c. Interruption regarding autopsy and subsequent discussion

One of the officers then entered the interview room. He said he had received a call from the coroner’s office. The autopsy, he reported, showed that Mia had "died at the hands of [an]other," that Mia "didn’t suffocate," and that her bruises were caused by "a beating." The officer then told defendant, "[Y]ou were the last one with your daughter and there’s [no] doubt [about] it. She suffered major injuries. This may be the last time you guys get to talk to each other in person, okay?" He stated that "right now both of you are looking at going to jail for child neglect; causing the death of that baby." He then asked, "Did either of you have anything you want to say to me?" Martinez said, "No"; defendant was silent.

The officer left the interview room.

Martinez again asked defendant, "What happened?" Defendant said he "want[ed] [the police] to leave [her] alone" and that he did not want "them to take" Martinez. Martinez again reassured him, "We’re ... going to get through this."

d. Officer momentarily pulls Martinez out of the room

The same officer who announced the autopsy results re-entered the room and asked Martinez to step outside. He asked if she would take a polygraph test, and informed her that defendant had refused to do so. The officer then escorted Martinez back to the interview room. The officer later admitted that his purpose in doing this was to "stimulate conversation" between Martinez and defendant.

e. Resumption of conversation and confession

Once they were alone again, Martinez asked defendant, "[W]hy don’t [you] want to take [the] polygraph?" Martinez reminded defendant that she was "Mia’s mother," that she "need[ed] to know what happened to her," and that, "If you love me, you need to tell me the truth."

Defendant at first replied that he "didn’t do it," but moments later said he "did it." While sobbing, he went on to confess that he "hit her" "once" and that he "fucking killed Mia," their "little baby."

A few minutes later, the officer returned, said "Time’s up," and escorted Martinez from the interview room.

II. Procedural Background
A. Charges

The People charged defendant with (1) murder ( Pen. Code, § 187, subd. (a) ),1 and (2) assault on a child causing death (§ 273ab, subd. (a) ).2

B. Cross motions to suppress and admit

Defendant filed a written motion to exclude his confession as obtained in violation of Miranda . The People filed a cross-motion to admit the confession.

The trial court ruled that the confession was admissible. The court found that Martinez was an agent of the police at the time she spoke with defendant in the interview room, but ruled that "the case law"—specifically, Illinois v. Perkins (1990) 496 U.S. 292, 110 S.Ct. 2394, 110 L.Ed.2d 243 ( Perkins ), People v. Guilmette (1991) 1 Cal.App.4th 1534, 2 Cal.Rptr.2d 750 ( Guilmette ) and People v. Plyler (1993) 18 Cal.App.4th 535, 22 Cal.Rptr.2d 772 ( Plyler )—foreclosed defendant’s argument that his prior invocation of his Miranda right to counsel mandated suppression because defendant had been unaware of Martinez’s role as a police agent and thought he was talking to his girlfriend. The court also rejected defendant’s argument that officer’s intervention to announce the autopsy results changed the analysis because the officer "just came in and then he left again."

C. Verdicts, sentencing and appeal

The matter proceeded to a jury trial. The jury convicted defendant of second degree murder and assault on a child causing death.

The trial court sentenced def...

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