State v. Naranjo

Decision Date18 March 2014
Docket NumberNo. CR–11–0151–AP.,CR–11–0151–AP.
Citation321 P.3d 398,234 Ariz. 233
PartiesThe STATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. Israel Joseph NARANJO, Appellant.
CourtArizona Supreme Court


Thomas C. Horne, Arizona Attorney General, Robert L. Ellman, Solicitor General, Jeffrey A. Zick, Chief Counsel, Capital Litigation Section, Laura P. Chiasson (argued), Assistant Attorney General, Tucson, for State of Arizona.

James J. Haas, Maricopa County Public Defender, Peg Green (argued), Deputy Public Defender, Terry J. Reid, Deputy Public Defender, Phoenix, for Israel Joseph Naranjo.

Justice PELANDER, opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 A jury found Israel Joseph Naranjo guilty of two counts of first degree murder and sentenced him to death. We have jurisdiction over this automatic appeal under Article 6, Section 5(3) of the Arizona Constitution and A.R.S. § 13–4031.


¶ 2 On March 25, 2007, Naranjo stabbed his pregnant girlfriend, Delia Rivera, twelve times, killing her and the unborn baby. After his arrest, Naranjo confessed to the murder.

¶ 3 The State charged Naranjo with two counts of first degree murder. Rejecting Naranjo's insanity defense, the jury found him guilty of both counts. With regard to Rivera's murder, the jury found two aggravating factors: Naranjo was previously convicted of a serious offense, and the murder was especially cruel. With regard to the murder of Rivera's child, the jury likewise found two aggravating factors: Naranjo was previously convicted of a serious offense, and Naranjo was an adult when he killed an unborn child. In the penalty phase of the trial, after finding his mitigation not sufficiently substantial to call for leniency, the jury sentenced Naranjo to death for each murder.

A. Waiver of Miranda Rights

¶ 4 Naranjo argues the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress his post-arrest confession. We review that ruling for abuse of discretion, viewing the evidence presented at the suppression hearing in the light most favorable to sustaining the ruling. State v. Spears, 184 Ariz. 277, 284, 908 P.2d 1062, 1069 (1996); State v. Apelt, 176 Ariz. 349, 363, 861 P.2d 634, 648 (1993).

¶ 5 Following Naranjo's arrest on the day of the murders, Detective Alex Femenia interviewed him. At the beginning of the video-recorded interview, the detective advised Naranjo of his Miranda rights and asked if he understood those rights. After several requests, Naranjo twice replied, “yeah.” Naranjo then confessed to the murders, stating, “I just remember just [sic] stabbing [Rivera]. I had to.” Naranjo expressed remorse for his actions, stating, “I wish I could take [them] back.” Naranjo also made several remarks questioning whether his situation was “real.”

¶ 6 Before trial, Naranjo moved to suppress incriminating statements he made during the interview, claiming he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda rights and that his statements were involuntary.1 During a two-day evidentiary hearing on the motion, Naranjo called a clinical psychologist, Dr. Thomas Thompson, who testified that Naranjo was “actively psychotic” at the time of the interview. In response, the State called Detective Femenia, who testified that Naranjo did not act “strangely” before the interview and that Naranjo had fourteen police encounters before his arrest in this case. The trial court denied Naranjo's motion, ruling that his interview statements were voluntarily made after he validly waived his Miranda rights.

¶ 7 A knowing and intelligent waiver of Miranda rights occurs when the suspect understands those rights and intends to waive them. State v. Carrillo, 156 Ariz. 125, 135 n. 15, 750 P.2d 883, 893 n. 15 (1988). In assessing a waiver, courts examine the totality of the surrounding circumstances, “including the defendant's background, experience, and conduct.” State v. Montes, 136 Ariz. 491, 495, 667 P.2d 191, 195 (1983). The defendant's prior interactions with law enforcement are relevant to this inquiry. Id.

¶ 8 Mental illness, by itself, will not invalidate an otherwise knowing and intelligent waiver. See State v. Clabourne, 142 Ariz. 335, 342, 690 P.2d 54, 61 (1984); accord United States v. Turner, 157 F.3d 552, 556 (8th Cir.1998) (holding that, although defendant was intoxicated at the time of his confession and exhibited signs of mental illness, the defendant “understood his rights and knowingly waived them”). The test is whether a suspect's mental disabilities “render him unable to understand the meaning of his statements.” Clabourne, 142 Ariz. at 342, 690 P.2d at 61.

¶ 9 According to Naranjo, the record is “replete with objective factors” demonstrating that he was incapable of understanding his rights. He points to statements that he claims show his “irrational beliefs of a plot to kill him and his belief he needed to protect himself.” He also notes that a jail mental health counselor reported that, during a post-arrest assessment, Naranjo looked up to the ceiling and said, “see all the dead people up there.” Viewed in the context of his documented history of mental illness, Naranjo argues that these statements and behavior show that his mental state “prevented him from making a knowing and intelligent waiver.”

¶ 10 Other evidence in the record, however, supports the State's contention that during the interview Naranjo appreciated why he was there, what he had done, and the rights he was waiving. When asked at the start of the interview if he understood his rights, Naranjo answered “yeah” and repeated that answer at Detective Femenia's request. Although Naranjo asserts that Femenia's recitation of his Miranda rights was “perfunctory” and structured to encourage a waiver, Naranjo does not argue that the warnings were deficient or otherwise invalid. During the interview, Naranjo appears upset, somewhat distant, and at times unintelligible. But he is generally coherent and responsive throughout the interview, recounting in some detail the circumstances surrounding the crime and expressing remorse for his actions.

¶ 11 On this record, the trial court could reasonably conclude that Naranjo understood the rights he waived and “appeared to be coherent and aware of the import of his statements.” Clabourne, 142 Ariz. at 342, 690 P.2d at 61 (holding, based on his tape recorded confession, that the defendant validly waived his Miranda rights despite his claim that he had taken heavy doses of the prescription drug Thorazine and exhibited “bizarre behavior indicative of mental illness”). The fact that Naranjo had fourteen prior encounters with the police also supports this finding. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Naranjo knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights and ruling that the confession was admissible.

B. Striking of Juror for Cause

¶ 12 Naranjo argues the trial court erred in striking Juror 36 for cause, violating Naranjo's constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial. Trial judges are in the best position to “assess the demeanor of the venire, and of the individuals who compose it.” Uttecht v. Brown, 551 U.S. 1, 9, 20, 127 S.Ct. 2218, 167 L.Ed.2d 1014 (2007). Accordingly, we review a trial court's decision to strike a potential juror for cause for abuse of discretion. State v. Jones, 197 Ariz. 290, 302 ¶¶ 24, 26, 4 P.3d 345, 357 (2000).

¶ 13 Question thirty-five on the jury questionnaire asked: “Do you have any religious, moral, philosophical, or ethical issues that would prevent you from passing judgment on another human being if selected as a juror in this case?”. Juror 36 marked “Yes” and explained: “I believe in God & he does not kill people for their mistakes.” When asked in another question, “Is there anything about the alleged facts of this incident that would affect your ability to be a fair and impartial juror in this case?”, Juror 36 responded: “See # 35.” In response to another question that asked, “Will you, for whatever reason, automatically vote against the death penalty without considering the evidence and the instructions of law that will be presented to you?,” Juror 36 did not answer yes or no, but rather wrote in the margin: [N]ot sure[;] need more info.”

¶ 14 During small-group questioning of prospective jurors in court, the prosecutor directed Juror 36 to her response to question thirty-five, asking: “If the facts and the law says the death penalty is appropriate, can you do it even though you believe it violates the tenets of God?”. Juror 36 responded: “Yes.” When asked to elaborate on her answer to the question regarding whether she would automatically vote against the death penalty, Juror 36 stated: “I just don't know the whole case. I don't know the whole story.”

¶ 15 The State also asked Juror 36 about her answer to a question on which she indicated she might have difficulty viewing photographs of a fetus because she had undergone an abortion that was “not [her] decision.” The prosecutor asked Juror 36 “whether or not your prior experience and what's happened to you is so great that this just might not be the case for you,” and Juror 36 responded: “I'm not sure.” She later confirmed that the questions concerning the death penalty and the fetus were “emotional topics” for her, but affirmed she would “listen to both sides fairly and impartially.”

¶ 16 After the prospective jurors were excused for the day, the State moved to strike Juror 36 and one other juror. The judge agreed to strike Juror 36, stating: “The Court's had an opportunity to view her demeanor during jury selection, listen to her answers. Her demeanor is her head was down, she's very, very emotional. The Court views her answers as confusing, at best, and it was hard for her to articulate.”

¶ 17 A trial court may strike a prospective juror for cause only when the juror's views on capital punishment “would ‘prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in accordance with his instructions and his oath.’ Wainwright v....

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