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California and the West

State Court Further Limits Miranda Rights

Law: Statements made by suspects questioned after they ask for a lawyer can be used against them in some cases, jurists rule.

May 08, 1998|MAURA DOLAN | TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Even if a suspect asks for a lawyer and a police officer deliberately continues questioning him in violation of his Miranda rights, the suspect's statements can be used against him in court if he testifies in his own defense, the California Supreme Court held Thursday.

The court, ruling in a San Bernardino case, said a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed illegally obtained statements to be used to challenge the truthfulness of a defendant's testimony applies even when a police officer's violation of Miranda was "calculated and purposeful."

In the landmark 1966 Miranda case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that police must stop interrogating suspects once they have invoked the right to remain silent or asked for a lawyer. In recent years, however, the U.S. Supreme Court and state supreme courts have narrowed Miranda's scope--a trend that Thursday's ruling continued.

Alemayehu G. Mariam, who represented the defendant in Thursday's case, said the court's ruling gives police "a green light" to extract statements from suspects after they have invoked their Miranda rights.

"The whole notion of deterring police misconduct during interrogations has been dealt a severe blow," Mariam said. "It is a grand invitation to officers in the field to engage in deliberate disregard of Miranda and to interrogate until the suspect makes incriminating statements."

Mariam said he will appeal Thursday's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Deputy Atty. Gen. Sara Gros-Cloren predicted that the ruling would not alter police conduct, insisting that law enforcement officers "overwhelmingly comply with Miranda anyway."

"An officer who chooses intentionally not to comply with Miranda always runs the risk that he may cross the line into violation of due process, and the statements won't come in at all," she said.

An interrogation would violate due process if the defendant's statements were coerced or made as a result of being under duress. If a defendant can prove such a violation, his statements cannot be admitted for any purpose.

In 1971, the U.S. high court held that statements made in violation of Miranda could be used to challenge the veracity of a defendant if he takes the stand at trial.

California Chief Justice Ronald M. George, writing for a unanimous court, said that the earlier ruling was a judgment that it is more important to expose a defendant who is committing perjury than to deter possible police misconduct.

The high court is not inclined "to view police misconduct as justification for permitting the defendant to commit perjury, free from contradiction," George wrote. "The court's emphasis upon the essential truth-finding function of the trial seems applicable whether or not the government misconduct was deliberate."

Under Thursday's ruling, improperly obtained statements still cannot be used if the suspect declines to testify. An association of criminal defense lawyers in California had asked the court to bar such statements altogether on the grounds that police departments now routinely urge officers to violate Miranda because they know they can get the statements admitted if the defendant testifies. The court declined, saying it could not consider potential evidence of pervasive misconduct by police departments when it was not presented at trial.

Justice Stanley Mosk, in a concurring opinion, argued that the court would have had to prohibit illegally obtained statements if they were obtained under official police policy. But he agreed with the rest of the court that the issue had not been properly raised during trial.

The case before the court stemmed from the 1995 arrest of Airreque Peevy for attempted robbery of a San Bernardino restaurant. Peevy told San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies that he wanted a lawyer after he was advised of his Miranda rights.

But a detective said he continued to question Peevy "for impeachment purposes." Although the prosecution could not use Peevy's statements to convict him, the detective said he knew anything Peevy said could be used to challenge his testimony if he took the stand at a trial. Peevy did take the stand and testified that he had gone to the restaurant simply to frighten the manager because he had mistreated restaurant workers. The detective, in rebuttal, testified that Peevy had told him he went to the restaurant "for the money."

Peevy was convicted of attempted second-degree murder and served about 18 months in prison, his lawyer said.

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