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United States v. Griego

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 3, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DENNIS GRIEGO, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         Defendant Dennis Griego (Defendant) is charged with being a felon in possession of a semi-automatic pistol and ammunition.[1] On July 27, 2017, Defendant filed a motion to suppress all statements he made to law enforcement on or about April 29, 2016, when he was arrested.[2]Defendant argues that the Miranda warnings he received prior to interrogation were facially invalid and therefore that any waiver of his rights he made based on the deficient warnings was not knowing, voluntary, or intelligent. The Motion is fully briefed.[3] Finding that the Miranda warnings were adequate, the Court will deny the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant is a convicted felon who was on parole when law enforcement pursued him for operating a stolen vehicle on April 27, 2016. He eluded the police that day, but they obtained an arrest warrant and went to his residence on April 29, 2016. Defendant was taken into custody after the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) SWAT team arrived and used gas to force him to exit the residence. Defendant was then removed to a location approximately half a mile from Defendant's residence. There, Defendant spoke to APD Detective Whitney Burton while Defendant was in the back of a police car. Detective Burton testified that Defendant was able to converse intelligently and did not appear to be suffering any adverse effects from his exposure to the gas.

         Detective Burton advised Defendant of his Miranda rights before she began questioning him, but she did not read the rights to him because she did not have the written form. She said, “you're in custody . . . so before I ask you anything, I have to read you your rights, okay? . . . I think I actually left them in the car.” Detective Burton proceeded to inform Defendant of his rights from her memory. She said:

So you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court. If you can't afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you at no cost. Uh, at any time during questioning you want to answer my questions without an attorney present, you can put your rights into effect and at any time . . . as far as uh, if you want a lawyer at any time and you wanted to cease ah, questions to stop . . . we can do that at any time. Do you understand?

         To which Defendant replied, “I'll probably get up for like a minute. Yes, I do understand, sorry.” Detective Burton then said, “Okay. Do you wanna talk to me?” Defendant answered, “I don't know. What are your questions? What's going on?” And Detective Burton reiterated, “Well I have to make sure . . . You understand your rights, right?” Defendant replied, “Yes, ma'am.” Detective Burton then explained that she had some questions about the house and “stuff like that” but reiterated that “you're in custody so I have to make sure you understand your rights and that I can ask you the questions and you're willing to talk to me.” Defendant said “Okay” and Detective Burton began questioning him.

         During this interview in the police car, Defendant told Detective Burton about cars and other property that he had stolen. Detective Burton had previously obtained a state court search warrant for the residence where Defendant had been located, and after she concluded her initial questioning Defendant was transported to the APD substation while Detective Burton and other law enforcement officers searched the house where Defendant had been staying. They found a semi-automatic pistol inside the residence. Detective Burton and Detective Tommy Benavidez then went to question Defendant for a second time at the substation. Detective Burton did not read Defendant his Miranda rights again at that point, but said “you were read your rights out at the scene. I read your rights out at the scene?” Defendant said yes, and Detective Burton asked, “you understand your rights still?” Defendant replied, “yes, ma'am.” Detective Burton and Detective Benavidez then began questioning Defendant about property that had been found in the house, including the firearm. Detective Burton testified that Defendant's demeanor at this second interview was similar to the first interview, and she did not believe that the passage of more time since the gas was used on Defendant had resulted in any changed effects. Defendant told them that the gun was his, that he had taken it when burglarizing a vehicle, and that he had attempted to obliterate the serial number so that it would not be identifiable as stolen. Later, the detectives drove Defendant around several neighborhoods and Defendant identified locations where he had stolen cars and other property. At no time was Defendant given any further Miranda warnings.

         Defendant was arrested and charged by indictment with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He now argues that the Miranda warnings he was given while in custody were inadequate, and asks the Court to suppress all statements he made in response to questioning by law enforcement. The United States responds that Defendant was adequately advised of his Fifth Amendment rights but he knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived them.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Fifth Amendment guarantees the right of an accused to avoid self-incrimination. U.S. Const. amend. V. An individual in custody “must be warned prior to any questioning that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.” Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 479 (1966). Custodial statements obtained through interrogation are inadmissible unless the accused received the Miranda warnings and voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his Fifth Amendment rights. Id. at 444, 479.

         “The four warnings Miranda requires are invariable, but [the Supreme] Court has not dictated the words in which the essential information must be conveyed.” Florida v. Powell, 559 U.S. 50, 60 (2010). “In determining whether police officers adequately conveyed the four warnings, . . . reviewing courts are not required to examine the words employed as if construing a will or defining the terms of an easement. The inquiry is simply whether the warnings reasonably convey to a suspect his rights as required by Miranda.” Id. (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted).

What Miranda does require is meaningful advice to the unlettered and unlearned in language which he can comprehend and on which he can knowingly act. We will not indulge semantical debates between counsel over the particular words used to inform an individual of his rights. The crucial test is whether the words in the context used, considering the age, background and intelligence of the individual being interrogated, impart a clear, understandable warning of all of his rights.
It is, of course, always open to an accused to subjectively deny that he understood the precautionary warning and advice with respect to the assistance of counsel. When the issue is raised in an admissibility hearing, it is for the court to objectively determine whether in the circumstances of the ...

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