United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S
MOTION TO SUPPRESS CUSTODIAL STATEMENTS TO LAW
MATTER comes before the Court following a hearing on
Defendant Darren Benally's Motion to Suppress
Custodial Statements to Law Enforcement and Memorandum in
Support (Doc. 32, filed 8/23/18).
Having reviewed the pleadings of the parties, considered the
testimony and evidence presented at the October 15, 2018
suppression hearing, and considered the oral arguments of
counsel and the applicable law, the Court finds that
Defendant's motion is not well-taken and, therefore, is
Darren Benally (“Defendant”) filed the instant
Motion to Suppress Custodial Statements to Law
Enforcement (Doc. 32) on the grounds that Defendant did
not receive an adequate Miranda warning because it
was delivered to him in English, and that he did not
knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda
rights. The Court held a suppression hearing on October 15,
2018, during which the Government submitted the testimony of
four witnesses. The Government presented the testimony of
Shiprock Police Officer Lojann Dennison, FBI Special Agent
Jeffrey Wright, San Juan Spring Company Machine Shop
supervisor Ronald Johnson, and San Juan College faculty
member John Hoff. Both parties submitted argument and
exhibits, including the audio recording of the interrogation
of Defendant (Government Ex. 1) and the transcript of the
audio recording (Government Ex. 1A, Defense Ex. A),
which were admitted without objection. Prior to the hearing,
the Government had maintained that although Defendant was
interrogated, he was not in custody and the Miranda
requirement thus did not apply to the interrogation. At the
hearing, however, the Government changed its position and
conceded that Defendant was in a custodial interrogation,
and, therefore, the Miranda warning was required.
Tr. at 101:18-21. The Court now finds that the evidence shows
that Defendant understood the Miranda warning
delivered in English to the degree required by the Supreme
Court of the United States and the Court of Appeals for the
Tenth Circuit, and that Defendant did knowingly and
intelligently waive his Miranda rights on March 27,
evening of March 27, 2018, the Shiprock Police dispatch
received a call reporting a male bleeding from the head.
Shiprock Police Officer Lojann Dennison (“Officer
Dennison”) responded to the scene near the Sanostee
Chapter House in Sanostee, New Mexico, at approximately 8:22
John Doe's body was on the ground, covered with a
blanket. Officer Dennison questioned witnesses at the scene
and called for an investigator from the Navajo Department of
to the criminal investigator or FBI special agent arriving,
Officer Dennison detained Defendant by placing him in the
backseat of her marked Navajo Police Department vehicle,
where Defendant remained for up to three hours. Officer
Dennison did not place any restraints on Defendant, and
Defendant was free to move in the backseat of the Navajo
Police vehicle. The back doors were locked and could only be
opened from outside of the vehicle. Defendant did not ask to
use the restroom or to exit the vehicle, although he did
complain in English about his legs feeling cramped. Officer
Dennison advised Defendant in English that he could sit
sideways in the backseat. Officer Dennison did not
interrogate Defendant, but she did ask him for identifying
information including his name, date of birth, Social
Security number, his address and P.O. Box number. She did not
Mirandize Defendant before or after asking him about his
identifying information. She testified that she asked these
question in English and he responded appropriately in
English. Tr. at 10:19-11:1. Officer Dennison testified that,
in her opinion, Defendant was not free to leave the vehicle.
Tr. at 22:25-23:1.
Criminal Investigator Wilson Charley (“CI
Charley”) arrived at the scene, as did FBI Special
Agent Jeffrey Wright (“SA Wright”). It is not
clear from the record the exact times that CI Charley and SA
Wright arrived at the scene, but both were there by about
10:30 p.m. SA Wright is based in Farmington, New Mexico, and
is tasked primarily with investigating crimes that occur in
Indian Country. SA Wright testified that when he arrived at
the scene, he was dressed in civilian clothes and that his
badge and weapon were covered. He testified that CI Charley
was dressed in a similar manner, and that CI Charley's
weapon and badge were also covered. Sometime close to 11:30
p.m., SA Wright and CI Charley met Defendant and escorted him
from the Navajo Police vehicle to CI Charley's unmarked
police vehicle. SA Wright asked Defendant to sit in the front
passenger seat of CI Charley's vehicle, while SA Wright
sat in the driver's seat and CI Charley sat in the back
seat behind Defendant. CI Charley's vehicle was an
unmarked police SUV that had the appearance of a civilian
vehicle. It was approximately 34 degrees outside, and CI
Charley's vehicle provided heat and privacy. The doors of
the vehicle remained unlocked during the interview and
Defendant was never handcuffed during the interrogation.
Charley and SA Wright (collectively “agents” for
ease) conducted a recorded interrogation of Defendant from
11:34 p.m. to 12:51 p.m. in CI Charley's vehicle (one
hour and seventeen minutes). See Ex. 1 (audio
recording) and Ex. 1A (recording transcript). Prior to
delivering the Miranda warning, SA Wright asked
Defendant biographical and identifying information, including
his full name, Social Security number, birthdate, physical
address, where he was employed, and some educational
background. Ex. 1A at 2-6. Before reading the
Miranda warning, the following exchange took place
regarding the Advice of Rights Form (Government Ex. 2):
SA WRIGHT: And so it's important for us just to find out,
you know, everything we can, whatever bits of information
that you think might be helpful for us, so that we can figure
that out. All we care about is -- is truth. That's it.
We're just trying to -- to find out, you know, the
truthfulness of any situation. And, you know, my
understanding is you were out here. And -- and you can kind
of help give from what you saw, heard, smelled, you know,
everything just that you can remember to help kind of piece
that together. Does that make sense?
MR. BENALLY: Yeah.
SA WRIGHT:··And so we want to go over that.
Now, before we talk to you, we always like to go over
--·I don't know if you watch TV or movies. We
always go over advice of rights and things --
SA WRIGHT:··-- just to make sure you understand
what those things are.··And if you have any
questions, feel free to ask them to me,
too.··Do you read -- do you read English well?
MR. BENALLY:··Uh, not --
SA WRIGHT:··Or do you want --
MR. BENALLY: -- not -- not -
SA WRIGHT: -- me to read it to you?
MR BENALLY: Yeah, yeah.
SA WRIGHT: It's late, too.
MR BENALLY: Yeah.
SA WRIGHT: So I understand that, also, you know.
MR BENALLY: No.
SA WRIGHT: Um --
MR. BENALLY: English wasn't my first language, but -
SA WRIGHT: Yeah.
MR. BENALLY: I -- I -- I -- I kind of know it.
SA WRIGHT: You speak Navajo?
MR BENALLY: Yeah.
SA WRIGHT: Man, talk about a tough language. That's one
that I -- I wish I had down.
Ex. 1A at 6:25-8:15. SA Wright then explained that he was
filling out the date and time on the waiver form and that he
was going to read the form to Defendant. SA Wright read the
Before we ask you any questions, you must understand your
rights. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say
can be used against you in court. You have the right to talk
to a lawyer for advice before we ask you any questions. You
have the right have a lawyer with you during questioning.
If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you
before any questioning, if you wish. If you decide to answer
questions now without a lawyer present, you have the right to
stop answering at any time.
Tr. at 9:3-14. The following exchange took place after
Defendant was Mirandized:
Wright: And then do you have any questions on any of those
things there? I mean, ...