Case o' The Week: Miranda Lives Another Day, Booking Exception by the Bay - Williams and Miranda Requirements
Book ‘em, Danno
(but Mirandize ‘em, too).
United States v. Alfonzo Williams, 2016 WL 7046754 (9th Cir. Dec. 5, 2016), decision available here.
Admirable win for NorCal CJA stalwart Mark Goldrosen.
Decision affirming suppression order by the Hon. District Judge William Orrick III.
Facts: Gilton invoked when arrested for murder. Id. *1. Hours later he was booked into a local jail: without Mirandizing Gilton, a sheriff’s deputy asked him whether he was associated with a gang. Id. Gilton’s affirmative(ish) answer was entered onto jail housing forms. Id. Years later, AUSAs tried to introduce Gilton’s response in a RICO trial. Id. District Judge Orrick granted a defense motion to suppress the statement, holding that the likely incriminating nature of answer to this question took it out of the booking exception to Miranda. Id. at *2.
Issue(s): “The government seeks to introduce Gilton's responses to that questioning in its case-in-chief to establish ‘membership in an enterprise,’ an element of the RICO offense for which he is charged. 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c), (d).” Id. at *1.
Held: “When the deputy asked Gilton about his gang membership, he had already been arrested on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, discharge of a firearm at an occupied motor vehicle, and possession of a firearm by a felon. Questions about Gilton’s gang affiliation were thus reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response, even if the federal RICO charges had not yet been filed.” Id. at *3.
“[W]e hold only that when a defendant charged with murder invokes his Miranda rights, the government may not in its case-in-chief admit evidence of the prisoner’s unadmonished responses to questions about his gang affiliation.” Id. at *5.
Of Note: The jail intake deputy, the government argued, had no idea that this “gang” question was going to be important to a later federal RICO prosecution.
Doesn’t matter, explains the Ninth – this is an objective inquiry, not subjective. “The government's assertion that such questions are posed routinely, and that the deputy asked the questions for a non-investigatory purpose, does not alter our conclusion. ‘The test is an objective one, however, and thus the subjective intent of the police, while relevant, is not conclusive.” . . . And, the objective inquiry is simple: Under the circumstances, are questions about gang affiliation reasonably likely to produce an incriminating response? In a case involving Medicare fraud, they are not. But when murder is the charge, the questions—even if asked for administrative purposes—are reasonably likely to elicit incriminating information.” Id. at *4.
How to Use: Great outcome in a hotly-contested San Francico case. Beware, however, of the pains Judge Hurwitz takes to limit this holding. Id. at *5 (discussing what the Court “do[es] not hold].” Jail staff can ask about gang affiliation, without Mirandizing inmates – the answer just can’t be used in a murder case where gang affiliation is in play. Id.
Note, however, the logical extensions of this holding: the Court rattles off a laundry list of the nasty ramifications of gang affiliation in federal court. Id. at *3 (a list worth a clip into your research files). In any of those scenarios, where “[g]ang membership . . . expose[s] a defendant to federal criminal liability,” the Williams’ Miranda holding on gang questioning at booking should apply.
For Further Reading: You lost in the fog of the layers of Miranda exceptions? You’re in good company: the circuits are split on how to tackle this question of the “booking” exception to Miranda’s limits. For an interesting discussion of the split, and the subjective / objective debate over booking interrogations, see George C. Thomas III, Lost in the Fog of Miranda, 64 HASTINGS L.J. 1501 (2013), available here.
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Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender N.D. Cal. Website at www.ndcalfpd.org