Saturday, November 19, 2011

Case o' The Week: Mommy & Miranda - Ortiz, the Fifth Amendment, and Confessions

What could be more heartwarming than a maternal cop who assures a nervous young defendant that she "loves him," tells him that he reminds her of her own kids, warmly refers to him as a "young puppy," and assures him that she wants to hug him?

(Oh - did we mention that she also misleads him about being a cop while preparing him for a polygraph, and then elicits a murder confession that leads to his conviction?) Ortiz v. Uribe, 2011 WL 5607625 (9th Cir. Nov. 18, 2011), decision available here.

Players: Decision by Judge Alarcón.

Facts: Suspected of a homicide, eighteen-year old Ortiz voluntarily went to the sheriff’s for questioning. Id. at *1, *2. He waived his Miranda rights. Id. at *1. To support his claim of innocence Ortiz agreed to a polygraph. Id.

Detective Kathy Cardwell conducted the examination – but didn’t reveal to Ortiz that she was a sheriff. Id. When he admitted that he was nervous, Cardwell assured him she would help him get through. Id. Before the exam, she called Ortiz, “young puppy,” and “poor guy.” She compared Ortez to her own sons, “told him that she loved him, and offered him a hug.Id. (emphasis added). She informed Ortiz that the “cops” couldn’t dictate the questions to her (not revealing that she was a cop,) and assured him “They [the cops] can’t have any say so in here, this is my world.” Id. “[D]o the right thing by [your] mom,” she urged, and by your “daughters and lady.” Id. After these instructions, and before the exam started, Ortiz confessed to the shooting. Id. at *2.

He was convicted in state court of, among other things, murder. The California appellate and Supreme Court denied his challenges to the use of his statements in trial, id., and the federal district court denied his habeas petition. Id. at *3.

Issue(s): “The question before this court is whether the California Court of Appeal’s decision was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Supreme Court law, or whether the court’s decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented when the court determined that Ortiz’s will was not overborne when he confessed, based on the totality of the circumstances, including Ortiz’s claim that Detective Cardwell played a maternal role during the interview, concealed her identity as a police officer, allegedly made implicit promises that Ortiz would be given leniency, and appealed to his moral obligation to his family. Ortiz argues that his confession was involuntary because his will was overborne as a result of deceptive interrogation tactics.” Id. at *4.

Held: “[A] polygrapher’s empathic and parental questioning does not render a confession involuntary. We are persuaded that the undisputed evidence reflected in the record of the state trial court’s proceedings demonstrates that Detective Cardwell’s advice to Ortiz that he had to tell the truth to pass a polygraph examination, was not coercive. The California Court of Appeal’s conclusion that Detective Cardwell’s motherly or parental tone in preparing Ortiz for a polygraph examination did not violate Ortiz’s Fifth Amendment rights was not contrary to, and did not involve an unreasonable application of, clearly established Supreme Court law, and was not based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented.” Id. at *6.

Of Note: There’s little silver lining, in this dark cloud. Beyond its tolerance for an -- unusual -- interrogation technique (remember, Ortiz was just 18), the opinion isn’t bothered by the fact that Detective Caldwell ‘concealed the fact that she was a sworn officer and misled appellant into believing that she was not a police officer and that she was his ally rather than his adversary.” Id. at *6. “[T]his type of ‘deception,’” reassures Judge Alarcón, “is well within the range of permissible interrogation tactics necessary to secure a lawful confession by the police.” Id. at *6.

How to Use: Ortiz is a habeas case, and the Ninth is working under the extraordinarily deferential standards of AEDPA. It is conceivable that on a direct challenge, the facts of Ortiz could violate the Fifth – yet not rise to the level of AEDPA error. Hammer that distinction: the more Ortiz is confined to habeas law, the better.

For Further Reading: “[T]he current system of criminal law and enforcement (like too many of our citizens) has grown obese.” So observes Justice Stevens, in a fascinating N.Y.T. book review on our “Broken System of Criminal Justice,” available here.

"My Mom is a Deputy Sheriff" from

Steven Kalar, Senior Litigator N.D. Cal. FPD. Website at


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