Thursday, February 07, 2013

[Ed. note: I should have explained yesterday that I'm filling in for Jon Sands as the squib writer this week. I should also have explained that my aim when I write squibs is to put enough information in the first paragraph to allow the reader to decide whether to read the rest of it.]

Dyer v. Hornbeck, No. 10-15044 (Sack, J. [2d Cir.], author, with Gould, J.; M. Smith, J., concurring)
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial (Wagner, D.J.) of a California state prisoner's ยง 2254 petition. Applying AEDPA's limitation on relief, the panel held that the California Court of Appeal did not unreasonably conclude that the petitioner was not "in custody" when she gave statements to the police during a stationhouse interview, such that the failure to give her Miranda warnings would have required suppression of the statements. Concurring, Judge Milan Smith emphasized that he would have vacated the petitioner's conviction and remanded for a new trial if he were sitting in direct review.
The petitioner was convicted in Fresno County Superior Court of first-degree murder and other crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. According to the California Court of Appeal, the petitioner had been seated in the back of a patrol car during a search of her home. She could not leave the patrol car. A sheriff's detective asked her if she wanted to go to the stationhouse to answer questions, and she agreed. At the stationhouse, she was never handcuffed and never formally arrested. At the beginning of the interview, she was told she was free to leave; as the interview progressed, however, a detective testified that the petitioner would have been arrested if she had tried to leave. The interview began at midnight and lasted until approximately 4 in the morning. She was arrested at the end of the interview after telling the detectives she wanted to go home. Before trial, she moved to suppress her statements on the ground that she was "in custody" and not given the Miranda warnings. The trial court denied the motion after a hearing, and the California Court of Appeal affirmed.
The court was "troubled" by the state's argument that the petitioner voluntarily accompanied the detectives to the stationhouse. As Judge Smith explained, her "'consent' [to accompany them to the stationhouse] was obtained while she was already under total police control." In order for her to refuse consent, he pointed out, she would have had to escape from the back of a locked police car. And other aspects of the interrogation -- its four-hour duration through the early morning hours and the extent to which the petitioner was confronted with evidence of guilt -- also weighed in favor of finding that she was "in custody."

But AEDPA's limitation on relief allowed the panel to discount these concerns. Pointing to both Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit decisions, similar facts (more precisely, similar enough facts) in other cases required the conclusion that the California Court of Appeal's decision in this case was not unreasonable. In particular, the public-facing orientation of the interrogation room, the fact that the petitioner was allowed to use the restroom twice, and the possibility that during one of those breaks she could have found her own way out of the stationhouse, supported the panel's conclusion that reasonable jurists could disagree as to whether the petitioner was "in custody" such that the Miranda warnings were required. Judge Smith countered, "The State's claim that a female suspect, under the circumstances here, stranded far from her home in the dead of night would simply walk out of a police interview strains credulity, even if the front door was wide open." And even if she had, he added, she had no way of getting home -- "Fresno is not Manhattan, where taxis and buses run all night and residents can reasonably hope to obtain a safe ride home." Furthermore, the relevant inquiry under Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99 (1995), is not whether the petitioner theoretically could have left, but whether she felt free to leave. Moreover, even though the detectives told her at the outset of the interview that she was in fact free to leave, by the end of the first hour it would have been clear to her that she was not free to leave because the interrogating detectives had confronted her with evidence of her guilt. In Judge Smith's view, the petitioner was in custody and entitled to the Miranda warnings.
The decision is here:


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