Sunday, April 27, 2014

Case o' The Week: Loyal to Doyle - Ramirez-Estrada and Post-Miranda Silence

Silence is golden.
Hon. Judge Richard Clifton
Not commenting on that silence -- even better.
United States v. Ramirez-Estrada, 2014 WL 1646931 (9th Cir. Apr. 25, 2014), decision available here.

Players: Decision by Judge Clifton, joined by Judge Schroeder and visiting D.J. Tunheim. Nice win for Caitlin Howard, Ass’t Def., Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.

Facts: Ramirez-Estrada, an undocumented alien, had been deported several times. Id. at *1. While incarcerated in ’05, he sustained a serious jaw injury – a district judge had order treatment, but it never happened and Ramirez-Estrada was deported. Id. In 2011, he tried to enter the U.S. through San Ysidro, allegedly saying he had been born in Vegas but lost his papers. Id. Ramirez-Estrada, however, testified he only attempted to enter the US to get his painful jaw injury treated as had been ordered by a judge, and testified that he had told that to border agents. Id. at *2. To impeach the defendant, the government offered the testimony of the agent who had booked him. Id. That agent said that (after Ramirez-Estrada invoked Miranda) he reported no health problems like “heart condition, diabetes, or anything like that.” Id. at *2-*3. The jury convicted Ramirez-Estrada of attempted illegal entry and making a false claim to U.S. citizenship. Id. at *3.

Issue(s): “This case concerns the scope of a criminal defendant's constitutional rights under Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610 (1976), which prevents impeachment impeachment of a defendant with his post-Miranda silence.” Id. at *1.

Held:Nothing Ramirez–Estrada said in those [post-Miranda] statements served to impeach his testimony. Rather, it is what he failed to say that was relevant to undermine his credibility. We thus conclude that the use of Ramirez–Estrada's post-invocation silence to impeach him violated his rights under Doyle. Because this error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, we reverse.” Id. at *1. “Although neither the Supreme Court nor this court has previously faced the particular situation presented here, we conclude that Doyle bars admission of Ramirez–Estrada's statements to Officer Nicasio. It is clear and undisputed that Ramirez–Estrada invoked his Miranda rights by asking for a lawyer. The difficult question is the second one: whether his statements in response to Officer Nicasio's routine booking questions were directly inconsistent with his trial testimony. We conclude that they were not and that it was, instead, his silence that was used against him.” Id. at *4.

Of Note: This is a careful, nuanced decision that relies heavily on the precise words used during the booking process. Id. at *5. How can Judge Clifton quote this exchange verbatim? “A recording of the interview, from which we can draw precise quotations, is part of the record.” Id. at *5 & n.3. 
  Would this constitutional violation have been discovered, if the record was merely a swearing match between the agents and the defendant? 
  Ramirez-Estrada illustrates the travesty of federal agents refusing to tape interviews – the only reason not to record is to hide violations like the Doyle problem in this case.

How to Use: Can you have a Doyle violation (an improper use of silence) without a Miranda violation? Yep. “[A] Doyle violation occurs where the prosecution uses defendant’s post-invocation silence to impeach him, regardless of whether the police complied with Miranda.” Id. at *4. Judge Clifton offers a helpful discussion of the subtle nuances of Doyle caselaw, and of the Ninth’s lead decision in Caruto. Read Ramirez-Estrada for a good explanation of how omissions, impeachment, and silence interaction in the Doyle analysis.
For Further Reading: D.O.J.’s new clemency initiative offers hope to thousands of inmates imprisoned under federal drug laws. See press release here.  For a good general description of this program, see the Washington Post article here
  More details, and a discussion of the most obvious candidates for clemency, can be found here .

Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender N.D. Cal . Website at

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