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Arizona Court Holds Defendant’s Statements to Police Were Not Taken in Violation of His Fifth Amendment Rights in Recent Murder Case

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona murder case discussing whether the defendant’s statements to police were taken in violation of his Fifth Amendment right to be free from self-incrimination. Ultimately, the court determined that the admission of the defendant’s statements was proper because the police officers taking the statements did not violate the defendant’s rights in the process.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, in October 2015, police found a 75-year-old man stabbed to death in his home. The investigation led to the arrest of the defendant. After his arrest, detectives claim they read the defendant his Miranda warnings, however, the defendant alleged that the warnings were not read to him. While parts of the interview were recorded, the reading of the Miranda warnings were not.

Initially, the defendant denied all involvement, however, he later admitted to killing the victim because he thought the victim “was a child molester.” The defendant also admitted to stealing the victim’s truck and throwing the murder weapon in the Colorado River. The defendant was arrested, charged, and ultimately convicted of murder.

On appeal, the defendant challenged the lower court’s admission of his confession into evidence. The defendant claimed that 1.) the detectives did not read the Miranda warnings, 2.) if they did, he did not understand the warnings, and 3.) he invoked his right to remain silent but the officers continued to question him.

When police arrest a suspect, they generally must read that person the Miranda warnings before taking a statement. An officer’s failure to read an arrestee these warnings may render any statement the defendant makes inadmissible, as it was taken in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights.

Here, however, the court resolved the appeal against the defendant. First, the court noted that, while the Miranda warnings were not recorded, both detectives testified to reading the defendant the warnings. The court explained that Miranda warnings do not need to be recorded, and that the officers’ testimony was sufficient to show that the warnings were read.

Next, the court dismissed the defendant’s argument that he did not understand the warnings, noting that there a defendant’s “cognitive deficiencies are generally not relevant to a determination of voluntariness unless the police knew or should have known about them.” Here, the court noted that there was no indication the police had any idea the defendant did not understand the warnings.

Finally, the court addressed the defendant’s claim that he invoked his right to remain silent when he asked “are we done now” several times during the interview. The court explained that to invoke the right to remain silent, a defendant must unequivocally and unambiguously do so, and here, the defendant’s vague comments failed to meet that standard. Thus, the court determined that defendant’s statement was properly admitted into evidence, and affirmed his conviction.

Have You Been Arrested After Making a Statement to Detectives?

If you have recently been arrested for a crime after making a statement to police or detectives, contact Attorney James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Attorney Novak is a veteran Tempe criminal defense attorney with extensive experience handling a wide range of serious felony crimes across the state, including Arizona violent crimes. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation today, call 480-413-1499.

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