PD-0244-19 & PD-0245-19 06/05/2019
The Eighth Court erred in upholding the trial court’s ruling that the second, in-car session of Lujan’s interview was not a continuation of the first, interview-room session, because: (1) under the Bible factors, the second-session interview was a continuation of the first; and (2) requiring police to re-Mirandize a suspect if the police engage in ambiguous conduct that could be construed as terminating, or setting a temporal limitation on, the interrogation (and attendant Miranda rights) undermines the ease and clarity of Miranda’s application by requiring officers to continually second-guess whether they made any such potentially ambiguous statements.
Lujan was arrested in connection with a murder committed during a larger crime spree. She was taken to an interview room at police headquarters that was “rigged” for audio- and video-recording, and Det. Ochoa Mirandized her. She denied involvement in the murder but admitted being present when the body was disposed of. She repeatedly asked to take Det. Ochoa and Det. Camacho to where the body was buried, and they agreed. Before leaving the room, Det. Ochoa said “And when we come back, we can continue, if you like, okay?”
Six minutes later (and 19 minutes after first being Mirandized), Det. Camacho and Ochoa resumed questioning Lujan in a police vehicle, as she gave directions to find the body. Believing this to be a continuation of the prior interview, the detectives did not re-Mirandize her, but they did audio-record it on a police-department iPad that Det. Camacho placed between himself and Lujan. Lujan was not told the iPad was recording. During the 3-hour-long car ride, she made incriminating statements about a related kidnapping and other offenses. She took police to the general area where the body was buried, but when they could not find the exact burial spot, they returned to headquarters.
About two hours later, the detectives began the third and final session in an interview room, explaining to Lujan, “this is a continuation of our interview that we had taken before.” This time, she was re-Mirandized and she repeated much of what she said during the second recording.
Lujan argued in her motion to suppress that the session in the car should be suppressed under Miranda and Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 38.22 because she was not given the relevant warnings at the beginning of that interview. The State argued that the sessions were part of a single interview that happened to take place in two locations and that the original Miranda warnings were still effective. In suppressing the second statement, the trial court found that Det. Ochoa’s statement that they could continue “when we come back” was calculated to make Lujan believe that any statement she made en route to find the body would not be used against her.
The State appealed the pre-trial suppression ruling. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s suppression of the second statement as not being a continuation of the first. Under the factors of Bible v. State, 162 S.W.3d 234 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005), it held that while the length of time between the statements weighed heavily in favor of finding one continuous interview, the failure to remind Lujan of the earlier warnings weighed heavily against it, and the remaining two factors, including whether the interrogation was conducted by different officers and discussed different offenses, were neutral. It found two additional circumstances supported the trial court’s ruling—(1) the interviews were conducted in different locations, and (2) Det. Ochoa told Lujan that the interview could continue when they returned, which the court of appeals found cut “sharpest” against the State’s position.
The State argues that the six-minute pause between the first interview and the in-car interview was so short as to not be meaningful. It contends the court of appeals should have placed little weight on the lack of a reminder, as no defendant would have forgotten the warnings under those circumstances. The State also takes issue with the two Bible factors the court of appeals found neutral because the interrogation was, in fact, conducted by the same two officers and most of the different offenses discussed in the second interview were related to the crime spree or were part of Lujan’s explanation of how she knew those involved. The setting was different for the two sessions only because the detectives were accommodating Lujan’s request to take them to the body. Finally, the State argues that Det. Ochoa’s statement about continuing when they returned would not have clearly conveyed to all involved that the interrogation was over or that what was said in the interim would not be used against her. The State points out that Lujan never testified as to how she understood the detective’s off-hand statement and that it is vague and ambiguous. A clear and unambiguous termination of the interview is required given the policy of Supreme Court Miranda jurisprudence to avoid rules requiring police to make difficult judgment calls about Miranda’s application. The court of appeals’ ruling undermines this policy and “unduly hampers law-enforcement’s legitimate efforts to obtain admissions of guilt.”