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State v. Esquivel

Court of Appeals of Oregon

November 15, 2017

STATE OF OREGON, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
KAREN RENEE ESQUIVEL, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and submitted April 28, 2016

         Marion County Circuit Court 14C40664 Mary Mertens James, Judge.

          Kyle Krohn, Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs was Ernest G. Lannet, Chief Defender, Criminal Appellate Section, Offce of Public Defense Services.

          Rolf C. Moan, Assistant Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, and Paul L. Smith, Deputy Solicitor General.

          Before Ortega, Presiding Judge, and Lagesen, Judge, and Garrett, Judge.

         Defendant appeals a judgment of conviction for two counts of third-degree theft. Before trial, defendant moved to suppress her statement-"Fine, I'll admit guilt"-made during a police interrogation at her home. The trial court denied defendant's motion, reasoning that defendant's statement was not made in response to a question asked by the police officer's, but was a response to being told she was under arrest. Defendant argues that the threat of arrest before her admission created a police dominated atmosphere that required Miranda warnings-that is, she was under compelling circumstances before she admitted guilt. Held: Defendant's admission was the product of a constitutional violation. At the time of the admission, defendant was responding to continuous pressure to admit to the thefts and to the officer's assertion that she must cooperate in order to receive a mere citation. Under those circumstances, a reasonable person in defendant's position would have felt compelled to cooperate with the officer's in order to avoid going to jail, and defendant therefore remained in compelling circumstances when she said, "Fine, I'll admit guilt."

         [288 Or.App. 756] ORTEGA, P. J.

         Defendant appeals a judgment of conviction for two counts of third-degree theft. Before trial, defendant moved to suppress her statement-"Fine, I'll admit guilt"-made during a police interrogation at her home regarding recent thefts at a Safeway store. The court denied defendant's motion, reasoning that defendant's statement was not made in response to a question asked by the police officer, but was a response to being told that she was under arrest. Defendant assigns error to that ruling, asserting that her statement was made after she was interrogated under compelling circumstances and without required Miranda warnings. Reviewing for legal error, State v. Smith, 310 Or. 1, 7, 791 P.2d 836 (1990), we conclude that defendant's statement was indeed made under compelling circumstances and that its admission was not harmless. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.[1]

         We state the relevant facts consistently with the trial court's explicit and implicit factual findings. State v. Ehly, 317 Or. 66, 74-75, 854 P.2d 421 (1993). On February 5, 2014, Detectives Roberts and Myers went to defendant's home to talk to her about recent thefts at a Safeway store. Both detectives were in uniform, wore badges, and drove marked patrol vehicles. Upon arrival, Roberts saw defendant's car and went to her front door and knocked several times. Although no one responded, the detectives knew that someone was home because they peered through a window in defendant's door and saw a woman who matched defendant's description. They then called her phone twice and left her a voicemail. A few minutes later, dispatch called the detectives to tell them that defendant was attempting to reach them, so they called her back and asked her to come to the front door so they could interview her. She replied that she did not want to do that because she was naked and sick.

         Roberts gave defendant two options. First, if she refused to answer questions at her door, he would obtain a [288 Or.App. 757] warrant to arrest her in her home. Alternatively, she could talk to him at her door and receive a citation instead of being arrested. Defendant then agreed to speak with detectives at her door.

         During the questioning, defendant remained in the doorway, and the officers stood a couple feet away from her outside the door. Roberts informed defendant that they were investigating two incidents of theft at a local Safeway store. Defendant denied stealing anything and continued to do so when asked repeatedly. Roberts then told defendant that there was physical evidence of the thefts and asked for her cooperation, chiding her for continuing "to say that she didn't steal it even though there was video and a store manager *** witnessed her do both events." Finally, after he told her that she was under arrest, defendant responded, "Fine, I'll admit guilt." Roberts asked defendant to clarify her statement and, according to the officer, she responded that he had "accused her of stealing twice so she was cooperating by admitting guilt, " and that she "wanted her ticket now." Roberts then took defendant to jail.

         At the conclusion of the pretrial hearing on her motion to suppress, defendant argued that her statement was made under compelling circumstances, because Roberts's questioning was very aggressive and she did not feel that she was free to end the interrogation because she could not leave without being arrested. Although the trial court acknowledged that an interrogation had taken place before defendant made her admission, it concluded that the officers did not have an obligation to give Miranda warnings because, up until the arrest, defendant was neither "in custody" nor under "compelling circumstances." The court explained that the threat to arrest defendant did not make the circumstances compelling, as they would be when a suspect is questioned for 14 hours without water or rest, or when police draw their weapons or even handcuff a suspect without placing her under arrest. The court found it significant that the detectives did not pull their guns, that there was no physical contact between them and defendant, and that the questioning lasted only about 15 minutes. The court reasoned that defendant had options for responding to the officers once she was arrested, including the option of continuing to deny her [288 Or.App. 758] guilt. Observing that defendant's statement was not offered in relationship to a question, the court declined to suppress it.

         On appeal, defendant renews her arguments from the pretrial hearing. She contends that Roberts's threat of arrest if she did not cooperate created a police-dominated atmosphere that required Miranda warnings. Defendant asserts that even though the encounter happened at her home, she believed she could not terminate interrogation because of the pressure exerted on her to confess, and that the continuous knocking on her door, calls to her phone, and Roberts's promise to give her a citation rather than arrest her if she cooperated contributed to the police-dominated atmosphere.

         The state does not argue that the circumstances were not compelling; rather, it asserts that defendant's statement was not elicited in violation of Article I, section 12, of the Oregon Constitution because she was not being interrogated at the time she made it. The state focuses on the court's factual finding that defendant made the statement after she was told she was under arrest, and not in response to a question. The state cites State v. Doyle,262 Or.App. 456, 466, 324 P.3d 598, rev den,355 Or. 880 (2014), defining interrogation as "only *** words or actions on the part of police officers that they should have known were reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response." The state reasons that, unless a defendant's statement was in response to ...


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