Defendant invoked right of silence; says Farmington police ignored law
Did Farmington detectives violate the constitutional rights of a murder suspect who says he was drunk on vodka while being interrogated?
The New Mexico Supreme Court will consider that question next month in the case of Donovan King.
State District Judge John A. Dean Jr., right, ruled a year ago that statements King made to police officers could not be used as evidence against him.
Dean said police violated King’s right to remain silent by coercing him and forging ahead with questioning, even after he said he did not want to talk “at the moment.”
In seeking to suppress his statements to police, King said he was intoxicated and also had smoked marijuana before detectives questioned him.
The state appealed Dean’s ruling. Now the five-member Supreme Court will accept briefs from prosecutors and the defense on whether the interrogation was lawful.
King, 23, was one of two men charged in the beating death of Kevin Lossiah in Farmington on May 29, 2011.
Police arrested King soon after and read him his rights, including remaining silent and asking for an attorney to represent him.
A prosecutor in Farmington said King voluntarily and intelligently signed a waiver giving up his right to silence.
“Even if the detective understood the defendant to mean that the defendant wished to talk, just at a later time, it is clear that the defendant did not wish to be interrogated at that time,” Dean said.
Citing the Miranda warning established by the U.S. Supreme Court, Dean said police may not interrogate a defendant who does not want to answer questions.
“Coercion was exerted when the detective suggested that evidence pointed to the defendant, but that the detective would not divulge the information unless the defendant signed the paper,” Dean stated in his ruling.
The state attorney general’s staff is handling the appeal on behalf of San Juan County prosecutors. King is being represented before the state Supreme Court by a public defender.
This month, a jury convicted the other defendant in Lossiah’s killing.
Justin Mark, 25, was found guilty of first-degree murder. He faces a sentence of life in prison, but will be eligible for parole after 30 years.
Police say King and Mark decided to rob Lossiah. Armed with a club, the attackers beat Lossiah in his apartment before stealing his wallet and cell phone.
Lossiah, who was 40, died later in a hospital.
ORIGINS OF MIRANDA WARNING
King is from Red Valley, Ariz., the state where the Miranda warning is rooted.
It is named for Ernesto Miranda, who was picked up by police in Phoenix on the night of March 13, 1963. They accused him of a kidnap and rape.
At the station house, Miranda stood in a lineup. He did not know it at the time, but the woman who had been attacked did not positively identify anyone.
Police bluffed Miranda, suggesting that she had picked him as the assailant. He signed a confession to that crime and to an earlier kidnapping and robbery.
Despite his admissions to police, Miranda pleaded not guilty and went on trial in June 1963. His attorney tried to block Miranda's confessions, but judges in each of the two cases allowed them into evidence.
Miranda was convicted and sentenced to the Arizona State Prison for 25 to 30 years for rape and another 20 to 25 years for robbery.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear his case after he had been in prison for two years.
Miranda's actually was one of six cases that the Supreme Court combined in a review of how police obtained confessions.
All of them were similar. The defendants said they had been coerced or tricked into confessing, denied an attorney during questioning or kept ignorant of their right to say nothing to police.
The Supreme Court referred to the collective case as “Miranda” because his name was first on the list of six.
Years later, John P. Frank, an attorney from Phoenix who represented Miranda on appeal, told me that defendants too often were victimized by police.
“You can always get a confession if you rub pepper in somebody's eyes or beat him,” Frank said.
On June 13, 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to overturn Miranda's rape conviction.
The justices held that criminal suspects in custody had to be expressly told of their constitutional rights or their confessions would not be admissible in court.
Miranda was retried and convicted again, even though his confessions were not admitted as evidence the second time.
Paroled in December 1972, Miranda tired to capitalize on his notoriety. He would stand outside the courthouse in Phoenix, selling cards with the printed warning named after him.
On Jan. 31, 1976, Miranda played in a poker game at a bar in a neighborhood called The Deuce.
A fight began over a $3 bet, and Miranda joined in. Then he went to the men’s room to wash blood from his hands. As he walked out, he was jumped by two men and stabbed. He died that night at age 35.
Police later picked up a suspect. They read the man his rights, including the one against self-incrimination. He remained silent and went free.