From Casetext: Smarter Legal Research

People v. Garcia

Feb 13, 2020
F076265 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 13, 2020)




THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. RICHARD GARCIA, Defendant and Appellant.

Gideon Margolis, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant. Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, Louis M. Vasquez and Ian Whitney, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN THE OFFICIAL REPORTS California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115. (Kern Super. Ct. No. DF012268A)


THE COURT APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Kern County. Steven M. Katz, Judge. Gideon Margolis, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant. Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, Louis M. Vasquez and Ian Whitney, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Before Poochigian, Acting P.J., Detjen, J. and Meehan, J.


In an amended information filed February 9, 2017, the Kern County District Attorney charged defendant Richard Garcia with one count of assault with a deadly weapon while confined in state prison (count 1; Pen. Code, § 4501, subd. (a)), and one count of possessing a weapon while confined in a penal institution (count 2; § 4502, subd. (a).) The information also alleged that defendant had suffered seven prior serious or violent felony convictions. (§§ 667, subds. (c)-(j), 1170.12, subds. (a)-(e).)

All further statutory references are to the Penal Code unless otherwise stated.

A jury convicted defendant on count 2 but was unable to reach a verdict on count 1. The court found all the prior serious or violent felony conviction allegations (§§ 667, subds. (c)-(j), 1170.12, subds. (a)-(e)) true.

The court sentenced defendant to 25 years to life in prison. (See § 667, subd. (e)(2)(A)(ii).)

We affirm the judgment.


On March 23, 2015, shortly after 2:00 p.m., Correctional Officer Romero Hernandez and his partner Officer Adrian Diaz-Albarran were working on the "C yard" of Kern Valley State Prison when a fight broke out between two inmates. Defendant and Julio Ortiz, both inmates, were striking each other in the head and upper torso area with their fists. Officer Hernandez initiated a "Code 1," prompting the assistance of others in the facility. Correctional officers told the inmates to "[g]et down." Defendant and Ortiz continued fighting for about 30 seconds before finally complying with the orders to get down.

Correctional Officer Martin Pompa handcuffed Ortiz. Pompa observed that Ortiz had a cut on the back of his head, and a cut on his back below the neck. The cut to Ortiz's head looked like a "slashing wound." Pompa searched Ortiz and found no contraband.

Officer Hernandez handcuffed defendant to ensure he did not resume fighting. Hernandez observed that defendant had a laceration on the middle finger of his right hand. This was a "red flag" to Hernandez leading him to believe there was "more than likely" a weapon on the yard. The type of injury lead Hernandez to believe the weapon was a razor blade.

The correctional sergeant in charge, Tomas Castellanos, initiated a "grid search" to locate the suspected weapon. Shortly after the grid search began, defendant said to Castellanos: "Hey, to save you guys some time, it's over by the workout bars." Defendant turned his head, pointing in the direction of a set of workout bars in front of Building 6. Castellanos said, "The workout bars in front of Building 6?" Defendant replied, "Yes."

Officer Diaz-Albarran located a razor blade in the location defendant had identified. When Sergeant Castellanos learned the razor blade had been found, he asked defendant, "Is that your weapon?" Defendant replied, "Yes."

District Attorney Investigator Mark Herman interviewed defendant on September 3, 2015, at Kern Valley State Prison. Defendant admitted assaulting Ortiz over personal issues and admitted having a weapon. However, defendant claimed: "I change[d] my mind at the last minute" and "tried to drop [the] weapon," but it "must have got stuck in my hand" because "I guess I did cut him or something."

The defense presented evidence that several inmates believed the altercation had been a fist fight, rather than a fight involving a weapon.


Defendant raises two Miranda challenges; the first regarding his statement in the prison yard immediately after his fight with Ortiz, and the second regarding his interview with an investigator months later. We will address each in turn. A. Law

Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436 (Miranda).

Statements stemming from a "custodial interrogation" of a person may not be used by the prosecution unless effective procedural safeguards were used to secure the privilege against self-incrimination. (Miranda, supra, 384 U.S. at p. 444.) Generally, this means the person must have been advised, before questioning, of the right to remain silent; that any statements made may be used against the person; and that he or she has the right to a retained or appointed attorney. (Ibid.)

In determining whether Miranda warnings are required, the crucial question is whether the statements were made in connection with a custodial interrogation. (See People v. Ochoa (1998) 19 Cal.4th 353, 401.) " 'Absent [a] "custodial interrogation," Miranda simply does not come into play.' [Citation.]" (Ibid.) Both aspects of a custodial interrogation must be present to trigger Miranda - the defendant must "be in custody" and be subjected to "interrogation." (People v. Mosley (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 1081, 1088-1089.)

An "interrogation" occurs for Miranda purposes when a law enforcement officer uses words or engages in actions they should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response. (People v. Mosley, supra, 73 Cal.App.4th at p. 1089.)

" '[C]ustody' is a term of art that specifies circumstances that are thought generally to present a serious danger of coercion." (Howes v. Fields (2012) 565 U.S. 499, 508-509 (Howes).) In determining whether a defendant is in "custody," courts will consider whether a reasonable person would have felt at liberty to terminate the questioning. (Id. at p. 509.)

A trial court's conclusion that Miranda does not apply "is examined independently, the underlying findings are scrutinized for substantial evidence. [Citation.]" (People v. Clair (1992) 2 Cal.4th 629, 678.) "A determination whether police conduct amounted to a temporary detention for investigation or something more is reviewed independently. [Citations.] By contrast, 'findings on whether there was custodial interrogation ... are reviewed for substantial evidence ....' [Citation.] So too ... are the underlying findings on whether there was 'custody' and 'interrogation.' " (Ibid.) B. Miranda Warnings Were Not Required for Sergeant Castellanos's Brief Questioning of Defendant

1. Additional Facts

The prosecution filed a motion in limine seeking to admit defendant's statements to Sergeant Castellanos in the prison yard immediately after the event, as well as defendant's statements to Investigator Herman months later. Defendant requested the statements be excluded or a hearing be held under Evidence Code section 402 to determine whether Miranda was "satisfied."

The court held a hearing under Evidence Code section 402, at which Sergeant Castellanos testified. Castellanos testified that defendant told him, "To save you guys some time, it's over there by the workout bars." Castellanos had not asked defendant a question. Castellanos responded to defendant's statement by asking him, "By the workout bars in front of Building 6?" Defendant responded, "Yes." Once the razor blade was found, Castellanos asked defendant if the weapon was his. Defendant responded, "Yes." Castellanos did not give defendant any Miranda warnings.

2. Analysis

Defendant argues that he was "in custody" when Sergeant Castellanos asked whether the razor blade was his. He observes that he was in a prone position with his hands cuffed behind his back. Defendant also claims he was "surrounded" by the prison personnel who responded to the altercation.

Certainly, defendant was detained in a very real sense when Sergeant Castellanos asked him whether the razor blade was his. But the Miranda decision expressly excepts from its scope "[g]eneral on-the-scene questioning as to facts surrounding a crime ...." (Miranda, supra, 384 U.S. at p. 477.) " 'When circumstances demand immediate investigation ... the most useful, most available tool for such investigation is general on-the-scene questioning, designed to bring out the person's explanation or lack of explanation of the circumstances which aroused the suspicion of the police, and enable the police to quickly determine whether they should allow the suspect to go about his business or hold him to answer charges.' [Citations.]" (People v. Carter (1980) 108 Cal.App.3d 127, 131 (Carter).) Thus, Miranda warnings are not required when law enforcement temporarily detains a person for brief questioning aimed at dispelling the officer's suspicions. (Ibid.; see also People v. Clair, supra, 2 Cal.4th at pp. 679-680.) Such questioning does not constitute an "interrogation." (Carter, supra, at p. 131.) Of course, if the questioning " 'cease[s] to be brief and casual and become[s] sustained and coercive,' " then Miranda warnings will be required. (Ibid.)

Here, Sergeant Castellanos asked two questions: one to clarify the meaning of defendant's volunteered statement about where the razor blade was located, and the second to ask whether the razor blade eventually found by another officer belonged to defendant. This was clearly a "brief interaction "designed to bring out [a] person's explanation or lack of explanation of the circumstances which arouse[] [his] suspicion ...." (Carter, supra, 108 Cal.App.3d at p. 131.) Therefore, no Miranda warning was required. C. Miranda Warnings Were not Required for Investigator Herman's Questioning

1. Additional Facts

At the hearing held under Evidence Code section 402, Investigator Herman testified. He said that he "request[ed] simply to see if [defendant] is willing to come out and talk to me." Herman said he did not "demand" that defendant see him. Defendant was escorted, in handcuffs, to a room in his housing unit, where the questioning took place. The use of handcuffs is standard when transporting inmates in defendant's housing unit. The room was seven or eight feet wide and "probably" 10 feet "deep." Defendant was in a holding cell in the back of the room, that was roughly four feet by four feet. The walls of defendant's holding cell were similar to chain link fence, but with much smaller "openings." The door to the holding cell was locked during the interview.

Investigator Herman was wearing black utility pants and a black short-sleeved collared shirt with "Investigator M. Herman" and an embroidered badge on it. Herman had his handcuffs and a gun holster, but no gun.

Near the beginning of the interview, Herman told defendant, "Before I ask you anything about [the incident in March], uh, I want to you [sic] you're not obligated to talk to me." Defendant responded, "Yeah." Herman then said, "Okay, if you choose not to, let me know. I'll call him right back in here and they'll get you back to your cell. So, keep that in mind. I would like to ask you what happened. Why it happened. Those types of questions if you're willing to talk to me. You good? Okay...."

Herman did not give defendant any other Miranda warnings.

2. Analysis

"[I]mprisonment alone is not enough to create a custodial situation within the meaning of Miranda." (Howes, supra, 565 U.S. at p. 511.) Questioning an inmate "does not generally involve the shock that very often accompanies arrest." (Ibid.) Inmates live in prison, so "the ordinary restrictions of prison life, while no doubt unpleasant, are expected and familiar and thus do not involve the same 'inherently compelling pressures' that are often present when a suspect is yanked from familiar surroundings in the outside world and subjected to interrogation in a police station. [Citation.]" (Ibid.) Moreover, inmates are less likely to agree to answer questions solely to be released from the custodial interrogation - inmates "know[] that when the questioning ceases, he [or she] will remain under confinement. [Citation.]" (Ibid.)

Courts have focused on several factors under these circumstances: "whether the language summoning defendant from his prison lodging was coercive, whether the physical surroundings of the questioning were unduly coercive, whether the defendant was confronted with evidence of guilt, and whether there was an opportunity given to this person to leave the site of questioning. [Citation.]" (People v. Macklem (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 674, 687.)

Defendant argues "physical surroundings during the interrogation were considerably more coercive than those a prisoner would normally experience while incarcerated." He points to his restraints, the physical layout of his holding cell, and Investigator Herman's attire, holster and handcuffs. We disagree with defendant's assertion that the record shows these factors made the situation considerably more coercive than his normal prison experience. But clearly there was some change to defendant's surroundings that were likely more restrictive than a normal day in the prison. In any event, the physical circumstances surrounding the interrogation is only part of the analysis. We also look to whether " 'a reasonable person [would] have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave.' " (People v. Ochoa, supra, 19 Cal.4th at pp. 401-402.) Here, Herman expressly informed defendant that he was not obligated to answer questions, and that he could be escorted back to his cell at any time. Because of this clear advisement, a reasonable person would have felt at liberty to terminate the questioning. We conclude that the circumstances do not amount to a sufficient additional restraint on defendant's freedom of movement beyond ordinary prison confinement so as to trigger Miranda.

Investigator Herman did not subsequently undermine the validity of his advisement. Thus, the present case is different from one where after advising the defendant of his ability to terminate questioning, a detective told the defendant about false evidence, asked confrontational and accusatory leading questions, and told defendant they had evidence to prove his culpability. (See People v. Torres (2018) 25 Cal.App.5th 162, 176.) In other words, this is not a case where "circumstances ... significantly changed" after the advisement of the right to terminate questioning. (People v. Saldana (2018) 19 Cal.App.5th 432, 457.) --------


The judgment is affirmed.

Summaries of

People v. Garcia

Feb 13, 2020
F076265 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 13, 2020)
Case details for

People v. Garcia

Case Details

Full title:THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. RICHARD GARCIA, Defendant and…


Date published: Feb 13, 2020


F076265 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 13, 2020)