Vol. 18 No. 15- Latest “Miranda” Decision – People V. Neal

To: All Police Chiefs and Sheriffs

From: Martin J. Mayer

July 16, 2003

The California Supreme Court issued a scathing decision on Monday, July 15, 2003, in the case of People v. Neal regarding the questioning of custodial suspects “outside Miranda.” That term refers to the continuation of questioning after a suspect “invoked” his/her Miranda right to remain silent and/or requested an attorney. The Court held that “badgering” suspects into making confessions is not permitted and will result in “severe” penalties.

“The consequence of the officer’s misconduct – the absolute inability to introduce the confessions at trial – is severe, but is intended to deter other officers from engaging in misconduct of this sort in the future.” (In Neal, the Court reversed the murder conviction of an 18 year old who strangled a 63 year old man.)

In 1998, in People v. Peevy, 17 Cal. 4th 1184, the California Supreme Court ruled that such action by an officer prevented the prosecution from using any statement obtained in that fashion, in the case-in-chief. However, the Court also ruled that the officer’s action did not affect the admissibility of the statement as impeachment evidence, if the defendant took the stand in his/her own defense. Some law enforcement agencies, therefore, have advised their officers to continue questioning after a suspect invokes “Miranda,” in order to see if they can obtain any useful information.

In the Neal case, the situation was aggravated because the suspect had asked for an attorney nine times and admitted to the killing only after he was forced to spend the night in a cell with no food, water or toilet available. The Court ruled that, under those circumstances, even though the suspect initiated contact with the detective the next morning, his subsequent confession was not “voluntary.” The Court also stated that “misconduct such as (the detective’s) is ‘unethical’ and must be ‘strongly disapproved’.”

In a concurring opinion, Justice Marvin Baxter stated that “(p)erhaps the most disturbing aspect of this fiasco is (the detective’s) admission that he was taught on the job to disregard Miranda in order to obtain statements for use as evidence in criminal cases against the declarants.” (Emphasis in the original).

Justice Baxter also stated that “…our community should never be subjected to cynical efforts by police agencies, or the supervisors they employ, to exploit perceived legal loopholes…. Such practices tarnish the badge most officers respect and honor.”

How Does This Impact Your Agency?

It is imperative that agencies review their training in this area. As was stated in the decision, “…it is unconscionable…” for a department to teach and/or encourage violating the “Miranda” rule. “Law enforcement agencies have the responsibility to educate and train officers carefully to avoid improper tactics…. Officers must be made aware that they have an absolute obligation to play by the rules….”

This office issued three (3) Client Alert Memos on this topic; we are attaching a copy of the one from June 30, 2000 (the other three are on our web page: Vol. 14, No. 14 dated November 17, 1999 and Vol. 14, No. 16 dated December 3, 1999).

Our advice remains as it was three years ago – officers should not continue interrogations after a custodial suspect invokes Miranda.