People v. Nelson

The California Supreme Court in the case of People v. Nelson, (#S181611, 01/12/2012), http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S181611.PDF, held the custodial written confession of the defendant, a 15 year old who was tried as an adult, was properly admitted at trial and, therefore, did not invalidate his conviction of the murder of a 72 year old woman and five first degree burglaries. The California Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal that had previously reversed the Superior Court murder and burglary convictions.

In the underlying case, Orange County Sheriff Investigators at the outset of their custodial interrogation apprised this juvenile suspect of his right to remain silent and right to counsel, and it was established there was a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of these Miranda rights. During the course of several hours of interrogation, however, the issue was whether the defendant’s multiple requests to speak with his mother were sufficient to become a post invocation of Miranda. If so, the officers were required by law to halt the interrogation and the defendant’s confession should not have been admissible at his trial. There were multiple requests to speak to his mother that were permitted by the investigators, but the defendant was only able to reach and speak with his brother and grandmother.

The California Supreme Court relied upon the holding of the U.S. Supreme Court in Davis v. United States, (1994) 512 U.S. 452, which held once there is a valid waiver ofMiranda rights, any subsequent assertion of the right to counsel or right to remain silent must be articulated in a sufficiently unambiguous and unequivocal manner to stop questioning; in other words, a reasonable law enforcement officer under the circumstances would understand there to be an actual request for counsel rather than possibly one.