By Hongyi Wen
SACRAMENTO, CA – It’s a regular scene seen on television and in movies when law enforcement officers inform defendants of their Miranda rights—but do suspects really have to be read Miranda rights?
Not necessarily, was the bottom line after a protracted motion to suppress evidence hearing in Sacramento County Superior Court here this week involving Defendant Kenya Turner, who was found asleep in his vehicle in front of a Chipotle on Oct. 17, 2020, after someone called 911.
After being examined by the Fire Department, it was found Turner did not have any medical condition, and the Police Department was contacted for a possible DUI (Driving Under the Influence) case. Failing to comply with the Field Sobriety Test, Turner was arrested for DUI.
Assistant Public Defender Christian Rowland argued that any statements by Turner from the body camera video should be suppressed since he was not read his Miranda Rights and was held in custodial interrogation.
California Highway Patrol Officer Lucas Eatchel told Deputy District Attorney Kristine Seuylemezian that most DUI investigations do not lead to arrest, but said firefighters thought Turner may have been drinking, and asked Eatchel check on the driver’s “ability to drive.”
Eatchel said, “Upon speaking with him, I immediately recognized the odor of alcohol beverage emitting from the vehicle. My initial thought was to determine whether or not there was enough cause to believe he had driven to that location.”
He continues, “[I] asked him some simple questions regarding the time he had been there, the time he was driving, and if there was anything that will be able to assist me to determine them.”
Officer Eatchel explained these questions were to determine whether he had been driving and had driven to this location.
“This is typical especially when I did not observe driving, such as with a crash or in this situation where I was called to him and I did not conduct a force of stop on him. I asked him how long he had been there… I asked him if he drove there first, to which he said he did… I also asked him if he had a receipt from the Chipotle, which he did.”
Eatchel added that he “thought (Turner) had driven to that location, and I had him exit the vehicle to speak with me and began a DUI investigation.”
Eatchel stated, “Mr. Turner completed the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, after completing the test I began to explain the Modified Romberg Balance Test. Mr. Turner became very evasive and turned his back around to me, wasn’t focusing on the instruction or paying attention.
“Basically he raised his arms up and shook it off like ‘I don’t want to do any of this thing,’…I actually asked him if he wanted to perform these tests, and he kind of shook his arms at me like ‘no.’” Eatchel continued.
At this point, Eatchel came to the conclusion Turner was under the influence of alcohol and formally arrested him, noting his attitude toward Turner was “normal, cordial and professional” and did not shout or intimate Turner in any way during the investigation.
Eatchel also described Turner’s behavior: “He appeared to be evasive, he did not really want to answer my questions. I think [he wanted] not to incriminate himself.”
DDA Seuylemezian inquired of Officer Eatchel why he did not read Turner’s Miranda Rights during preliminary questioning, and the officer said, “Because at that point of time he was not under arrest.”
Seuylemezian continued, “Is this typical based on all of your DUI investigations that you don’t read defendants their Miranda rights at this time?”
Eatchel said, “Yes, unless they have been placed under arrest previously.”
DDA Seuylemezian planned to screen share via Zoom and show the video that was captured on Officer Eatchel’s body cam, but due to technical difficulties Judge McFetridge decided to play the video from his end.
During cross-examination, APD Rowland asked, “Officer, you testified that your demeanor was cordial and professional. After viewing the (officer’s bodycam) video would you like to revise that at all?”
“No, I would say that we had a pretty good conversation to begin with. I know it sounds like I am loud, but it’s just because the mic is right around my chest.” Eatchel answered, although the PD characterized it as “shouting” and “yelling” at Turner.
Rowland continued, “But in the first five seconds in the video, when you told your fellow officer ‘looks like he passed the hell out,’” your voice is significantly lower, correct?”
Rowland asked, “You testified that you never read Miranda prior to arrest, even when you got probable cause to arrest?”
“So I never said never, that would not be exactly true. We were talking about the situation of DUI. So I don’t read Miranda until they had been placed on arrest, during a DUI investigation I don’t read Miranda because I have not establish enough cause for arrest during the evaluation,” said the officer.
Rowland asked, “So even if probable cause existed prior to someone being arrested, you wouldn’t read Miranda until they were placed under arrest?”
Eatchel said, “It depends on the circumstances. In this circumstance, no. In other circumstances, there is a time and a place where Miranda will be read. But in this circumstance, I would not read Miranda.”
Rowland emphasized again, “Even if you have probable cause?”
Eatchel said, “I didn’t develop any probable cause until I did the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test. That test alone made me believe that he was under the influence.”
Rowland confirmed again with Officer Eatchel that he did not develop probable cause until the test was conducted. “Before the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test you did not believe Mr. Turner was under the influence of alcohol?”
Eatchel explained, “No. So I believe he has been drinking, and I would base an opinion if he didn’t perform any test that he was under the influence. But I don’t make a full opinion until I know all the facts.
“My opinion right off the bat was that he was heavily intoxicated. But I always give people the benefits of doubt, hence this pre-Field of Sobriety Test question and test themselves. I have an opinion, but they may sway my opinions during the question or the test.
“Based upon the odor coming out, the slurred speech, it led me right away to that he was probably heavily intoxicated,” Eatchel added.
Rowland then grilled Officer Eatchel about the initial reason for contacting Turner.
“We initially got called as a medical emergency, somebody called 911 saying they believed this person had passed out in the car. The fire department responded first. Once they showed up, he had no medical issue. They actually thought he had been drinking as well,” said the officer.
However, Rowland pointed out that in Eatchel’s police report Eatchel said he was dispatched for a possible DUI driver.
Eatchel said, “The fire department’s initial call was a medical emergency, my initial call was that once they arrived they believed that it was a DUI driver.”
On the day of the incident, Turner’s car was parked and he was asleep alone when Officer Eatchel arrived. Eatchel described that there was food all over in the vehicle, including on Turner’s body and hair. By touching the hood of Turner’s vehicle, Officer Eatchel concluded that Turner had been driving.
Rowland asked Officer Eatchel, “Based on all this evidence, Mr. Turner would not have been free to leave when he was first contacted?”
Eatchel replied, “Yes, once I established that there was the possibility that he had been drinking and driving. Yes, he is detained at that point.”
Officer Eatchel did not seem to answer the question directly, so Rowland asked again, “No, I am talking about when you first contacted him, would you let him walk off?”
Eatchel said, “Once I noticed that there is the possibility that he had been driving under the influence, then no , he is not going to have the opportunity to walk off. Had he walked off any time between when the fire department got there or when I saw him walk away I wouldn’t have any reason to go after him.”
From the strong odors of alcohol coming out of the vehicle and based on what the fire department testified, Officer Eatchel identified this case as a DUI. Eatchel believed the alcohol odor was enough to detain Turner.
Rowland indicated that in the video Officer Eatchel had asked Turner, “What’s to keep you from taking off if we leave?” About three times, Rowland asked Eatchel if this statement means that Turner was not free to leave.
Eatchel disagreed: “It was a simple conversation with him. Telling him that we have to evaluate him, whether or not it was for DUI.” Eatchel denied this statement was a rhetorical question that required answers from Turner, and said that it was just them talking.
Later on, Turner asked if he could walk home. But Officer Eatchel believed that there was sufficient evidence to hold Turner.
Rowland continued to probe whether Turner was informed about his Miranda rights, and Judge McFetridge interpreted and indicated that the officer did not read Turner his Miranda rights.
Rowland tried to ask Officer Eatchel if Turner asked for an attorney since there is another seven-minute video not presented in court, but Judge McFetridge argued that this question is out of the scope of the motion Rowland filed.
Seuylemezian argued that during detention officers can ask preliminary questions pre-Miranda to investigate crime. Officer Eatchel was seen in the video only asking preliminary questions about the condition of Turner, said the DDA, adding that officers cannot arrest suspects only based on the odor of alcohol.
Rowland countered that any statements from Turner in the video should be suppressed. First, he argued that the law required defendants to be read Miranda rights when the officer had probable cause to arrest, regardless of whether the defendant was actually placed under arrest.
Second, Rowland pointed out that reading Miranda rights is required under custodial interrogation. To determine whether it was a custodial interrogation is determined by whether the defendant was free to leave. Turner was surrounded by armed officers on the day of the incident and that he was clearly not free to leave.
Furthermore, Rowland noted Turner was “clearly intoxicated, startled, frightened” during the whole investigation. Any statement from Turner should be suppressed because Turner was in custody since the beginning of the investigation, and he was never advised of his rights.
DDA Seuylemezian responded, “A temporary detained suspect is not in custody for Miranda rights purposes regardless of whether officers have an uncommunicated intent to arrest supported by probable cause.”
The judge denied the motion, ruling the intention to investigate DUI was reasonable, and that the defendant cannot be both evasive and unresponsive during the investigation, and also complain that he was forcefully contained or in custodial interrogation.
The future trial date is set for April 5.
Hongyi Wen is a junior at UC Santa Cruz majoring in Sociology. He is from Guangzhou, China.
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