Prosecution, Defense Argue Prior to Murder Trial – Judge Rules Jailhouse Interview Violated Defendant’s Rights

By Luke Kyaw and Alex Klimenko

RIVERSIDE, CA – Just a day or so before the start of a murder trial here, the judge Tuesday ruled most of a jailhouse interview inadmissible, and it won’t be shown to the jurors because the defendant’s Miranda rights were violated.

In Riverside County Superior Court Department 2H, the prosecutor and defense spent the day arguing about various issues surrounding the admissibility of evidence and several other requests by counsel for an upcoming murder trial expected to start this week—it was originally scheduled nearly a decade ago.

Raul Alcantar Sanchez, Jr., is accused of committing a murder in 2012. Prior to this year, he had been declared mentally incompetent to stand trial and had been staying in a state mental institution. However, Sanchez was recently found competent to stand trial.

Deputy District Attorney Anne-Marie Lofthouse, Deputy Public Defender Kimberly Allee, and Judge Anthony Villalobos had a pretrial conference to discuss matters that could affect that upcoming trial.

One issue that was raised during this pretrial conference was an issue about the admissibility of a DMV photo of the victim. DDA Lofthouse argued that the photo should be allowed because she wanted to show the jury “what [the victim] looked like prior to the murder … show[ed] the condition of her face.”

DDA Lofthouse then further outlined to Judge Villalobos why the photo should be allowed, saying that “the court has had an opportunity to review some of the autopsy photographs and obviously there is a very big difference between what she looked like in that photograph and her post-mortem photograph.”

On the other hand, PD Allee argued that the photo should not be included as “the court should be very cautious about allowing this especially in light of the way that it can be abused.”

PD Allee further argued that because the coroner will be testifying at the trial, there is no need for a photograph. This is because Allee believes that the coroner can testify about the wounds.

DDA Lofthouse responded to PD Allee’s claim by stating that “the coroner had never seen [the victim] in life. So he could not testify to what [the victim] looked like or if [the victim] had any markings or injuries before her death, which is significant in this case.”

Judge Villalobos ultimately ruled that the photo will be allowed. He stated that he “believe[s] it is more probative than prejudicial. It is not a gruesome picture, it is not a picture that in any way would appear to sway or attempt to sway the jurors.”

The pretrial conference then looked at the admissibility of statements that witnesses had previously made about the defendant’s mental state.

After PD Allee described the nature of the statements, DDA Lofthouse responded by arguing “all those statements are hearsay statements and [the witnesses] cannot be making psychological analyses.”

Judge Villalobos stated that he “feel[s] very uncomfortable prejudging,” which is why he will allow the witnesses to testify about the defendant’s mental state, and if DDA Lofthouse wants to object at trial, Judge Villalobos will rule on the issue then.

Judge Villablobos brought to attention PD Allee’s request to not let the jurors know of the Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity plea as it goes contrary to the nature of a bifurcated trial.

(Note: Defendants that plead both Not Guilty and Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity are entitled to a bifurcated trial which splits the case into two different trials. Defendant Sanchez pleaded both.)

However, PD Allee brought to attention a recent Desert Sun article that had purportedly quoted DDA Lofthouse on the two pleas by the defense, which basically invalidates her motion of not letting the jury know about the second plea.

In response, DDA Lofthouse denied that she had ever given an interview to any media outlet and stated that the Desert Sun article may have gotten their source from WebX, the platform they are broadcasting from.

DDA Lofthouse further cited two cases as precedents, People v. Guillebeau and People vs. Panah, to support her argument that jurors need to know the two different pleas so they are aware of the burden shifting from the People to the defense.

(Note: With a regular Not Guilty plea, the burden is upon the People to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. Whereas, with a Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity plea, the defense needs to prove by a preponderance of evidence that the defendant was insane.)

Ultimately, PD Lofthouse decided to withdraw her request since the jurors probably have all read the Desert Sun article.

The defense also asked to suppress the defendant’s statements during the Miranda interview—which the DA was planning to introduce through a 20-minute video—“on the grounds that it violates Miranda [rights] and is involuntary pursuant to the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The court then viewed the video together where an investigative officer—who was not present at court—asked Sanchez prompting questions that would roughly indicate his state of mind.

PD Allee claimed that, in the interview, the officer questioned the defendant—who was already allegedly having trouble following along with the conversation as noticed by the judge—in violation of his Miranda rights.

However, DDA Lofthouse argued the defendant “has been read each and every right” and he replied to each that he understood. He had even asked if he could exercise his rights, after which he just started describing what happened in the incident after receiving a positive affirmation from the officer.

Judge Villalobos then noticed a discrepancy where the defendant had asked the police officer if he could exercise his rights as aforementioned, to which the officer replied yes. However, the officer continued immediately to ask the defendant what had happened, which led the defendant to make his statements.

The judge told the prosecution that the officer should have explained to the defendant carefully about his Miranda rights after the latter had asked about them, but he hadn’t, which prompted the judge to decisively make the rest of the video after that question inadmissible for the trial.

About The Author

Luke Kyaw is an incoming third-year at UCLA majoring in Public Affairs. He immigrated from Myanmar in 2015 and currently resides in San Gabriel, California.

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