Court improperly declined motion to suppress statements made after defendant invoked right to remain silent


Chavez-Ortega v. State, A14A2188

Georgia Court of Appeals, Criminal Case (3/24/2015, 5/6/2015)

The defendant was “in custody” when he invoked his right to remain silent, but the police nonetheless continued to question him, which led to the incriminating statements that the trial court improperly declined to suppress at the defendant’s trial.

In an interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the denial of Jonathan Chavez-Ortega’s motion to suppress, holding that Chavez-Ortega was in custody when he invoked his right to remain silent but that the police nonetheless continued to question him, which led to the incriminating statements he sought to suppress in his trial for driving under the influence of alcohol, reckless driving and racing. The trial court erred in concluding that Chavez-Ortega was not “in custody” when he made statements to officers prior to receiving Miranda warnings. The Court found that, although an officer informed Chavez-Ortega that he was “not arrested yet,” a reasonable person in Chavez-Ortega’s position would have considered himself to be under arrest, given that he was handcuffed, placed in the back of a patrol car and informed that officers were searching for his vehicle. The officer even acknowledged at the suppression hearing that Chavez-Ortega was “detained” and not free to leave once he was handcuffed and placed in the patrol car. Additionally, the officers’ inquiries went beyond a general on-the-scene investigation and were “clearly aimed at obtaining information to establish his guilt.” Accordingly, Chavez-Ortega’s pre-Miranda statements were inadmissible at trial. The Court also found that the trial court erred in denying Chavez-Ortega’s motion to suppress the statements he made to an officer after he had been read his Miranda rights. As a recording from inside the patrol car revealed, Chavez-Ortega clearly informed the officer that he did not wish to speak to him prior to being Mirandized and immediately after he was read his Miranda rights. Further, it was clear that the statements Chavez-Ortega made after being Mirandized resulted from direct interrogation by the officer and were not spontaneous and unsolicited statements of a person who was anxious to explain. Accordingly, any responses Chavez-Ortega made after he stated he wished to remain silent should have been suppressed at trial.

As published by The Daily Report, 190 Pryor St. Atlanta, GA 30303 on 5/6/15.