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Garcia v. Long

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

December 21, 2015

DAVID LONG, Respondent-Appellant

Argued and Submitted, Pasadena, California June 3, 2015.

Page 772

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. D.C. No. 5:12-cv-00865-SVW-SS. Stephen V. Wilson, District Judge, Presiding.


Habeas Corpus

The panel affirmed the district court's judgment granting Francisco Alaniz Garcia a writ of habeas corpus in a case in which Garcia, after an interrogating officer read him his Miranda rights and confirmed that he understand those rights, responded with a simple " no" to the officer's question asking if he wished to talk.

Applying AEDPA's deferential standard of review, the panel held that the California Court of Appeal's decision that Garcia's " no" response was ambiguous and equivocal in light of other statements he made during the interview is both contrary to and unreasonable application of established Supreme Court law, and is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. The panel held that the trial court's error in not suppressing Garcia's interrogation tape and apology letter was prejudicial.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General of California, Julie L. Garland, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Kevin Vienna, Supervising Deputy Attorney General, Jennifer A. Jadovitz (argued), Deputy Attorney General, San Diego, California, for Respondent-Appellant.

Hilary Potashner, Acting Federal Public Defender, Margo A. Rocconi (argued), Deputy Federal Public Defender, Los Angeles, California, for Petitioner-Appellee.

Before: Raymond C. Fisher and Jay S. Bybee, Circuit Judges, and Elizabeth E. Foote, District Judge.[*]


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BYBEE, Circuit Judge:

Francisco Alaniz Garcia was brought into the police station for questioning about allegations that he had sexually molested his granddaughter. After reading Garcia his Miranda rights and confirming that Garcia understood those rights, the interrogating officer asked, " now having [those rights] in mind, do you wish to talk to me?" Garcia responded with a simple " no." The Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona said that when a suspect " indicates in any manner . . . that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease." 384 U.S. 436, 473-74, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). The officer did not cease, and he continued questioning Garcia and ultimately obtained a confession. At his subsequent trial, the court, over Garcia's objection, allowed the prosecution to play the three-and-a-half-hour confession tape to the jury.

The California Court of Appeal determined that Garcia's " no" response was ambiguous and equivocal in light of other statements Garcia made during the interview and accordingly rejected Garcia's Miranda claim. The Court of Appeal also concluded that, even if erroneous, the playing of Garcia's confession was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

We hold that any reasonable jurist would have to conclude that " no" meant " no." The Court of Appeal's decision is both contrary to and an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court law, and it is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. Further, the trial court's error was not harmless. We affirm the district court's judgment granting the writ of habeas corpus.


A. The Interrogation

In early 2007, sixteen-year-old Jane Doe told members of her family that she had been sexually assaulted by Garcia, her step-grandfather, for years. Jane had often spent weekday afternoons, weekends, and school vacations with her grandmother, Elsa Alaniz, and Garcia, Alaniz's then-husband. Jane was often left alone with Garcia while her grandmother was working.

Several months after she told her family, Jane told Child Protective Services about the molestations. Child Protective Services then informed the police, and Moreno Valley Police Detective Richard Beatty brought Garcia into the police station for questioning.

After asking some preliminary questions--how Garcia spelled his name, whether he had any hobbies, what he did for work, and so on--Detective Beatty told Garcia that he wanted to " talk to [him] about some things," but before he could do that, he was going to " read [him] something real quick." Detective Beatty then read Garcia his Miranda rights:

Q: Okay, you have the right to remain silent.
Anything you say may be used against you in the court, okay. You have the right to an attorney before and during any questioning, and if you cannot

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afford to hire an attorney, one will be appointed for--to you free of charge.
A: Okay.
Q: Okay? Do you understand that?
A: Right.

Detective Beatty then asked the critical question: " Okay, now having that [i.e., your Miranda rights] in mind, do you wish to talk to me?" Garcia's complete answer was " No."

Detective Beatty pressed on, asking, " No?" This time, Garcia elaborated: " No, because I don't want to, uh, I don't know what to--what is these charges or, uh . . . ." Another officer, Detective John Lenton, then cut in, saying, " Well, you don't want to talk to us because you don't know the charges. . . . You're telling [us] we can't tell you about it." Garcia told the detectives, " you say you have a right to--to remain, you know . . . ," and added, " I don't want to, you know, say something or if--if I don't know what's going on." At last, Garcia told the detectives he wanted to hear why he had been brought in.

Detective Beatty told Garcia he had been brought in because Jane alleged that he had abused her. Reminding Garcia that " you said that you didn't want to talk to us," Detective Beatty then asked, " so is it my understanding right now that you do want to talk to me then?" Garcia equivocated: " Well, the--the point . . . you know, again, uh, with all respect, you know, when you say you--you have right to remain, you know . . . until you . . . get a lawyer." Detective Beatty then asked again whether Garcia wanted to talk, and Garcia finally agreed, saying, " Yeah, we can talk, yeah, I guess, why not."

During the ensuing interview, Garcia at first steadfastly denied any sexual contact with Jane. When asked if he inappropriately touched Jane, he answered, " Well, of course not, I didn't do it." When asked how old Jane was when something first happened, he answered, " No, no, no, no." Ultimately, however, he admitted to three incidents. All three times, he claimed, Jane initiated the sexual contact. He claimed that all three incidents occurred when Jane was fifteen years old and denied ever having sexual intercourse or oral sex with Jane.

At Detective Beatty's suggestion, Garcia wrote a letter of apology to Jane, telling her he never meant to hurt her and she was not " guilty of anything." At the end of the interview, Garcia was placed under arrest.

B. The Trial

Garcia was tried on one count of forcible rape of a minor and eight counts of committing lewd and lascivious acts on a minor. At trial, the prosecution called Jane as a witness. Jane recalled one instance in which she performed oral sex on Garcia when she was six or seven years old, but she testified that this was not the first time he forced her to perform oral sex on him. Jane knew she was supposed to give Garcia oral sex whenever he removed his pants. She testified that she performed oral sex on Garcia as often as ten to fifteen times each month when she was between the ages of six and fifteen.

Jane also testified that Garcia forced her to have sexual intercourse with him once or twice each year for seven or eight years. She testified that the first act of intercourse occurred when she was six or seven and the last occurred shortly before she turned age fifteen. The intercourse hurt, and Garcia covered Jane's mouth to stop her from yelling or screaming. Jane testified that she did not tell anyone about the molestations because she feared for her safety and that of her grandmother.

On the fourth day of trial, the prosecutor sought to play the recording of Garcia's

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police interview to the jury. As the audio recording started to play, defense counsel made a sidebar objection and moved to suppress the confession based on Garcia's invocation of his right to remain silent under Miranda. The judge denied the motion, ruling that Garcia's response--" no" --to Detective Beatty's question--" now having that in mind, do you wish to talk with me?" --was equivocal. The prosecutor then proceeded to play the entire audio recording (lasting three hours and forty-five minutes) to the jury. The next court day, the prosecutor read to the jury the apology letter that Garcia wrote to Jane toward the end of the interrogation.

Garcia did not testify, and his lawyer presented no affirmative defense. At closing arguments, Garcia's counsel began by telling the jury, " I'm not going to stand up here before you and say that Mr. Garcia never touched [Jane Doe]. I think that would be foolish. And I don't think any of you would ever believe that he didn't touch her. Of course he did by his own words." Garcia's counsel said little about the eight counts of committing lewd and lascivious acts on a minor. He told the jury, " You probably have your minds made up with regards to those." Instead, he focused on the rape charge and argued that the State had not shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Garcia had forced Jane to have sex.

During the State's closing, the prosecutor, after first recounting Jane's testimony, focused the jury's ...

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