Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, October 19, 2001


Page 1


State High Court Clarifies Rule on Police Talk With Defendant Represented by Counsel in Another Case


By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts


The Sixth Amendment bars police from talking to a defendant about a charge that is factually indistinguishable from a charge pending in another jurisdiction if the defendant is represented by counsel in the other case, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

Police questioning in that situation violates the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Massiah v. United States, (1964) 377 U.S. 201, the high court ruled unanimously. The decision upholds lower court rulings dismissing a charge of unlawfully taking a vehicle against Dominic D. Slayton.

The high court, however, reinstated another charge against Slayton, that of burglary of a residence. Statements voluntarily given to the police regarding that accusation are admissible because Slayton wasn’t represented with regard to the burglary, Justice Ming Chin wrote for the court.

The case goes back to Slayton’s march 1998 arrest as a result of a traffic stop in Riverside County. The car had been reported stolen, and police in the San Bernardino County city of Upland, contacted by Riverside deputies, said Slayton may have been involved in a burglary in their community.

Slayton was charged in Riverside County with driving without a valid license, receiving stolen property, and unlawfully taking a vehicle. The public defender was appointed to represent him, and an information was later filed.

While Slayton was in the Riverside County jail, he was interviewed by an Upland detective. He waived his Miranda rights and, according to later testimony by the detective, admitted that he participated in the Upland burglary, took a set of keys, and later returned to the scene and took the car in which he was stopped in neighboring Riverside County.

San Bernardino County authorities then charged him with residential burglary and unlawful taking of a vehicle. San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Michael Welch, however, suppressed his statements to the detective and dismissed both charges, finding that the questioning violated his Sixth Amendment rights.

A divided Sixth District Court of Appeal panel affirmed, holding that because the San Bernardino charges were “inextricably intertwined” with the Riverside charges, Massiah applied and questioning Slayton in the absence of counsel violated his constitutional rights regardless of the Miranda waiver.

The dissenting justice argued that the questioning was permissible under McNeil v. Wisconsin (1991) 501 U.S. 171, which holds that the Sixth Amendment right is “offense specific” and does not bar police questioning as to charges on which the defendant lacks counsel.

After the high court granted review, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. Cobb (2001) 532 U.S. 162, a case similar to Slayton’s. The justices rejected the “inextricably intertwined” test, saying the Sixth Amendment right only applies to a related case if the two charges represent “the same offense” for double jeopardy purposes.

Applying that reasoning to Slayton, Chin said the detective was entitled to question him about the burglary, which wasn’t part of the Riverside case, but could not interrogate him in the absence of counsel as to the taking of the vehicle, because he was represented on that charge in Riverside and the San Bernardino charge was factually identical.

Chin rejected the defense contention that because Slayton was asked about the taking of the car, the entire interrogation violated Massiah and the statements held inadmissible for any purpose.

“The ‘bright-line rule’ defendant proposes—that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel ‘attach[es] not only to’ offenses that are the same offense, ‘but also to all other offenses charged together’—is flatly inconsistent with Cobb’s clear, emphatic, and unequivocal holding,” the jurist wrote.

It would also frustrate the public interest by unnecessarily impeding criminal investigations, Chin said.

The appeal was argued by Deputy District Attorney Grover Merritt for the prosecution and by Steven A. Torres of Pasadena’s Torres & Torres for the defendant.

The case is People v. Slayton, 01 S.O.S. 5015. .


Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company