Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, October 23, 2003


Page 3


New Judge May Change Suppression Ruling After Mistrial, C.A. Says


By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer


A new judge assigned to a criminal case after a mistrial may reconsider his predecessor’s ruling on a suppression motion, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

Writing for Div. Seven, Justice Earl Johnson said the practice “should not be encouraged,” but is legal “so long as certain due process requirements are met as they were in this case.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani, who presided over Robbie James Riva’s first trial for shooting into a car in Long Beach, ruled Long Beach police violated Riva’s rights by questioning him after he invoked his right to remain silent. The shot Riva fired missed the occupants of the car, but struck and injured a pedestrian.

Comparet-Cassani ordered the statements Riva made after the interrogation resumed suppressed, and the first trial ended in a mistrial.

Judge William T. Garner, since retired, was assigned to preside over Riva’s retrial. Garner rejected Riva’s contention the judge was bound by Comparet-Cassani’s suppression ruling and found the previously suppressed statements to be admissible.

Garner ruled that when Riva told a police officer he didn’t want to “say anything else right now,” the defendant was not invoking his right to stop answering questions altogether but only asking for a delay in the interrogation. The officer acted reasonably in approaching Riva an hour later and questioning him further without repeating Miranda warnings, the judge found.

The second jury convicted Riva of voluntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon, and discharging a firearm at an occupied vehicle.

Johnson said Garner’s authority to revisit the suppression issue was a matter of first impression, and one left open by the state Supreme Court in People v. Clark (1992) 3 Cal.4th 41.

The justice wrote:

“Our Supreme Court has treated motions to suppress under Miranda as in limine motions which, if granted, are subject to review if the People again offer the evidence at the trial. We conclude, therefore, pretrial rulings on the admissibility of evidence, like rulings on pleadings, should be reviewable by another judge following a mistrial because they are intermediate, interlocutory rulings subject to revision even after the commencement of trial.  It follows Judge Garner had authority to reconsider and modify Judge Comparet-Cassani’s earlier ruling on Riva’s Miranda motion.”

The reconsideration cannot be “arbitrary or made without reason,” and the defendant is entitled to notice and an opportunity to be heard on the issue, Johnson declared.

He added:

“Furthermore, for reasons of comity and public policy…, trial judges should decline to reverse or modify other trial judges’ rulings unless there is a highly persuasive reason for doing so—mere disagreement with the result of the order is not a persuasive reason for reversing it.  Factors to consider include whether the first judge specifically agreed to reconsider her ruling at a later date, whether the party seeking reconsideration of the order has sought relief by way of appeal or writ petition, whether there has been a change in circumstances since the previous order was made and whether the previous order is reasonably supportable under applicable statutory or case law regardless of whether the second judge agrees with the first judge’s analysis of that law.”

Comparet-Cassani had invited the prosecutor to raise the issue again after doing more research, Johnson noted.

The justice went on to say that Garner, not Comparet-Cassani, reached the correct conclusion regarding the admissibility of Riva’s statements.

The one-hour delay between interrogations was “not so short as to constitute badgering or harassing the suspect nor so long the suspect may have forgotten the Miranda advisement,” Johnson explained, and the defendant’s request “clearly indicated he might be willing to talk in the future.”

Justice Fred Woods and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Aurelio Munoz, sitting on assignment, concurred.

The case is People v. Riva, B157868.


Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company