Thursday, February 8, 2007
C.A. Upholds Admission of Statements by Intensive Care Patient
Justices Say 20-Minute Interrogation Following Automobile Crash Was Reasonable
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
Self-incriminating statements a hospital patient made to police while being interrogated in the intensive care unit where he was recovering from surgery and heavily sedated on pain medications were admissible as evidence, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Affirming an evidentiary ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lawrence J. Mira—who held that a hospital bed confession made by vehicular manslaughter defendant Gerson Eliu Perdomo was not the result of psychological coercion—Div. Seven said admitting the confession into evidence did not deny Perdomo a fair trial, and upheld his convictions.
Perdomo, a former Universal Studios security guard, was charged with various counts, including felony vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, stemming from an accident on the 101 freeway that killed one of the two passengers in the car he was allegedly driving.
In August 2003, Perdomo and two then-coworkers, Marco Quinonez and Ismael Rodriguez, went to a Simi Valley bar/club to celebrate Perdomo’s 21st birthday. They traveled together in a Honda Civic borrowed from Quinonez’s family members and apparently consumed substantial amounts of alcohol over the course of several hours.
Witnesses said the Honda Civic was speeding erratically along the freeway at 80 miles an hour before it crashed into the concrete median and ultimately came to rest after smashing into a tree on the right shoulder of the road.
A police officer who responded to the accident scene identified the front seat passenger as Quinonez from a state identification card he had on his person, and Perdomo from a driver’s license found in his pants pocket. At trial, the officer testified that the two were distinguishable because Quinonez was a large man with a round face, while Perdomo was thin and had a narrow face.
In addition, he said, Quinonez had a huge gash on his head that was bleeding profusely, and Perdomo, though he was also bloody and unconscious, had a closely shaved head and no head wound.
Rodriguez, who was sitting in the backseat, died soon after the accident from head trauma.
The two survivors were taken to UCLA Medical Center, where Perdomo underwent emergency surgery to remove his spleen.
Four days after the surgery, while he was in the hospital’s intensive care unit recovering from the surgery, as well as broken ribs and head injuries, two police officers were permitted by medical personnel to interview Perdomo. He had taken his last pain medication five hours earlier.
While Perdomo was lying on flat on his back, in obvious pain, and still connected to I.V.’s and monitors, the officers questioned him about the accident. The interview lasted about 20 minutes and a tape recording reflected that the questioning was subdued, deliberate, and interspersed with numerous pauses.
Near the end of the interview, Perdomo admitted that he sometimes smoked marijuana, that he might have been smoking it the day of the accident, and that he was driving Quinonez’s car.
Before trial, Perdomo moved to exclude the evidence of the statements he made to the officers during the in-hospital interview.
Denying the motion, Mira concluded the defendant had made his statements voluntarily and of his own free will, and that they were thus admissible.
Perdomo argued that his statements should have been found involuntary based on Mincey v. Arizona (1978) 437 U.S. 385. In that case, the defendant, who had been shot in a narcotics raid, was interrogated by a detective for nearly four hours while bedridden and on pain medication in the intensive care unit of a hospital.
During the detective’s visit, he repeatedly asked for the interrogation to cease, requested the assistance of counsel several times before responding, complained that he was in unbearable pain, and indicated that he was confused and unable to think clearly about the events at issue, the high court said in its opinion. The detective nonetheless relentlessly continued his questioning, pausing only when the defendant lost consciousness or received medical treatment.
The Supreme Court concluded that the defendant’s statements were not the product of his free and rational choice, and thus could not be used against him.
Div. Seven said the facts of Perdomo’s situation were distinguishable from those of Mincey.
Justice Earl Johnson, writing for the panel, pointed out that Perdomo was not going in and out of consciousness during the questioning.
“Hospital personnel did not permit the officers to talk to appellant until they determined he was ‘alert,’ ‘oriented,’ and could ‘obey commands,’ as indicated by his medical chart,” the justice wrote.
He went on to explain:
“The interview in the present case was relatively short. It lasted a maximum of 20 minutes, as compared to the three hours Mincey was forced to endure. The officers in the present case posed their questions in a calm, deliberate manner.”
Perdomo never expressed distress or otherwise indicated any unwillingness to speak to the officers, Johnson noted.
He added that although Perdomo was on pain medications at the time of the interrogation, there was no indication that he was impaired by them.
Presiding Justice Dennis M. Perluss and Justice Laurie D. Zelon concurred in the opinion.
The case is People v. Perdomo, 07 S.O.S. 716.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company