By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision, yesterday affirmed the murder conviction and death sentence of a man who fatally shot a deputy sheriff responding to a domestic disturbance call, holding that although officers repeatedly violated the suspect’s Miranda rights by seeking to draw a confession from him despite his expressed desire to remain silent, his later inculpatory statements to a police psychiatrist were voluntary.
Justice Joshua P. Groban wrote for the majority, while Justice Goodwin H. Liu authored the dissent, in which Court of Appeal Justice Luis Lavin of this district’s Div. Three, sitting on assignment, joined.
Defendant Michael Raymond Johnson—who was also convicted of attempted murder of an officer, as well as the kidnapping and spousal rape of his wife—asserted that there must be a reversal based on violations of his rights under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona and its 1981 opinion in Edwards v. Arizona.
In Edwards, it was held that where the right to remain silent, under Miranda, is invoked, all police questioning must cease. That did not happen, Groban agreed, noting that there were “multiple clear violations of Miranda” at a hospital where Johnson was taken for treatment of gunshot wounds he received when an officer returned fire during the 1996 encounter.
However, the majority saw no link between the violations by officers and the conversation Johnson instigated with the psychiatrist, Donald Patterson. The trial judge—then-Ventura Superior Court Judge Steven Z. Perren—also saw no link.
Perren has been a justice of Div. Six of this district’s Court of Appeal since 1999.
Recording of Interview
Groban said that although the “facts and circumstances make this a close case,” an audio recording of the conversation with the psychiatrist make clear that Johnson wanted to talk.
“As a result, we cannot find that defendant’s conversation with Patterson was caused by or the product of earlier violations,” he wrote.
The justice went on to say:
“[W]e need not speculate about defendant’s thought-process as to why he chose to speak with Patterson: defendant expressly detailed why he chose to speak to Patterson in the taped recording of the discussion. Defendant’s statements showed he was making a deliberate decision to speak with Patterson because he determined that it was ‘best to be honest.’ Defendant’s statements also show a clear and deliberate recognition that he wanted to speak before sedatives impacted his thinking.”
Liu said in his dissent:
“The court says Johnson’s initiation was not tainted by any prior violation of his rights because he was not badgered or berated and made the decision to speak with Patterson ‘freely.’…Yet neither this court’s nor the United States Supreme Court’s case law has ever suggested that the protection of Edwards…is limited to cases of overt coercion by law enforcement.”
He maintained that “once a suspect has invoked the right to counsel, the authorities may not make any attempt to coax him into speaking,” whether they do so directly or with subtlety, intentionally or not. Otherwise, Liu reasoned, “law enforcement could use psychological manipulation, repeated rounds of questioning, or other tactics” to secure incriminating statements despite the suspect’s express desire to remain silent.
The dissenter protested:
“This case involves not one, not two, not three, but five Miranda/Edwards violations, all of which took place while Johnson was handcuffed to a hospital bed, almost naked, with a gunshot wound to the chest. The court calls the law enforcement misconduct in this case ‘concerning.’…But despite its concern, the court affirms Johnson’s murder conviction and death sentence.”
“The right to remain silent and the right to consult a lawyer when questioned by the police are among the most basic constitutional rights we have. Because today’s decision makes these essential protections for our citizenry less secure, I respectfully dissent.”
The case is People v. Johnson, 2021 S.O.S. 6877.
Consistent with as growing practice among appellate courts, Groban referred to Johnson’s estranged wife by her initials—G.A.—notwithstanding that her identity is a matter of public record. Her testimony on Nov. 19, 1996 was reported in the news media and she was identified as Guillermina Alonso.
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