Tuesday, September 18, 2001
Agents’ Tactics in Robbery Case Didn’t Violate Miranda Rights—Court
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A Mirandized confession given by a suspect in the robbery of a letter carrier was admissible, even though postal inspectors illegally obtained incriminating statements before the warnings were given, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
In a unanimous en banc decision, the court sent the case of Jody Myesha Orso back to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California so that she may withdraw her conditional guilty plea. If she does so, the court ruled, her post-Miranda confession will be admissible but her pre-Miranda statements won’t be, the court said.
If she doesn’t withdraw the plea, her conviction and 37-month prison term for the strong-arm robbery of carrier Vicki Orr will stand. Yesterday’s ruling overturns the decision of a three-judge panel, which held that improper tactics by the inspectors required suppression of all of Orso’s statements.
Orr identified Orso as the person who forcibly took her arrow keys, which are the keys used to open collection boxes and group mailboxes at apartment buildings.
Inspectors Anthony Galleti and Shawn Tiller obtained a warrant for Orso’s arrest after Orr identified her from a photograph, and took her into custody after Redondo Beach police arrested her on unrelated charges. They transported her to a postal inspection office without giving her any Miranda warnings en route.
Orso’s counsel moved to suppress statements which she made during the ride. The inspectors acknowledged telling Orso that a witness thought she had seen a gun, which would increase the maximum penalty from 10 years to 25, even though the statement wasn’t true.
When the inspectors then said they didn’t think Orso would get more than five years, she said “Oh, I can do five years,” according to the testimony.
Galettti also said that Orso made the comment that “if the letter carrier said it’s me, then it must be me,” and that she acknowledged knowing a “gold-toothed boy” whom Galetti described as a suspect.
The defense also moved to suppress a full confession which Orso signed at the inspectors’ office after being Mirandized.
U.S. District Judge Lourdes G. Baird of the Central District of California denied the motion to suppress. Orso entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to 37 months in prison.
The pre-Miranda statements should have been suppressed, Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain wrote yesterday, because Orso was in custody and under interrogation.
But O’Scannlain also concluded that the inspectors’ “improper tactics” did not require that the later confession be suppressed, because the confession was not the “tainted fruit” of those tactics.
While the tactics were improper, the judge explained, they were not coercive and did not render the ensuing post-Miranda confession involuntary.
Judges Procter Hug Jr., Alex Kozinski, Andrew J. Kleinfeld, Ronald M. Gould and Richard C. Tallman concurred in the opinion.
Judge Richard A. Paez, joined by Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder and Judges Michael Daly Hawkins, M. Margaret McKeown, and Johnnie B. Rawlinson concurred separately, with “some reluctance.”
Paez castigated the inspectors for admittedly having deliberately failed to advise Orso of her Miranda rights, and for having engaged in “subtle” coercion, but agreed that the confession was voluntary and therefore admissible under Supreme Court precedent.
Deputy Federal Public Defender Elizabeth A. Newman argued for the defendant, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Cheng made the case for the government.
The case is United States v. Orso, 99-50328.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company