A convicted murderer will be released from prison in this case based on a 9th Circuit opinion and cannot be retried absent rehearing or certiorari.
At trial, the prosecution introduced defendant’s confession of murder but without any other witnesses or physical evidence. The jury voted the death penalty, the trial judge affirmed the conviction, and the California Court of Appeal confirmed the judgment. Jones filed habeas corpus in district court and the judge denied the petition. Jones appealed to the 9thCircuit, and a 2-1 majority panel reversed the judgment on grounds the detectives violated the Miranda case. The dissent took the majority to task.
Jones had been arrested and subsequently interviewed by two detectives. At one point during the conversation, Jones said “he didn’t want to talk any more,” but in the next sentence he said “because you [the detectives] aren’t listening” and continued talking. According to the majority, that first statement invoked Miranda and ended the conversation. On its face, that interpretation is arguable, except in the next breath Jones continued talking. In other words, he did not want to stop talking, he just wanted the detectives to listen, and he resumed.
Both interpretations are reasonable but in a federal habeas petition the 9th Circuit must defer to state courts under Supreme Court decisions. The majority ignored this injunction as it has so many times in the past. The majority said the detectives also lied to Jones at another point in the conversation. The Supreme Court has never disapproved that ruse and, in fact, approved it. Jones was subjected to no threats, promises, or duress. When the Supreme Court invented Miranda the rationale allegedly involved resolving the constant conflict between the officers and the suspect in respective versions of their conversations and to prevent any use of force or threats to a suspect in the secluded location of the police department.
This case turns into a Miranda debate between the panelists and an endless discussion of linguistics no suspect could understand. But once again the 9th Circuit uses its own decision and ignores the state court. Rehearing is assured, and if denied and absent certiorari a murderer will go free on a misguided understanding he can now kill again.