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State of Idaho v. Jose L. Valero

August 6, 2012


Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District, State of Idaho, Payette County. Hon. Susan E. Wiebe, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gratton, Chief Judge

2012 Opinion No. 42

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

Order granting motion to suppress, affirmed.

The State appeals from the district court's order suppressing Jose L. Valero's statements to law enforcement. The State argues that Valero's statements were made voluntarily and were not a product of police coercion. The State also argues, in the alternative, that even if police did coerce Valero's statements, the district court failed to review the voluntariness of those statements under the totality of the circumstances. We affirm.


The Fruitland Police Department began investigating a report that Valero inappropriately touched a fifteen-year-old foster child residing at his residence. Valero voluntarily met with the police at the police station. During that meeting, Valero denied all of the allegations and consented to a polygraph. Valero voluntarily appeared for the polygraph at the Ada County Sheriff's office and met with a detective. Prior to administering the polygraph, the detective interviewed Valero and explained the polygraph. Valero acknowledged that he was free to leave at any time and that his participation was voluntary. Valero was provided with written Miranda*fn1 rights and signed a waiver of those rights. The total length of the interrogation was just under three and one-half hours and consisted of three parts: (1) the pre-polygraph interview; (2) the polygraph; and (3) the post-polygraph interview. Valero made the incriminating statements during the post-polygraph interview.

The State charged Valero with sexual abuse of a child and lewd conduct with a child. Valero moved to suppress the statements he made in the interview, contending that they were not made voluntarily. Valero alleged that due to language and cognitive difficulties he did not understand the Miranda rights he waived. The district court rejected the motion on that ground; however, tentatively ruled that the statements should be suppressed on the ground that the detective's tactics overbore Valero's will. After supplemental briefing by both parties, the district court affirmed the tentative order and suppressed the evidence on that basis. The State timely appealed.


The State contends that the district court erred in suppressing Valero's statements. The standard of review of a suppression motion is bifurcated. When a decision on a motion to suppress is challenged, we accept the trial court's findings of fact that are supported by substantial evidence, but we freely review the application of constitutional principles to the facts as found. State v. Atkinson, 128 Idaho 559, 561, 916 P.2d 1284, 1286 (Ct. App. 1996). At a suppression hearing, the power to assess the credibility of witnesses, resolve factual conflicts, weigh evidence, and draw factual inferences is vested in the trial court. State v. Valdez-Molina, 127 Idaho 102, 106, 897 P.2d 993, 997 (1995); State v. Schevers, 132 Idaho 786, 789, 979 P.2d 659, 662 (Ct. App. 1999). In the present case, the facts surrounding Valero's incriminating statements are undisputed as the police department videotaped the entire polygraph process.

In State v. Cordova, 137 Idaho 635, 51 P.3d 449 (Ct. App. 2002), we stated:

The United States Supreme Court has recognized that a non-custodial interrogation might in some situations, by virtue of some special circumstance, be characterized as one where a defendant's confession was not given voluntarily. See Beckwith v. United States, 425 U.S. 341, 347-48 (1976); see also State v. Troy, 124 Idaho 211, 214, 858 P.2d 750, 753 (Ct. App. 1993). In order to find a violation of a defendant's due process rights by virtue of an involuntary confession, coercive police conduct is necessary. Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 167 (1986); State v. Whiteley, 124 Idaho 261, 268, 858 P.2d 800, 807 (Ct. App. 1993). The state must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant's statements were voluntary. Whiteley, 124 Idaho at 268, 858 P.2d at 807.

The proper inquiry is to look to the totality of the circumstances and then ask whether the defendant's will was overborne by the police conduct. Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279, 287 (1991); Troy, 124 Idaho at 214, 858 P.2d at 753. In determining the voluntariness of a confession, a court must look to the characteristics of the accused and the details of the interrogation, including: (1) whether Miranda warnings were given; (2) the youth of the accused; (3) the accused's level of education or low intelligence; (4) the length of the detention; (5) the repeated and prolonged nature of the questioning; and (6) deprivation of food or sleep. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 226 (1973); Troy, 124 Idaho at 214, 858 P.2d at 753.

Id. at 638, 51 P.3d at 452. If the defendant's free will is undermined by threats or through direct or implied promises, then the statement is not voluntary and is inadmissible. State v. Wilson, 126 Idaho 926, 929, 894 P.2d 159, 162 (Ct. App. 1995).

The characteristics of the accused do not weigh in favor of determining that Valero's statements were involuntary. Valero was thirty-eight years old, with a high school education. Such a person is more resistant to interrogation than a person who is very young, uneducated, or weak-minded. Cf. Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737, 742 (1966) (detainee had third or fourth-grade education and very low IQ); Fikes v. Alabama, 352 U.S. 191, 196-97 (1957) (detainee was an uneducated person of low intelligence, possibly with a mental illness); Reck v. Pate, 367 U.S. 433, 435 (1961) (detainee was "classified as mentally retarded and deficient by psychologists and psychiatrists"); State v. Doe, 131 Idaho 709, 712, 963 P.2d 392, 395 (Ct. App. 1998) (without some showing of coercion, detainee's young age and low intelligence, were not enough to prove involuntariness). The district court found that Valero spoke and understood English, a finding that is supported by the record. Furthermore, Valero was not deprived of food or sleep while being interrogated by the police.

Several details of the interrogation also do not weigh in favor of determining that Valero's statements were made involuntarily. Valero was provided Miranda warnings and stated that he understood the waiver of those rights. Valero acknowledged that he was at the police station on his own accord and could walk out the unlocked door at any time. The total time of the interrogation was just under three hours and twenty-five minutes which was not so arduous to be a coercive factor. See Berghuis v. Thompkins, __ US __, __, 130 S. Ct. 2250, 2263 (2010) ("there is no authority for the proposition that an interrogation of this length [three hours] is inherently coercive"); State v. Radford, 134 Idaho 187, 191, 998 P.2d 80, 84 (2000) (interview lasted only for about two hours was not an excessive length of time). Nonetheless, the district court's finding that the deceptive tactics used by the detective, under the totality of the circumstances, rendered the confession involuntary is supported by the evidence.

Deceptive police practices do not necessarily create coercion which would render a suspect's subsequent confession involuntary and excludable. State v. Davila, 127 Idaho 888, 892, 908 P.2d 581, 585 (Ct. App. 1995). Confessions derived during the course of interrogations have been upheld as voluntary, notwithstanding misrepresentations of facts by the police, such as telling a defendant that his fingerprints were found on physical evidence or at the scene. Id. (citing Sovalik v. State, 612 P.2d 1003 (Alaska 1980); State v. Cobb, 566 P.2d 285 (Ariz. 1977); State v. Winters, 556 P.2d 809, 812 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1976); People v. Kashney, 490 N.E.2d 688 (Ill. 1986); State v. Haywood, 439 N.W.2d 511 (Neb. 1989) (statement upheld even after defendant was told his fingerprints were found on bags of cocaine)). See also State v. Welker, 129 Idaho 805, 808, 932 P.2d 928, 931 (Ct. App. 1997) (citing Shedelbower v. Estelle, 885 F.2d 570, 574 (9th Cir. 1989) (confession was not solely a product of officer's false statement that victim had identified photograph of petitioner as one of her attackers); State v. Kokoraleis, 501 N.E.2d 207, 217 (Ill. App. Ct. 1986) (police officers' false statements that they had already obtained a confession from an accomplice implicating defendant in crime, did not render defendant's subsequent statements involuntary); State v. Churchill, 646 P.2d 1049, 1053-54 (Kan. 1982) (police officer's statement that co-defendant had not passed polygraph examination was not a device calculated to produce a confession)). Courts have uniformly accepted the police tactic of "telling a suspect they have found some incriminating evidence to elicit statements from a suspect on the view that an innocent person would not be induced to confess by such police deception." Id. However, that acceptance wanes when the police misrepresent the law. Id. (citing Michigan v. Harvey, 494 U.S. 344 (1990); State v. Craig, 864 P.2d 1240 (Mont. 1993)).

During the pre-polygraph interview, the detective extensively developed two principal themes which he would use throughout the interview. First, the detective repeatedly and substantially downplayed the seriousness of the allegations. Second, the detective expressed that the most important thing for Valero to do was to be truthful, because that would be the most important aspect of any report which might be given to the court in order to demonstrate that he was not a bad person. The following conversation is illustrative:

DETECTIVE: So [the girl] has made a few statements about some pretty minor issues, in the big scheme of things (inaudible) on my case here this is a homicide case I am working right now, (Valero laughs) and I've got have several rape cases and some big major issues so that take up lot of time and I work on. This case is ...

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