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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > January 2013 > State v. Ortega, Third District Court of Appeals, Dec. 17, 2012

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State v. Ortega, Third District Court of Appeals, Dec. 17, 2012

Question: Have a suspect’s rights been violated when the suspect only hears an officer issue Miranda warnings to other people in the next room?
Quick answer: No, as long as an officer personally confirms that the suspect heard and understood those rights.

Facts: A confidential informant contacted a member of the local drug task force and set up a controlled buy from a known drug dealer. Based on the CI’s information and the officers’ observations, the task force officers obtained a search warrant. When executing the warrant, officers placed all of the home’s occupants in the living room, including the home’s owner, Ramon Ortega III. Ortega was handcuffed and lying on the floor. One detective took Ortega into the kitchen, which was right next to the living room area. The detective handed Ortega the warrant, letting him read through it.
Another detective stayed with the other occupants in the living room and told them that he was going to advise them of their Miranda rights. The detective who was with Ortega stopped reviewing the search warrant and told Ortega to listen to the warnings. After the Miranda warnings were given, the detective asked Ortega if he understood those rights and explained that he didn’t have to speak with police. Ortega said he understood and wanted to speak with police. He asked what they were looking for, and the detective told him they were searching for drugs and guns. Ortega told the detective that a firearm was located in a dresser drawer in a bedroom upstairs. Ortega later filed a motion to suppress his confession, alleging that he was improperly Mirandized and that he involuntarily waived his rights.
Why this case is important: The court determined that Ortega received a proper Miranda warning and that he voluntarily waived his rights. Peace officers may Mirandize a group of people at the same time, and a suspect’s rights aren’t violated by having him listen to the warnings being given in the next room. As long as it’s confirmed that the suspect understands those rights, there’s no Fifth Amendment violation. Here, the officer reading the Miranda warning was speaking in a clear, loud voice, and Ortega’s kitchen was right next to his living room. The detective with Ortega personally asked him if he understood his rights, and Ortega acknowledged that he did.
Ortega also voluntarily waived his rights. He was a middle-aged man who had previous run-ins with law enforcement. The detective also didn’t believe that Ortega didn’t understand the Miranda warnings; plus, he reiterated Ortega’s right to remain silent before Ortega admitted to having a gun in the house. Under the totality of the circumstances, Ortega received valid Miranda warnings and intelligently, knowingly, and voluntarily waived his rights.
Keep in mind: You don’t have to individually Mirandize each person present while arresting a group of suspects, but it’s good practice to personally confirm that each suspect clearly heard and understood those rights. As long as a suspect is within earshot of the warnings being given and he acknowledges that he understands his rights, any incriminating statements he makes shouldn’t be suppressed for the failure to properly Mirandize.
Visit the Third District Court of Appeals website to view the entire opinion.