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State v. Medina

Court of Appeals of Utah

January 17, 2019

State of Utah, Appellant,
v.
Sergio Briseno Medina, Appellee.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Randall N. Skanchy No. 161903223

          Sean D. Reyes and Jeffrey S. Gray, Attorneys for Appellant

          Sarah J. Carlquist, Scott A. Wilson, and Jesse M. Nix, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and Michele M. Christiansen Forster concurred.

          MORTENSEN, JUDGE

         ¶1 Minutes before the stroke of midnight, Defendant Sergio Briseno Medina sent a text message to his fiancée telling her that he had to "take someone out." That "someone" turned out to be Victim, who had been selling drugs with Medina. Victim was found fatally stabbed on the side of the road the next day. The ensuing investigation led police to Medina. During an interview, detectives read Medina his Miranda[1] rights. Medina invoked his right to counsel, but immediately after invoking, Medina initiated a substantive conversation with the detectives regarding the investigation, the circumstances surrounding the murder, and the pending charges against him. After the detectives told Medina that they had "questions for [Medina] about [the murder]," Medina then stated, "I'm gonna answer questions," and demanded to know "what's going on" and, "Why is it me . . . being targeted for something that I wasn't even nearby." During the resulting conversation, Medina made several incriminating statements. The State charged Medina with murder and obstructing justice. Medina moved to suppress his statements made during the interview, arguing that his Miranda rights were violated by the detectives' questioning without counsel present. The district court granted Medina's motion and the State appeals.

         ¶2 We reverse.

         BACKGROUND

         The Plot

         ¶3 Several days before the murder, Medina texted his fiancée (Fiancée) with instructions to call Victim's cell phone and, when Victim answered, to "ask [Victim] what it's going to be" and then hang up. Fiancée was instructed to use *67 when she dialed Victim's number so that Fiancée's number would be blocked from Victim's view. Later that night, Fiancée texted Medina back, informing him that Victim "c[ould]n't give an answer." The next day, Medina sent Fiancée another text informing her that he had to "take someone out." Just forty minutes later, he again texted Fiancée with instructions to "call [Victim] again and tell her [that she] didn't follow instruct[ions]."

         ¶4 On the night of the murder, Medina was picked up by a friend (Friend) near the murder scene and spent the night at Friend's house. Fiancée became worried about Medina and called Friend to see if Friend knew of Medina's whereabouts. Medina told Friend to assure Fiancée that he was fine, but that Fiancée should "keep an eye on the news."

         The Aftermath

         ¶5 The next morning, Fiancée sent Medina a text message with a link to a news article reporting the discovery of Victim's body, whom the police had not yet identified. Fiancée concluded that the murder must have been what Medina had been referring to the previous night. In the afternoon, Medina met up with another friend (Witness).

         ¶6 Medina got into Witness's car and began telling Witness that he killed Victim with his "baby," while brandishing a blood-stained knife. Medina stated that he stabbed Victim while she sat in her jeep, but that she ran away from the car, so he had to run her over with the jeep and stabbed her again. Medina told Witness "not to say a word," and then threatened Witness by showing him a tattoo on his arm, stating that "he had the tattoo for a reason." Witness agreed to keep quiet and dropped Medina off at yet another friend's house. Witness testified that as he was leaving, he overheard Medina admit to the other friend that Medina had killed Victim.

         ¶7 One day later, Medina called another contact (Lender) and asked to borrow a couple thousand dollars and Lender's truck so that Medina could drive to Colorado. Lender did not immediately agree, and afterward, Medina sent Lender a text message with a link to the news article reporting Victim's death. After reading the article, Lender wrote back, "[W]hat the hell is going on here" and, "Did you do this?" Medina responded, "Ya sabes."[2] Lender did not allow Medina to borrow money or take his truck to Colorado.

         ¶8 Instead, Medina convinced a different friend to drive him to Rawlins, Wyoming, where Medina then caught a bus to Denver, Colorado. He then received a text from Fiancée saying, "I really hope you haven't t[a]ken off. That's not fair." Medina texted her back several hours later letting her know that he was in Colorado and that he "needed to get out ASAP. You know how it is." He then said, "[I]f anyone asks, I've been missing, you haven't heard, [about Victim]."

         The Interviews

         ¶9 The police investigation led police to Medina in Denver. A search of Medina's and Victim's cell phone records established that Medina was in the vicinity of Victim's body and her jeep around the time of the murder; a search of the jeep uncovered Medina's fingerprints on the outside of the jeep and Victim's blood on the interior. Medina was arrested and brought into a Denver police station for questioning.

         ¶10 Prior to any questioning, the detectives (the Detectives) read Medina his Miranda rights, whereupon Medina invoked his right to counsel. The conversation ensued as follows:

The Detectives: Okay well just so you're aware we just wanna make sure that you are aware of your rights okay you still have those (inaudible) and you wanna find out and you wanna have a discussion with us and we wanna make sure you know your rights okay?
Medina: Ya.
D: So you do know you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney present with you while you're being questioned. If you can't afford to hire one, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning if you wish. Okay?
M: Can I have an attorney present then?
D: So . . . and if you . . . so you're saying you don't wanna talk to us without your attorney present?
M: Well ya the thing is I don't know what's going on. I wanna know what's going on.
D: Okay.
M: Why is it that my sister[']s door gets kicked in . . . I've got an officer asking if I got my hands . . . if I have an injury on my hands and they're checking my hands and I was like no what's goin on . . . Does he have . . . What injury are you talking about . . . What's going on. You know what I mean? I'm only here tryin (inaudible) cause I wanna lay off the meth cause I was consumin (inaudible) all this goin on and I was like what's goin on. My sister's mad at me right and doesn't want to talk to me because the same situation.
D: Is it what happened with her . . .
M: Ya I mean come on wouldn't you be mad?
D: Sure. I'd be frustrated absolutely and that's . . . We can have a discussion about that absolutely.
M: And that's why I'm like okay what's goin on. I got people callin me hey there's a homicide or something . . . What are you ...

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