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Criminal Nuggets


May 23, 2018

People v. Sanchez, 2018 IL App (1st) 143899 (April). Episode 488 (Duration 18:22)

Involuntary confession and improper closing arguments lead to this Illinois wrongful murder conviction.


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Gist

In 2013 Maniac Latin Disciples, encountered several members of the Sureños, a rival street gang that operates in Wheeling.

Four gunshots rang out.

One person gets hit in the back and dies.

Holding

The court reversed the conviction due to the insufficiency of the evidence.

We hold that section 103-2.1 required the court to suppress the video recorded statements of Sanchez, made after police initiated unrecorded custodial questioning in a murder investigation, when police had not informed Sanchez of his Miranda rights. Police induced an involuntary, unreliable confession. The trial court erred when it denied the motion to quash the illegal arrest and the motion to suppress statements.

Analysis

Around 9:30 p.m. the police encountered the defendant and a codefendant being chased by Sureños. The Sureños said these two knew something about the shooting.

Defendant is handcuffed and arrested right away. This arrest was illegally and without probable cause.

After the illegal arrest, police questioned Sanchez twice about the murder, without advising Sanchez of his Miranda rights. Police also failed to record the questioning, in violation of section 103-2.1(b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Code). 725 ILCS 5/103­ 2.1(b).

The Code expressly places on the prosecution the burden of showing that an exception excuses them from the rule requiring recording of interrogations. 725 ILCS 5/103-2.1(e). The prosecution presented no evidence of when the victim died, and therefore the prosecution did not meet its burden of showing the statement admissible under subsection (e)(viii). 725 ILCS 5/103-2.1(e)(viii).

Due to the violation of section 103-2.1(b), the trial court had a duty to suppress all subsequent statements from Sanchez unless the State showed by a preponderance of the evidence that the subsequent statements were both voluntary and reliable. 725 ILCS 5/103­ 2.1(d), (f).

Involuntary Statement

To determine the voluntariness of a statement, the court should consider “the defendant’s age, intelligence, background, experience, mental capacity, education, and physical condition at the time of questioning; the legality and duration of the detention; the duration of the questioning; and any physical or mental abuse by police, including the existence of threats or promises.” People v. Gilliam, 172 Ill. 2d 484, 500-01 (1996).

Here, Sanchez was 18 years old, with no criminal background, at the time of the interrogation. Police arrested him without probable cause and held him for 12 hours before he confessed. Most notably, the detectives told Sanchez he could not call his mother until he told them the truth about the shooting, and they told him they already knew he shot the victim.

The court said the evidence showed that Sanchez did not voluntarily make the statements. By refusing Sanchez’s request to call his mother, the detectives also violated section 103-3(a) of the Code. 725 ILCS 5/103­ 3(a).

Even The State Didn't Believe The Statement

The prosecution conceded that the jurors should not rely on almost all of the statements Sanchez made in the lengthy interrogation.

The prosecutor argued that the jurors should not believe Sanchez’s statement about who brought the gun. Nor believe Sanchez’s statement that Sanchez had the gun between the 540 and 544 buildings when it discharged. The prosecutor argued that the jurors should not believe Sanchez’s statement that the gun discharged accidentally.

Nor can the prosecution accept as true Sanchez’s statement that before he got hold of the gun, the defendant and the codefendants walked in the area to the north and east of the shooting.

The only words Sanchez spoke that the prosecutor wanted jurors to believe came when Sanchez said he held the gun and “it went off.”

Also An Unreliable Statement

Whether defendant’s statement was reliable is a separate inquiry from whether it was voluntary.

Factors other than voluntariness have bearing on the reliability of a confession. Courts have frequently looked to corroboration as the most significant indicator of the reliability of confessions.

The court held that corroboration of a statement should be a factor in determining the reliability of a confession under section 103-2.1(f).

CoDefendant Corroborates Nothing

  • The testifying witness said Sanchez headed toward the 540 and 544 buildings, holding the gun, shortly before he heard the shots. But most of the recanted video recorded statements shown at trial flatly contradicted Sanchez’s confession.
  • Sanchez said Estrada brought the gun; the testifying witness said Sanchez bought the gun the week before the shooting and brought it to the scene.
  • Sanchez described the gun as black with a black handle; the testifying witness described the gun as silver with a brown handle.
  • Sanchez said Estrada took the gun from him and ran west from the shooting scene; the testifying witness said Sanchez took the gun, headed east, and threw the gun in the pond north of the 430 building.
  • Eyewitness testimony and the physical evidence also contradict Sanchez’s confession. The shot came from Equestrian Drive, south of Orozco, and hit him in the back as he stood facing north. The shot did not come from anywhere near the spot where the testifying witness confirmed that Sanchez stood when he, in his recanted statement, said he heard the shots.

Why Didn't He Just Run To His Car?

Moreover, if Sanchez fired the shots from Equestrian Drive and lied about it, as the prosecutor theorized, Sanchez would have stood no more than 40 yards from his car, which police found parked on the west side of the 492 building.

Why wouldn't he have just jumped in his car?

The Initial Account

The initial account of Sanchez and every other witness to police explains how Sanchez arrived north of the shooting scene. The group defendant was in was trying to go from one care to another when they began to be chased.

The evidence at trial ran counter to Sanchez’s confession.

Insufficient Evidence To Convict

No physical evidence connected Sanchez to the crime.

  • Police never found the gun or the casings from the fired bullets, and they found only one of the four fired bullets.
  • The prosecutor conceded that police never found the bullet that killed the victim. No witness testified that Sanchez held a gun.
  • No witness saw Sanchez on Equestrian Drive, where the shots came from.
  • Sanchez’s hands and clothes bore no trace of antimony, no trace of barium, and no trace of lead.
  • The testimony of all witnesses and all the physical evidence fits well with the initial account given to police.
  • That account, which matched the testifying witness testimony in court, is also consistent with Miguel’s testimony that he stood on Bridle Trail, talking with Sanchez and the others, before he left  and encountered the victim when he was shot.
  • When Sanchez and the others realized the shots hit someplace near the 490 building, they had reason to fear Miguel had been shot.
  • Moreover, the prosecution failed to present a coherent theory of the case.

Motive Not Required But State Offers No Reason For An Inexplicable Shooting

According to the prosecution,

Defendant went home to get a gun to deal with opposing gang members.

Later that evening, Sanchez was talking with some Maniac Latin Disciples and others on Bridle Trail, when Miguel left to escort a friend to the 490 building. According to the prosecution, a few minutes later, knowing that his friend and gangmate Miguel had gone toward the 490 building, Sanchez walked unseen to Equestrian Drive and fired wildly at a group that included Miguel and Miguel’s father.

Why would he shoot at his own friend?

Then, rather than run to his car, Sanchez ran around the neighborhood for half an hour, with no apparent purpose other than to work up a sweat and persuade an opposing gang to chase him.

Why Did The Jury Convict?

The overwhelming implausibility of the prosecution’s account presents us with the question:

Why did a jury of 12 ostensibly reasonable persons sign a verdict convicting Sanchez of murder?

Well, He Confessed

First, confessions have exceptional persuasive force, and as we have already concluded, the jury should not have heard Sanchez’s incriminating statements.

Prosecution Was Persuasive

Second, the prosecutor insinuated that Sanchez’s hands had gunshot residue and the Sureños accused him of shooting the victim, and the prosecutor shifted the jurors’ focus from the evidence against Sanchez to the issues of whether defense counsel had grievously insulted police and whether jurors doubted the integrity of the officers.

Sanctions Against The Police

The court recommend that if police departments again use the so-called “presumptive GSR test,” the departments should inform officers and the subjects of the tests about what the tests actually measure, and what kinds of contact can produce positive test results.

They also recommend the consideration of possible sanctions against the officers for violating section 103-3(a) of the Code, which establishes the suspect’s right to make phone calls. 725 ILCS 5/103-3(a) (West 2012).

Deception In Interrogations

While our supreme court has expressly approved the use of deception to obtain confessions, this case shows us how the use of deception in interrogations leads to false confessions.

Deceptive practices contribute to an atmosphere in which whole communities act with hostility toward police. The court said if police want the members of the community to treat them with respect and help them in their efforts to reduce crime, police should renounce the use of deceptive practices in law enforcement so that the members of the community learn that they can trust police officers to treat them honestly.

The practice of deception in interrogations and other settings can destroy the trust needed as a foundation for the relationship between police officers and the members of the communities the police officers have a duty to serve and protect.

Conclusion

● No witness saw Sanchez with a gun.

● No witness saw Sanchez near the spot from which the fatal shot came.

● The prosecution showed no connection between Sanchez and the single spent bullet found at the scene.●

●  Police found no trace of antimony, barium, or lead on Sanchez’s hands and clothes.

● The prosecutor did not present a plausible account of Sanchez’s actions around the time of the shooting, and police admitted that Sanchez and the persons with him shortly before the shooting gave a plausible, consistent, exonerating account of Sanchez’s conduct. The court held that the prosecution did not present sufficient evidence to sustain the conviction.

But here, the record leads to a further conclusion. The evidence convincingly shows that Sanchez did not murder the victim.

Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the trial court outright.

Defendant Arrested

About 30 minutes after police arrived, an officer saw Sanchez and his buddy, Estrada , running toward the police, chased by several members of the Sureños gang. Conway handcuffed Sanchez and Estrada and ordered them to sit on the curb. 

More Details About The Case

The codefendant who recanted was found in the bushes north of the shooting. Marked with green "FB" on the map.

Defendant and essentially everyone interviewed said defendant was originally located south of the location where the shots where fired.  See green "X.

Originally, they said the got in a car and drove north and parked it north west of the shooting. See white rectangle in upper left corner. They got out and split up  because the Sureños started chasing them. Defendant and a codefendant went left. Sanchez went up and to the right.

Eventually, police see defendant and a codefendant running south towards the are a of the shooting being chased.

GSR Testing

Defendant was given a presumptive GSR test that was positive. Police used that against defendant in his interrogation. Later GSR testing by the state lab found nothing.

Shenanigans In The Interrogation

When the detectives confronted Sanchez with the positive result of the “presumptive GSR test,” Sanchez asserted repeatedly that he had not seen or shot a gun that evening. The detectives told Sanchez that his story was “bullshit,” and repeatedly, falsely asserted that several witnesses had said they saw Sanchez carrying a gun that evening.

The detectives said the “tests don’t lie” and suggested that Sanchez was “scared [he was] going to get shot.”

The detectives suggested that Sanchez should blame Estrada for the shooting. Sanchez began crying and said repeatedly,

“I didn’t do anything.”

Police moved the table out from between them, came right next to Sanchez, and further emphasized that he would not believe Sanchez’s account.

Bush said, “This was an accident. You didn’t mean for this to happen, did you?”

Again, Sanchez said, “I didn’t do anything, sir.”

Bush answered, “[W]e’re over that. There’s too many people that saw you.” This statement was, again, false.

Again, Sanchez said, “I didn’t do anything.”

Then He Begins To Say Something...

About 10 hours after police brought Sanchez to the station, he changed his account. They asked, “Did Brian do something? *** What did Brian do? You’re almost there.”

Sanchez answered, “He’s the one that shot.” Bush asked where Estrada stood when he shot the gun. Sanchez said, “[t]he farthest parking lot.”

The detective suggested that Estrada stood on Equestrian Drive or by the tennis courts. Sanchez pointed to a spot on the map police showed him. Heaccused Sanchez of lying, and said, “Everybody’s telling me that you had the gun.”

Sanchez said, “I didn’t have anything, sir. I put it on my mom’s life right now, ’cause she’s so sick right now, that I didn’t have any gun, sir.”

Bush suggested again, “this was just self-defense?”

Sanchez said, “I didn’t shoot nobody,” “I didn’t have any gun,” and “I want to see my mom.”

The detective said, “I can let you see your mom after we talk about this and get the truth.”

Again Sanchez said, “I did not do anything.”

They again accused Sanchez of lying. The detective said, “it was an accident. Is that correct?”

Sanchez responded, “Sir, I want to see my mom.”

They limited Sanchez’s choices: “I need to hear it from you, then, if it was an accident or did you intend to hit him?”

Sanchez said, “I don’t have a gun.”

The detective persisted: “[E]verybody’s telling me it was you and plus the GSR, you gotta understand it, okay?”

Sanchez said, “Sir, if it was me, sir, I take the blame, I would say it,” and “I’m telling you the truth.”

Ok The Other Guy Did It

The Detective returned to the tactic of getting Sanchez to blame Estrada.

Sanchez eventually said, “I held it, but Brian shot it.”

Through tears he said, “I want to get out of here. My mom is worried about me.”

Sanchez explained in his new story that Estrada showed him the gun and he held it briefly, then Estrada took it back and ran off to shoot. Sanchez said his mother “just had surgery a day ago,” and “[s]he doesn’t know right now. She’s worried about me.”

The detective accused Sanchez of lying and said, “These tests only happen when you fire a weapon.”

Sanchez still said, “I didn’t fire no weapon. It was Brian. I didn’t fire anything, sir.”

Detective said, “Jesus. Unfortunately, we already know that you did.” He encouraged Sanchez to tell his side of the story.

Sanchez said, “I give you my side, sir, you still won’t believe me.”

A Different Version

A few minutes later, Sanchez tried another revised account.

He said, “It went off by itself,” and then Estrada took it from him.

Detective asked, “Is it a revolver or a semi-automatic?”

Sanchez said, “It was a revolver,” and “I want to go home to my mom.” Sanchez attempted to complete the story.

He pointed on the map to where he said the gun discharged. He found a spot between the buildings numbered 540 and 544, close to 100 yards north of where the victim stood when the bullet hit him. He explained that Estrada wanted to shoot, because “he thought they had shot Miguel.”

Estrada had the gun, and when he handed it to Sanchez, “it went off.” Sanchez said he “ran to the cops” because Sureños “told [him he] was a dead man.”

They asked Sanchez to retell the evening’s events. Sanchez said that Miguel joined Sanchez, Estrada, Flores, and Rodriguez on Bridle Trail. Rodriguez got a call, and Miguel left with Rodriguez just before Scheffler, with Brett and Leslie, stopped by in Scheffler’s white car. Sanchez, Estrada, and Flores got into Scheffler’s car, and Estrada showed Sanchez Estrada’s gun, a black revolver. Estrada said he “was gonna get those guys back.”

Estrada hopped out of the car, and Sanchez ran with him.

Sanchez showed on the map that they got out of Scheffler’s car by the 410 building.

After the gun accidentally discharged, he and Estrada ran in different directions, Estrada carrying the gun. When the Sureños chased them, they met again just before running up to the Sergeant who arrested them.

Why The Crazy Route

Police sought to clarify the route Estrada and Sanchez took when they left Scheffler’s car:

“DETECTIVE OROPEZA: —why did you guys walk around this way? Why?

MR. SANCHEZ: Brian didn’t want to go through cops. *** *** I was just trying to go to my car. I was just trying to go home.”

Earlier that day, Sanchez had parked his car in a lot on the west side of the 492 building. Police found the car there after they arrested Sanchez.

Detective said, “Listen, you did good. I’m glad you were honest with us.”

Sanchez immediately asked to see his mother.

They said the police needed to “clarify some things” first.

Sanchez pleaded, “Let me talk to her. I want to talk to my mom.”

The detective said, “You will talk to your mom, okay? All right? Just not right now, okay?”

An hour later, they asked for a repetition of the confession.

What They Want

Sanchez said Scheffler drove from Bridle Trail to Longacre Lane to Equestrian Drive to Illinois Route 83 to Palatine Road. Scheffler stopped on Palatine Road, and Estrada said he wanted to shoot Sureños because he felt disrespected in the fight that took place around 3:30 p.m. on May 1.

Scheffler drove them on Palatine Road to Wheeling Road and then to the parking lot by the 410 building.

Sanchez marked on the map where he, Estrada, and Flores stood when the gun went off, when they were between the buildings numbered 540 and 544, north of the 486 and 492 buildings near where the victim was shot.

Sanchez said that when Estrada looked ready to shoot, Sanchez tried to take the gun away from him, and it went off in his hand. After the four shots discharged, Estrada took the gun and ran west toward the park. They asked for a further description of the gun, but Sanchez said only it was black with a black handle, and Sanchez did not know the caliber.

Now Can I Talk To My Mom?

The deetective asked, “[W]as it hard to pull the trigger?”

Sanchez answered, “Yeah, it was.”

At the conclusion of the questioning, Sanchez again said, “I just want to talk to my mom.”

The detectives again told Sanchez to wait. More than an hour and a half later, Sanchez knocked on the door of the interview room. He asked, “Can I talk to my mom yet?”

Detective said, “not right now.”

Sanchez asked, “When can I talk to my mom?”

Detective said, “when *** we get to it.”

Five minutes later, Sanchez knocked again and asked again, saying, “She doesn’t know where I am. Please let me talk to her.” He was told him to wait.

Five minutes later Sanchez asked again.

This time they said, “I got food coming for you.”

Sanchez answered, “I don’t want any food. I want to talk to my mom.”

Again the response was “Not right now.”

When they brought food a few minutes later, Sanchez repeated his plea, to the same effect. After five minutes, Sanchez knocked again and asked to talk to his mother, “[j]ust a quick call.”

Detective said, “No, that cannot be done.”

Sanchez waited almost 10 minutes before knocking again, with the same result.

Then 30 minutes later, a different officer said he could call his mother “in a little bit.”

Twenty minutes later, another knock, another request, and another denial.

Fifteen minutes later, another knock, and the detective said, “what was the answer to your question?” Sanchez said only, “Officer, please.”

Police came in of their own accord 15 minutes later, at 2 p.m. on May 2 and searched Sanchez for tattoos. They took Sanchez out of the interview room, listening to Sanchez repeat his plea to call his mother.

They denied the request.

Then they questioned Sanchez anew at 5 p.m. on May 3.

Defendant Recants

Sanchez told the detectives that he had lied on May 2, that he and the others in the car never fired a gun. A member of the Spanish Gangster Disciples he knew only as “Bone Crusher” had threatened Sanchez and Leslie.

Closing Arguements

In closing argument, the prosecutor said that Sanchez’s tears during the interrogation showed that he suffered from a burden of guilt, and “you can see how that burden is in fact lifted from him after he admits being the person who shot Rafael.”

Defense counsel argued that detectives fed an account to Flores and Sanchez and pressured them into assenting to that account.

The detectives used lies about the evidence and emphasis on the words “accident” and “mistake” to induce acceptance of the false accounts. In the prosecution’s rebuttal, the jury heard the following:

“[PROSECUTOR]: It’s bad enough to insult the integrity of the law enforcement people that were involved in this case. It’s bad enough to put dishonor upon their reputations, the people that are out there saving our lives and our communities.

[DEFENDANT’S CO-COUNSEL]: Objection, Judge.

THE COURT: Overruled.

*** [PROSECUTOR]: *** I’ve never seen anybody murdered by a cupcake before. He wants his Mommy. He is nothing but a sniveling, cowardly killer. That’s what he is. What were you doing out there all day, Jesus?

[DEFENDANT’S CO-COUNSEL]: Objection, Judge.

THE COURT: Overruled.

[PROSECUTOR]: [The witness] knew because when he was asked why were you being chased, what did he say? We were being chased by the Sureños because they thought we had shot someone, and that’s why they were being chased—

MS. KOEHLER: Objection, Judge.

THE COURT: What’s your objection?

MS. KOEHLER: It was the subject of a motion—

THE COURT: Overruled.”

The Verdict

The jurors deliberated for five hours before sending a note saying, “We are split.” The judge ordered them to continue deliberating.

Five hours later, the jury returned a verdict finding Sanchez guilty of the murder of the victim but not guilty of attempting to murder.

The judge sentenced Sanchez to 45 years in prison: 20 years for murder, plus 25 years for use of a firearm. 

Before You Go...

 

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