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California man has case against officers who violated his rights

As some of our San Diego readers know, it’s because of the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona that police are required to read a person their rights prior to questioning. Failing to give a person the Miranda warning means that any statement or confession made after being taken into police custody is presumed involuntary and may be thrown out in a criminal case.

But even though this law has been in place for nearly 50 years, some officers to this day still forget to read people their Miranda rights, even here in California. This often leads to convictions that may not have come about had that person’s rights not been violated. In some cases, people are forced to serve part of a sentence until such a time when their appeal is heard and the conviction is overturned.

This was supposed to be the case for a California man who was convicted of murder twice before an appeals court finally acknowledged that his rights had been violated prior to the first conviction. It turns out that a Ventura County deputy failed to read the man his Miranda rights prior to questioning, which resulted in a murder conviction in 1995.

Although this first conviction was later vacated when the error was brought to the 9th Circuit Court’s attention, he was retried in 2005 for the same murder. Once again, he was convicted despite the illegal interrogation. It wasn’t until recently that a three-judge panel sided with the man, stating that because his rights had been violated, he had grounds for a civil lawsuit against the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.

Though he may not seek any compensatory damages for time served -- due to the fact that he was serving time for unrelated crimes -- the court did say that he has grounds to seek punitive damages. And although this will mean further litigation down the road, it may finally provide him with a sense of justice after all these years.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Convicted Murderer Still Has Miranda Rights Case,” Tim Hull, April 15, 2014

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