Lujan v. Garcia

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 10-29-2013
  • Case #: 10-55637; 10-55685
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: District Judge Bencivengo for the Court; Circuit Judges Tashima and Bybee
  • Full Text Opinion

When testimony is induced by erroneous admission of confession evidence, it cannot be used to support the conviction as harmless error because it would perpetuate the initial constitutional violation.

Rueben Lujan, after being convicted of two counts of first degree murder, filed for a writ of habeas corpus based on a violation of Miranda v. Arizona. Lujan confessed to the murders during an interrogation after being read a partial Miranda warning. Lujan was not advised of his right to speak with an attorney present at all times, and in fact, Lujan did request to have an attorney present. Rather than allowing Lujan to obtain counsel, the detective continued with his line of questioning, which led to Lujan confessing to the murders. During trial, Lujan again confessed to the murders. The district court granted Lujan's habeas petition with remedy options to either release Lujan, timely initiate proceedings to modify the convictions, or retry Lujan. Former prison warden Silvia Garcia filed a timely appeal, and Lujan cross-appealed. The state court held that the Miranda violation was harmless error because Lujan confessed during his trial testimony. However, the state court reached this decision by failing to apply the Supreme Court's holding in Harrison v. United States. Garcia argued Harrison was not clearly established law that applied to the states. However, it was clear from the opinion that Harrison applies in Fifth Amendment cases such as this one. Applying Douglas v. Jacquez, the Ninth Circuit vacated the portion of habeas relief allowing conviction modification. The district court may provide the state court with the option to modify the conviction, but the district court erred in concluding second-degree murder was the appropriate modification. AFFIRMED in part, VACATED and REMANDED in part.

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