Sessoms v. Grounds

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 09-22-2014
  • Case #: 08-17790
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: En Banc: Chief Judge Kozinski and Circuit Judges McKeown, Schroeder, Silverman, McKeown, Wardlaw, Fisher, Paez, Callahan, Smith, Jr., Ikuta and Murguia
  • Full Text Opinion

Statements regarding a request for counsel in a custodial interrogation must be taken as a whole to determine whether an ordinary person would regard them as an unambiguous and unequivocal request to have counsel present.

In 1999, Tio Sessoms was placed under custodial interrogation. Within forty seconds of the detectives entering the room, he asked if he could have a lawyer present. The detectives continued, persuading Sessoms that he did not need a lawyer, and only after this did they read him his rights. Sessoms made incriminating statements during the interrogation, and was convicted of murder, robbery, and burglary, and sentenced to life without possibility of parole. The California Court of Appeals held that Sessoms’ request for an attorney was not unequivocal and upheld the conviction. Having exhausted his state court remedies, Sessoms, filed a federal habeas petition. He was denied at the magistrate, district, and appellate levels, and the Ninth Circuit granted him rehearing en banc. They conditionally granted the writ and the state appealed. The United States Supreme Court vacated the decision and remanded in light of Salinas v. Texas. Looking to the standard of an “unambiguous and unequivocal” request for an attorney set forth by Miranda and its progeny, the panel determined that Sessoms twice unequivocally made this request by asking “[t]here wouldn’t be any possible way that I could have a–a lawyer present while we do this?” They held that the California Court of Appeals unreasonably applied the Supreme Court precedent in holding that Sessoms’ statements were at best a “statement of his father’s advice to him.” The panel added that the detectives response to Sessoms’ question should have been “yes,” followed by a reading of Sessoms’ rights, and that the detectives’ pressure to get Sessoms to continue after making his request evinced a clear understanding by the detectives that Sessoms had unequivocally made a request to have counsel present. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

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