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State v. Morales

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 12, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
ROGELIO PABLO MORALES, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Jeffrey L. Poulson, Judge.

         Rogelio Morales appeals from the denial of his motion to suppress. AFFIRMED.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Melinda J. Nye, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Thomas E. Bakke, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vogel and Tabor, JJ.

          DANILSON, Chief Judge.

         Rogelio Morales was convicted of second-degree murder. He appeals from the denial of his motion to suppress statements he made to police officers. Under the totality of the circumstances, we find Morales knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights.[1] We affirm.

         On April 19, 2015, Sioux City Police Officer Joshua Tyler was dispatched on a report of an unconscious party. Upon his arrival, Officer Tyler found Officer William Enockson administering CPR to Margarita Morales. Officer Tyler then was advised by a bystander he should speak with Rogelio Morales. Officer Tyler approached Morales, who was sitting on the front steps of the house and crying. Officer Tyler asked Morales what had happened. Morales replied that he and Margarita had been arguing and Margarita had said she had slept with someone else. Morales told Officer Tyler he had "lost it" and blacked out. After speaking with Morales, Officer Tyler placed him into custody. During the walk to the patrol car, Officer Tyler read Morales his Miranda rights.

         Morales was placed into an interrogation room at 1:06 a.m. Detectives Nick Thompson and Mike Simons entered the room at 2:22 a.m. Detective Thompson read Morales his Miranda rights and asked Morales if he understood those rights. Morales slightly nodded affirmatively. Detective Thompson then asked if he was willing to speak to the detectives. Morales again affirmatively nodded. The detectives questioned Morales for about an hour and a half. Morales answered the detectives' questions without asking to stop or speak to an attorney.

         Morales was charged with first-degree murder after Margarita died. In district court, Morales moved to suppress the video of the custodial interrogation, arguing there was no showing by the State he voluntarily and knowingly waived his Miranda rights. He asserted the video shows that after being read his Miranda rights, Morales made a minor head gesture and no verbal affirmative statement. No express written or verbal waiver was obtained by the detectives before they questioned him.

         After a hearing, the district court found:

Morales responded to questions of both his understanding of his Miranda rights and his willingness to speak to the detectives with a nod. This is clearly seen in the video of the interview. Detective Thompson delivered the rights and questions in a conversational tone. There were no threats or promises or intimidation in the conversation. Morales had his head down during the recitation and questions, but there was no indication that he not listening or was confused. He responded to questions in a logical manner at the appropriate times without prompting. Finally, Morales offers no alternative explanation to contradict the nods being interpreted as affirmative responses to Detective Thompson's questions.
Morales cites several additional factors that he argues diminish his ability to knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive his Miranda rights, including his age, his military service, his lack of a prior criminal record, the location of the interview, the length of wait prior to interrogation, the length of interrogation, the number of law enforcement officers present, his emotional state, deprivation of sleep, and the detectives' request that he disrobe. When evaluating the totality of the circumstances, the court does not find these persuasive. Morales presents no evidence to support how these factors might have altered his ability to understand or waive his Miranda rights. Several of these, in fact, occurred after Morales's waiver, including the length of the interrogation and the detectives' request that he disrobe. None of these factors alter Morales's knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of his Miranda rights.

         On appeal, Morales argues the Iowa Constitution requires an express waiver of a suspect's rights before he may be subjected to custodial interrogation. He asks that we overrule State v. Davis, 304 N.W.2d 432, 435 (Iowa 1981) ("We hold an express waiver is not a requirement of the Iowa Constitution. Thus we must examine this defendant's words and actions, after he was informed of his Miranda rights, to determine if in fact a waiver occurred."). As has been noted before, the task of overruling precedent is for our supreme court. See State v. Miller, 841 N.W.2d 583, 584 n.1 (Iowa 2014) ("While we reverse the judgment of the district court and vacate the decision of the court of appeals, we acknowledge both courts properly relied on our applicable precedent. Generally, it is the role of the supreme court to decide if case precedent should no longer be followed."); State v. Eichler, 83 N.W.2d 576, 578 (Iowa 1957) ("If our ...

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