Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No.
Nazarian, Reed, Beachley, JJ.
Kettleman: I just think I'd look guilty if I hired a
James McGill: No, actually it's getting arrested that
makes people look guilty, even the innocent ones, and
innocent people get arrested everyday. And they find
themselves in a little room with a detective who acts like
he's their best friend. "Talk to me, " he says,
"Help me clear this thing up. You don't need a
lawyer, only guilty people need lawyers" and BOOM! Hey,
that's when it all goes south. That's when you want
someone in your corner. Someone who will fight tooth and
know (from television, if nowhere else) that a person in
custodial interrogation has the right to ask for counsel and
that once that right is invoked, questioning must stop. The
issue in this case is whether Mynor Vargas-Salguero invoked
his right to counsel during questioning by Prince
George's County detectives, and specifically whether the
words he used conveyed that request with sufficient clarity
and without ambiguity. The Circuit Court for Prince
George's County found his words ambiguous, and, after a
trial, he was convicted of second-degree murder, robbery, and
theft. He argues on appeal that his Fifth and Sixth Amendment
rights were violated when detectives continued questioning
him after he invoked his rights to counsel and to remain
silent. We hold Mr. Vargas-Salguero invoked his Fifth (not
Sixth) Amendment rights when, under these circumstances,
officers continued to question him after he asked (in
Spanish) for a lawyer, and we reverse the judgment and remand
for further proceedings.
night of September 2, 2014, Miguel Barillas (the
"victim") was killed in Langley Park by a single
stab wound to the chest. While investigating the murder,
detectives discovered that Mr. Barillas's phone had been
taken immediately before or right after the murder. Police
tracked the phone to Jose Ventura, who explained that a man
approached him and offered to sell it for $100. Mr. Ventura
declined the offer, but loaned the man $100 and held the
phone as collateral. The man gave Mr. Ventura his phone
number so that he could retrieve the phone from Mr. Ventura
later. That number belonged to Mr. Vargas-Salguero.
police looked at the phone's call history and discovered
a call to Glenda Matute, an acquaintance of Mr.
Vargas-Salguero, that had been placed after the victim had
died. When questioned, Ms. Matute told officers that Mr.
Vargas-Salguero had called her late at night on September
2nd and offered to sell her the victim's
phone. Ms. Matute and another eyewitness, Hugo Cordon, also
identified Mr. Vargas-Salguero as the aggressor in an
altercation between Mr. Vargas-Salguero and the victim; they
said that Mr. Vargas-Salguero appeared to "punch"
the victim before the men walked off in separate
obtained an arrest warrant for Mr. Vargas-Salguero early in
the morning on September 6, 2014. The statement of charges
included first-degree murder, robbery, armed robbery, and
carrying a dangerous weapon with the intent to injure. They
arrested him and brought him to an interrogation room, then
began questioning him at about 2:45 a.m.
describing the interrogation itself, though, a little
context. Mr. Vargas-Salguero's first language is Spanish
and he speaks some English. Two of the detectives
interrogating Mr. Vargas-Salguero (Detectives Deleon and
Rodriguez) spoke English and Spanish, and one (Detective
Bellino) spoke only English. Most of the interrogation took
place in Spanish, and the Spanish-speaking detectives
occasionally translated or summarized for Detective Bellino.
At times, though, Detective Bellino questioned Mr.
Vargas-Salguero in English, and at other times Mr.
Vargas-Salguero responded to them in English. The excerpts of
the interrogation that follow come, except where otherwise
noted, from the transcript prepared by the police, as they
translated the discussion, but we have italicized the
portions spoken in Spanish and added some further annotations
to synchronize the transcripts with the actual interrogation
as recorded on video. At the suppression hearing we discuss
later, the circuit court had access to the video as well as
the translated transcripts.
the initial part of the questioning, Mr. Vargas-Salguero
revealed that he had drunk alcohol and smoked marijuana the
previous night, but he assured the detectives that he was
sober as they spoke. Detective Deleon advised Mr.
Vargas-Salguero of his Miranda rights in
Spanish. When asked if he understood his rights, Mr.
Vargas-Salguero responded that he understood them perfectly.
The detectives then asked Mr. Vargas-Salguero where he had
been on the night of the murder, and told him (despite the
arrest warrant) that he was not being accused of anything.
Mr. Vargas-Salguero initially denied being in Langley Park
that night, but eventually admitted that he'd gone there
to buy marijuana after work. He described (in Spanish) what
[DETECTIVE DELEON]: And after what did you do? When you
smoked that joint that night?
A: Open the door and get my ass in the house cause I know
how to hot this shit.
[DETECTIVE DELEON]: Okay, and then what happened?
A: What do you mean what happened?
[DETECTIVE DELEON]: Once you went inside the house, what
A: Sleep, like always.
[DETECTIVE DELEON]: And what time did you wake up?
A: I wake up-didn't I just tell you?
[DETECTIVE DELEON]: No, the other day. Or I don't
know if it's your day off.
A: Excuse me but, you can ask me and repeat what you like
and I'll answer how it is, okay? Because I don't owe
you and haven't done anything to anyone. Okay? At 4:30 my
sister gets up to (make) lunch. Okay?
[DETECTIVE DELEON]: Okay.
A: At 4:30 I get up, sometimes I shower in the afternoon
or sometimes I shower in the morning. Okay? So, you know, I
get up at 4:30…
[DETECTIVE DELEON]: Every day?
A: Not every day.
[DETECTIVE DELEON]: That's why I asked you.
A: Sometimes I get up at 4:30 when I take a shower.
[DETECTIVE DELEON]: Okay. Tha-that's why I asked
A: At 5:30 my ride wakes me up, there at the house where
I live-lived right now with my sister, that I just moved
[DETECTIVE DELEON]: Right.
A: And I go to work. That's all I have to say to you.
And if you accuse me of something I better want an
attorney. (underlining added).
at least, is how the police transcript translated this last
sentence-in Spanish, he said "si me acusan de eso quiero
un abogado mejor, " and what he actually meant when he
said it lies at the heart of this case.
the following short, non-substantive back-and-forth that
switched between languages, detectives left the room for
about three minutes:
[DETECTIVE DELEON]: We're not-okay.
A: Try to put me in jail. It doesn't matter. Pay for
something I haven't done. That's fine. I feel clean
and happy in my heart. I don't need to hurt anyone,
that's why I work. That's why I earn my own money,
(unintelligible) the rent and I'm clear that it's
always me paying my rent where I lived before with my
[DETECTIVE BELLINO]: Why are you so angry, man?
A: No I'm not angry 'cause…I'm sorry, man.
[DETECTIVE BELLINO]: We're not coming at you like that,
A: I'm sorry man. Forgive me.
[DETECTIVE BELLINO]: Don't be angry, man.
A: That's the way I am, brother. I'm sorry I know
you're not my brother, but that's the way I am.
I'm sorry. Okay I'm not…
[DETECTIVE DELEON]: Okay. We'll be right back. When they
returned, Mr. Vargas-Salguero was crying and emotionally
distraught. Detective Bellino asked Mr. Vargas-Salguero if he
was "all right, " to which he answered,
rhetorically, "[h]ow do you think I feel?" So the
Detective offered, "Listen, if you - if you want to talk
to me, I'm willing to talk, " then laid down
surveillance photos from the night of the murder on the table
where Mr. Vargas-Salguero could see them:
A: Right. Ask me whatever you want.
[DETECTIVE BELLINO]: Okay. Maybe…
A: People confuse me and-this has to be this way,
[DETECTIVE BELLINO]: Hold up, just a moment ago you said
you wanted a lawyer but you're
willing to talk to us right now, right?
A: Yeah because I don't have no problem.
[DETECTIVE BELLINO]: And you understand you have the right to
remain silent, you understand you have the right to have an
attorney, but you're willing to talk to us correct?
A: I want to fix it. I want to fix it.
after this exchange, Mr. Vargas-Salguero confirmed that it
was he in the surveillance photos. A bit later in the
interview, Mr. Vargas-Salguero stated he had nothing else to
say, and this time the detectives were the first to speak:
A: In what moment did - did - I don't want to say
anything else now. Because I have nothing else to say. I have
nothing else to tell you. Me, killing a poor man.
[DETECTIVE BELLINO]: Go ahead here.
[DETECTIVE DELEON]: Here.
A: There, what? Go ahead, what? What you got in there? What
do you say? I don't see anything there. Nothing.
[DETECTIVE BELLINO]: Look are you willing to talk to
us? I thought you said you didn't want to
talk. Do you want to talk to me? Are you willing
to talk to me?
[DETECTIVE BELLINO]: All right because, you know. Here's
the thing, first of all, you want to talk to me I'll
repeat everything I already explained to you, you have the
right to a lawyer, you have the right to remain silent,
you're willing to speak to me, is that right?
A: Yeah because I don't have any.
words alone don't paint a complete picture of what was
happening in the interrogation room. Mr.
Vargas-Salguero's statements in Spanish that he had
nothing else to say ("In what moment did - did - I
don't want to say anything else now. Because I have
nothing else to say. I have nothing else to tell
you.") were not translated by Detective DeLeon for
Detective Bellino. At that point, Detective DeLeon pushed
away from the table ("Here.") to allow Detective
Bellino to lean over and continue speaking to him, at which
point he said, in English, "Look are you willing to talk
to us? I thought you said you didn't want to talk. Do you
want to talk to me?"
there, the interrogation continued, and over the course of
the next two hours, Mr. Vargas-Salguero's story changed.
He eventually admitted to knowing the victim through
neighborhood pick-up soccer games. He also admitted that he
had been in Langley Park that night buying drugs, but
hadn't returned home right away. Instead, he drank with
an acquaintance named Chano, who gave him the victim's
cell phone. Later, Mr. Vargas-Salguero admitted that he took
the phone himself, but claimed that the victim was passed out
drunk or sleeping at the time. Finally, Mr. Vargas-Salguero
confessed that he'd approached the victim who "was
just there sitting" and said, "Give me your
phone." The victim apparently "tried to go off
running" but Mr. Vargas-Salguero "push[ed] him
down." Then, he "took it away from [the victim],
[I] hit him once, he fell, I grabbed the phone and
left." Mr. Vargas-Salguero stated that he thought he
made a call on the victim's phone, but couldn't
remember to whom.
Vargas-Salguero was charged by criminal indictment with
first-degree murder, armed robbery, and carrying a dangerous
weapon openly with intent to injure. Before trial, he moved
in limine to suppress the statements he made to the
detectives in the early morning interview on September
6th. He argued that his statements to the
detectives were not knowing and voluntary and that the
detectives violated his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. The
transcript of Mr. Vargas-Salguero's interrogation was
prepared in English by one of the detectives who conducted
the interview and was admitted without objection at the
hearing on the motion to suppress. The detectives who
conducted Mr. Vargas-Salguero's initial interview also
testified in person.
hearing, Mr. Vargas-Salguero focused primarily on challenging
the voluntariness of his confession due to his alcohol and
drug use the night before. He also asked the detectives about
his request for an attorney. The detectives were provided
with copies of the transcript and viewed relevant portions of
the interview video. Detective DeLeon claimed that Mr.
Vargas-Salguero hadn't been under arrest at the time he
was questioned, but acknowledged that they had given him
Miranda warnings all the same. Detective DeLeon also
acknowledged that Mr. Vargas-Salguero had mentioned an
attorney at least once during their interview, but said that
it hadn't been clear to him that Mr. Vargas- Salguero was
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Okay. And is it fair to say each time the
word attorney came out of his mouth, he was not Mirandized
and you continued to ask questions?
DETECTIVE DELEON: That's false.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Which part is ...