PORTLAND — The Oregon Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court’s decision to allow a robbery suspect’s statements to be used at trial after the man said he wanted to remain silent.
Celso Avila-Nava admits to lying to a Hillsboro detective during a police interrogation in 2009, but says he only did so after asserting his right to remain silent. Prosecutors at the man’s robbery trial made his credibility the crux of the jury’s decision, saying in closing arguments, “If you believe the defendant, then he is not guilty.”
The Oregon Court of Appeals found Wednesday that Avila-Nava’s statement “I won’t answer any questions” was unequivocally an assertion of the defendant’s right to remain silent.
“The conversation never should have continued after (Avila-Nava) said, ‘I won’t answer any questions,’” Avila-Nava’s attorney said in a pretrial motion. “That was him exercising his right to remain silent.”
In defending the actions of the detective, attorneys for the state of Oregon argued that Avila-Nava’s statement, “I won’t answer any questions,” was conditional. In their view, the detective was permitted to ask another question clarifying whether Avila-Nava really didn’t want to answer questions, or was asking whether he didn’t have to answer questions. Ultimately, attorneys for the state argued, Avila-Nava did waive his right to silence.
The trial court agreed.
Avila-Nava was convicted in 2010 of first-degree robbery, two counts of first-degree kidnapping, two counts of first-degree burglary, one count of unlawful use of a firearm and two counts of unauthorized use of a vehicle.
At the time of the December 2009 incident, police said Avila-Nava and his nephew stole two cars at gunpoint, then demanded the titles to the cars, forcing the victims to drive to a friend’s apartment for the documents.
Once there, police said Avila-Nava and his nephew tied up the victims with shoelaces and threatened to kill their families in Mexico if they reported the incident.
Avila-Nava’s nephew pleaded guilty to the charges, and was sentenced to more than nine years in prison.
The appeals court remanded Avila-Nava’s case to trial court.
Reach reporter Nigel Duara on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nigelduara
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press