Angelo Cervantes, Left, Raul E Herrera (Fiancée of Sophia) Right
When a warrant was served in an Idaho murder case on December 3, 2014, a woman, one of the suspects' fiancee, Sophia D. Sanchez, was just leaving the house. She was questioned before being read her Miranda rights. She refused to answer questions until her attorney was present. The Detective continued to question her. Her lawyer claims that she was coerced into talking. From idahostatesman.com:
Ackley claims Nampa Detective Mark Palfreyman coerced Sanchez into talking with him. Palfreyman noted that Sanchez’s 16-month-old baby was her top priority and that the detective wanted to make sure she was able to remain with the infant. He suggested, Ackley wrote, that was contingent on her cooperation.
Police ordered Sanchez to accompany them to the Nampa Police Department, where she was questioned for three hours before being allowed to leave. During questioning, she admitted to possessing a .22-caliber pistol found in a bedroom closet. She was arrested and charged later that night, after police stopped her while driving with Herrera.
The claim resonates with me because I was peripherally involved in a case where a similar tactic was said to have been used. A local whistle-blower was arrested on a domestic violence charge when his wife, a Mexican national, imprudently called police during an argument. I recall being told that she had thrown water on him, or some other minor event. In any case, she refused to have a protective order taken out against him... until the police threatened to take her children unless she did so.
He was immediately evicted from the house, his guns confiscated, and he was left to shift for himself in the 100 degree plus Yuma summer. Coordination on their case was difficult because the protective order did not allow them to communicate.
I heard that they eventually won the case, and he was not convicted.
I became interested in the threat of taking away a woman's children to coerce cooperation.
I asked a prominent local attorney and friend if the tactic was common. He said that it depended on the jurisdiction. He opined that in Somerton, a few miles South, it probably happened in 50% of the cases where women with children became involved in the criminal justice system.
And in Yuma, I asked? In Yuma, he said, it happened in all the cases that he had knowledge of.
He clarified that this was merely a threat, and he did not know of cases where it was carried out. He said that one of his clients was tough, and dared the officers to have her kids taken. They never did.
But the point, it seemed to me, was that this was a very potent threat used to coerce women into doing things that they otherwise would not do. It seemed a violation of the Fifth Amendment.
I am curious about how this case will play out in Idaho. Police are allowed to lie to suspects in order to obtain confessions. Are they allowed to lie about threats in order to do so? If a threat seems plausible, is it coercion?
While it should not make a difference in Sophia's case, her fiancee, Herrera, was found guilty of all charges, and his co-defendant plead guilty to first degree murder, kidnapping, and aggravated assault.
Sophia faces up to 10 years in prison on the firearms charge.
©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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