Quiet Defendant's Conviction Reversed When Request for Lawyer Not Heeded

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: criminal law, custodial interrogation, request for lawyer.

State v. Chavarria-Cruz. MN criminal law, custodial interrogation, request for lawyer

Jose Miguel Chavarria-Cruz was convicted of the 2006 murder of Carlos Hernandez Perez in Bloomington, Minnesota. That conviction was based in part upon statements made during questioning. During that questioning, defendant stated: "That's not . . . I'm, I'm cooperating here, talking to you has been like you know, I think I need lawyer . . ."

Detectives continued to question him past this point. The investigator testified that the defendant was very soft spoken and had a pronounced accent, and that he did not recall the defendant using the word "lawyer". He conceded upon hearing the recording however, that the defendant had used the word "lawyer".

The District Court and Court of Appeals proceeded on the basis that the officer had not heard the request for a lawyer, and held that it was proper to admit the following statement.

The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Magnuson, applied an objective standard of whether a "reasonable police officer" would have heard the confession, noting that "[o]fficers conducting investigations have a strong interest in facilitating effective communication in order to gather information."

The Court further held that the error was not harmless, and remanded the case for new trial.

No. A08-1036, 784 N.W.2d 355 (Minn. June 30, 2010).

Update: The defendant was convicted after his new trial, and the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed his conviction in 2013.

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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