The Supreme Court of Guam has vacated the trial court’s conviction of Guam Police Department Officer Mark Torre, Jr. over the death of fellow GPD Officer Elbert “Bert” Piolo.
In its decision, the Supreme Court said the trial court erred when it denied Torre’s motion to suppress, and that this error was not harmless.
“We vacate the Judgment of Conviction and remand for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion,” the Supreme Court said.
Torre had sought the reversal of his convictions on multiple grounds, including on the basis that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress body camera footage and statements he made to police.
In its decision, the Supreme Court stated that the trial court indeed erred when it denied Torre’s motion to suppress.
According to the Supreme Court, to admit statements made by a defendant during a custodial interrogation, the defendant had to be advised of his or her constitutional rights prior to giving the statements sought to be admitted.
Citing People v. Rasauo, 2011, the Supreme Court stated: “The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination prohibits the prosecution from using statements stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant, unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards to secure that privilege.”
Accordingly, in order for the prosecution to admit statements made by a defendant
during a custodial interrogation, the Supreme Court said the defendant must be advised of his or her constitutional rights prior to giving the statements sought to be admitted.
The Supreme Court was referring to the Miranda rights, which is a type of notification customarily given by police to criminal suspects in police custody (or in a custodial interrogation) advising them of their right to silence; that is, their right to refuse to answer questions or provide information to law enforcement or other officials.
The Supreme Court noted that it was the prosecution’s burden to establish that the Superior Court’s error in admitting statements obtained in violation of Miranda procedural safeguards was harmless.
The Supreme Court also expressed concern about the trial court’s reliance on 9 GCA § 7.25 in permitting a prosecution expert to examine Torre when Torre did not plead guilty by reason of mental illness, disease, or defect.
During a news conference after the release of the Supreme Court decision, Atty. Jay Arriola, Torre’s lawyer, said: “The Supreme Court found, as we argued on appeal, that the video interrogation of Mark Torre Jr. was a custodial interrogation, that he was in custody for all intents and purposes, at the time that officer Edwards interrogated him. Miranda versus Arizona is a prophylactic rule because it is to deter wrongful police conduct. Mark Torre Jr., like any other citizen on this island, is entitled to be treated the same. All are entitled to the protections that the Miranda doctrine gives us.”
Arriola added that any re-trial of the case will be very different because the AG will be “strictly and severely limited in the evidence they will be allowed to proceed with” in a second trial. Arriola also said that Torre can not be re-prosecuted on the more serious murder charges as a result of double jeopardy, leaving only the negligent homicide and aggravated assault charges for re-prosecution against Torre.
“Our position would be, however, in the first instance that they should give serious consideration to whether they can achieve a conviction without the evidence. They would not have an expert, they had a very difficult time locating an expert to challenge our expert testimony. They will not be able to interview and interrogate him. they will not be able to use the video and so their evidence will be quite different,” the lawyer said.
He added that it’s up to the Attorney General’s Office whether the AG would call for a retrial of the case.
Attorney General Leevin Camacho, in an interview with Andrea Pellacani on K57, said his office will be meeting with the victim’s family and attorneys to review options but will not rule out a retrial.
“We’re disappointed by the decision. But a retrial is still an open possibility at this point based on the Supreme Court decision,” the AG said.