No means no.
The state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a Pasco suspect did not need to say out loud that he wanted to remain silent during police questioning. A negative head shake was good enough.
The appeals court agreed with a Tri-City judge that Pasco police were wrong to keep questioning a teen burglary suspect in 2013.
Pasco officers should have recognized the side-to-side head movement to mean the suspect wanted to remain silent, and immediately stop the interview, according to the 11-page opinion.
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But since officers continued, and the suspect reportedly gave incriminating statements, Franklin County Superior Court Judge Bruce Spanner was correct in suppressing those statements, ruled the appeals court.
Spanner later dismissed the residential burglary charge without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled only if new evidence comes to light or if an appeals court reverses his decision.
In appealing Spanner’s decision, Franklin County prosecutors argued that the “head shake was an ambiguous act subject to multiple interpretations,” including disbelief or discomfort, the opinion said.
The teen’s lawyer countered that the 15-year-old’s conduct clearly expressed his desire to stop talking with police.
The three-judge panel’s ruling ultimately ends the 2013 case, unless prosecutors ask for reconsideration by the Court of Appeals or petition the state Supreme Court to review the case.
“Invocation of the right to remain silent must be unequivocal,” wrote appeals Judge Robert E. Lawrence-Berrey.
The teen was arrested on suspicion of residential burglary and Pasco Officer Ryan Flanagan handcuffed him and took him to an interview room at the police station.
The boy was read his Miranda rights, along with “special warnings for juveniles,” and both Flanagan and Officer Ray Aparicio said the teen did not express any confusion and did not ask questions.
Aparicio asked the teen if he was willing to talk with police about “some things, why we were here.” The officer testified that the teen “shook his head side to side” but did not respond verbally.
Asked for his understanding of that response, Aparicio said in “my experience, it means ‘no,’ but he didn’t say ‘no,’ so I don’t know what was going through his mind,” the opinion said.
Flanagan testified that the teen “slightly shook his head in a fashion that I guess would mean ‘no,’ to an extent.” He admitted to the defense that he understood the movement to mean “no.”
The officers left the interview room to discuss whether they should stop and decided the head shaking “did not sufficiently indicate (the teen’s) desire for the interview to cease,” the opinion said.
The officers returned about five minutes later, started questioning the boy about a different burglary without rereading his rights, then switched back to the initial residential burglary. The teen avoided eye contact during the interview and allegedly talked about the burglaries.
When Judge Spanner ruled that the teen’s statements couldn’t be used in the burglary case, he said the meaning of a head shaking in the negative is clear.
“No means no,” he said.
The appeals judges agreed that a suspect does not need to verbally invoke his or her right to remain silent.
Lawrence-Berrey concluded that when the teen shook his head, “This affirmative conduct unambiguously signaled (his) desire for the questioning to cease. At that point, police were required to honor his request and immediately cease their questions.”