More on Prolonged Detentions and Miranda Questions Over Statements Made to an Undercover Officer


A traffic stop is not unlawfully prolonged as long as the officer diligently pursues the purpose of the stop. An officer asking questions unrelated to the purpose of the stop while also pursuing information relevant to the stop is not illegal. An undercover law enforcement officer posing as a fellow inmate need not give Miranda warnings to an incarcerated suspect before asking questions, even if that suspect had earlier invoked his right to the assistance of counsel. This is because when a jail inmate is talking to an undercover officer, there is no coerciveness involved. (But see note below.)


Defendant Jason Felix was suspected of having murdered two individuals, in Montebello (Ricardo Mota, March 27, 2017) and in San Fernando (Jorge Gonzalez-Ortega, June 15, 2017), who were suspected of dealing drugs. Felix subsequently fled the state and was stopped in Utah on June 17 by Sgt. Charles Taylor, 23-year veteran with the Utah Highway Patrol, for failing to slow down as he passed the officer’s patrol car on eastbound I-70, a violation of Utah’s “slow down” law. The dashcam video from Sgt. Taylor’s patrol vehicle recorded the encounter beginning with Felix driving by his parked patrol vehicle and including the contact eventually leading to Felix’s arrest.  

As later testified to by Sgt. Taylor in a Los Angeles courtroom, while writing him a warning for the violation, Felix consented in writing to a search of his vehicle. The search resulted in the discovery of 10 taped packages of methamphetamine (5.4 kgs), a .22-caliber handgun, magazine and ammunition and two cellphones.  

Felix was arrested and held in custody until interviewed by detectives Michael Valento and Amber Montenegro of the San Fernando Police Department. After being advised of his Miranda rights, Felix admitted to picking up drugs from Gonzalez-Ortega at his home and shooting him in the head, but claimed it was in self-defense. Felix was soon extradited to California, where he was questioned by Detective Richard Ruiz and Sgt. Robert Gray of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. After being read his Miranda rights, Felix cooperated when initially asked questions, mostly concerning general background information. He also confirmed his cellphone number and said he had borrowed the car from a friend. However, when shown photographs of the other homicide victim (Mota), and of a 15-year-old suspected accomplice in the murder, Felix denied knowing either one. He invoked his right to counsel, the interview was concluded and Felix was returned to his jail cell.  

Apparently feeling that they needed more evidence tying Felix to the Mota murder, the detectives decided to place an undercover detective, wired for sound, into his cell with him. Initiating the conversation with his new cellmate, Felix asked him if he spoke Spanish. After the undercover detective said he did, they began to talk about what led to Felix being in custody. Felix told the undercover detective he had been in custody in Utah on drug charges but that the case had been “dropped.” He said he had been transporting drugs (“10 pounds of crystal”) and was on his way from Los Angeles to New York when he was stopped for a traffic violation.  

Needing to get Felix to start talking about Mota’s murder, Sgt. Gray and Detective Ruiz removed Felix from his cell, telling him that they had just received evidence pointing to his involvement in the Mota murder. Without asking him anything, they returned him to his cell and told him to think about what they had just said. After the detectives left, Felix resumed his conversation with the undercover detective, telling him that the detectives wanted him to “snitch” on some kid who had killed a man.  

Felix eventually made incriminating statements about his involvement in Mota’s murder, claiming that “the kid” who did the shooting was 15 years old and had already killed six people. Felix also indicated that he had given the kid a 9mm Beretta handgun and drove him to the murder scene outside of a church. Felix told the officer he never touched Mota and his fingerprints were not on the gun because he cleaned it well before giving it to the kid. As for the shooting of Gonzalez-Ortega, Felix told the undercover officer there were no witnesses so he could falsely say it was self-defense without being contradicted.  

Charged with two counts of first-degree murder, Felix filed a motion challenging the legality of his arrest in Utah. He also alleged that the use of the undercover detective to illicit incriminating statements after he had invoked his right to the assistance of counsel was illegal as a violation of his Miranda rights. The trial court denied his motions. Convicted by a jury of two counts of first-degree murder plus enhancements, Felix was sentenced to 75 years to life plus one year. He appealed.