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LU Ref# CAI00016
October 25, 2021
Author Ref. No: Vol. 26 No. 11
LU Ref# CAI00016
October 25, 2021
Author Ref. No:   Vol. 26 No. 11

Robert Phillips
Deputy District Attorney (Retired)

The Seibert Two-Step Interrogation Tactic
COURT CASE REFERENCE: People v. Sumagang (Sept. 29, 2021) __ Cal.App.5th __ [2021 Cal.App. LEXIS 811]

The use by law enforcement of a two-step interrogation tactic by obtaining a pre-Miranda-admonishment confession, followed by a Miranda admonishment and waiver and a second confession, violates the rule that a Miranda waiver, to be valid, must be knowingly and intelligently made.
Defendant Byron Silim Sumagang and 20-year-old Carole Sangco were boyfriend-girlfriend despite having a tumultuous relationship.  Their relationship was complicated by the fact that Sangco was severely depressed, had reoccurring thoughts of suicide, and was addicted to methamphetamine.  Their relationship was further complicated by incidents of physical abuse perpetrated by defendant against Sangco, as later testified to by friends of the couple.  Then, on November 30, 2014, police responded to a 911 hang-up call directing them to a remote rural area in Monterey County.  The first sheriff’s deputy on the scene found a sleeping defendant sitting in a car with Sangco’s head in his lap. Sangco, with visible injuries to her face and neck, was quickly determined to be deceased.  Upon waking defendant, he became visibly upset and crying, telling the deputy that he was not supposed to wake up.  He made other spontaneous statements that were consistent with the physical evidence at the scene, indicating that the two had consumed copious amounts of drugs and alcohol and that defendant had tried to set fire to the car they were in.  Defendant made other statements indicating that he had attempted to commit a murder-suicide; that Sangco told him she wanted him to kill her but that he had “forgot(ten) to kill myself, too.”  Defendant was taken into custody and booked. Various experts later testified to Sangco’s probable cause of death.  The forensic pathologist who autopsied Sangco’s body testified that Sangco had died from asphyxiation due to smothering with manual strangulation.  She also testified, however—with a toxicology test coming back positive for methamphetamine and cocaine—that drugs may have hastened Sangco’s death.  A second expert used by the prosecution opined that the cause of death was asphyxiation due to suffocation, strangulation, or both.  An expert hired by the defense, however, disagreed.  He testified that the cause of death was not entirely clear; that it was possible that while the neck compression may have been a contributing factor, it was also possible that Sangco had survived that trauma, dying instead from drug toxicity.  This expert believed she may not have died until some five to twenty minutes after the neck compression.  A big part of the prosecution’s case, however, was defendant’s subsequent confession as obtained by Detective Terry Rahiri, the lead detective on the case and a 22-year veteran of the Monterey Sheriff’s Office.  In a two-part interrogation (the admissibility of which became the issue in this appeal), defendant admitted that Sangco had quit breathing as he strangled her.  Convicted by a jury of first degree murder and sentenced to 25-years-to-life, defendant appealed.

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