ELKHORN — An 18-year-old Woodstock, Ill., man, who admitted to police that he used force during a sexual assault, is arguing that his statement should be tossed from evidence because he didn’t understand his Miranda rights.
Armando Mezo-Reyes has been charged with felony second-degree sexual assault and misdemeanor battery. He is in custody in the Walworth County jail in lieu of a $10,000 cash bond.
Police read Mezo-Reyes his Miranda rights in English, and Mezo-Reyes is arguing that the didn’t understand his rights because he primarily speaks Spanish. However, throughout his arrest, and during his interview with police, Mezo-Reyes spoke to officers in English.
Mezo-Reyes was born in Mexico and, according to his own testimony, has been in the United States for between four and five years. At Big Foot High School, where he said he finished his sophomore year, Mezo-Reyes attended classes with the assistance of a Spanish interpreter.
On Jan. 31, Judge David Reddy heard arguments from defense attorney Jeffrey Jensen to have Mezo-Reyes’ interview tossed as evidence because of a violation of his client’s Miranda rights. Because of time constraints, the hearing ended before the arguments were finished.
The motion hearing has been rescheduled for April 3 and District Attorney Daniel Necci is expected to cross-examine Mezo-Reyes. Necci told Reddy that he expects to have an “extensive” cross-examination and asked him to schedule two-hours for the hearing.
According to Mezo-Reyes statements to Officer Perry Kjendlie, on Aug. 5 he was dropped off at a grocery store in Walworth where he called the victim. The victim told Mezo-Reyes that she didn’t want to speak with him.
Mezo-Reyes told police that he walked to the woman’s home. Mezo-Reyes used a garage door opener that was in a car parked outside of the home to gain entry into the house.
Inside of the home, Mezo-Reyes and the victim argued. During his interview with police, he admitted to police that he put the victim on the ground and that he sexually assaulted her.
After the assault, the victim called police. When police arrived Mezo-Reyes opened the door for the officers. At the scene, officer Hannah Hooper and Police Chief Chris Severt both briefly spoke to Mezo-Reyes in English. They also gave him some directions, which he followed, according to their testimony.
During the motion hearing, Necci asked Hooper and Severt if any of Mezo-Reyes responses to questions were “out-of-context or inappropriate.” Both Severt and Hooper said his responses were appropriate for their questions.
At the police station, Mezo-Reyes was read his Miranda rights by officer Perry Kjendlie in English. A video recording of the interview and Kjendlie reading Mezo-Reyes his Miranda rights were played during Friday’s hearing.
The entire interview, which lasted more more than a half-hour, is in English. Throughout the interview, Mezo-Reyes responds to Kjendlie’s answers in English. Kjendlie read Mezo-Reyes his Miranda rights from a form from the Walworth Police Department. When Kjendlie asked Mezo-Reyes if he understood his rights, Mezo-Reyes said he didn’t understand them. Kjendlie asked which one, and Mezo-Reyes responded “three” and pointed to it on the form.
Kjendlie than re-explained the right, which was to have an attorney present during questioning. After Kjendlie’s second explanation, Mezo-Reyes said he understood his rights and signed the form.
At the start of the interview, Kjendlie asked Mezo-Reyes, “How is your English? Pretty good?” Mezo-Reyes responded that it was “so, so.” A short-time later he asked Kjendlie if he speaks Spanish.
When Jensen questioned Kjendlie, he asked him why he didn’t seek an interpreter for the interview. Kjendlie said he never thought it was necessary.
The Walworth Police Department has access to an interpreter through a phone service.
Throughout the interview, Mezo-Reyes seemed to understand Kjendlie’s questions. Mezo-Reyes didn’t understand a particular word that Kjendlie used. However, Kjendlie rephrased it to a slang term, and Mezo-Reyes understood him.
Defendant takes stand
Jensen called Mezo-Reyes to the stand during the motion hearing.
A Spanish to English interpreter was used to translate for Mezo-Reyes.
Mezo-Reyes said he didn’t understand that he had the right to remain silent and that he didn’t need to answer Kjendlie’s questions.
Jensen also asked Mezo-Reyes why he asked the officer if he spoke Spanish.
“I thought that he spoke Spanish, because I don’t speak English very well,” Mezo-Reyes responded.
Mezo-Reyes also said he speaks Spanish at home, spoke Spanish with the victim and has directions translated for him at work.
Necci will have a chance to ask Mezo-Reyes questions during a cross-examination on April 3.