Miranda rights at the center of Paso Robles molestation case

A man facing more than 50 years in prison for the alleged sexual molestation of a relative in Paso Robles said Friday that a language barrier kept him from understanding his legal rights when he confessed to the crime.

William Zavaleta Palacios, 37, a native of El Salvador, is charged with 91 counts of various sex crimes against a minor over the course of seven years.

Trace Milan, Zavaleta’s lawyer, filed a motion Friday to suppress the confession, allegedly made to investigating Paso Robles police Officer Daniel Hackett. Milan said Zavaleta didn’t understand his Miranda rights because he doesn’t speak English well.

The relative was 10 when the alleged molestation began, and each alleged act is being tried separately based on the child’s statement of a long pattern of abuse.

“My client speaks Spanish,” Milan said to Hackett in the hearing. “ … Why didn’t you bring an interpreter?”

Hackett responded that the primary reason he didn’t bring an interpreter when making the arrest — which took place in Los Angeles — is that Zavaleta’s relative informed him that Zavaleta spoke English well.

Hackett also said Zavaleta spoke some English in a phone call he listened in on between Zavaleta and the alleged victim before the arrest. In that conversation, Zavaleta spoke primarily in Spanish, Hackett acknowledged.

The investigator testified that he was careful to explain in English to Zavaleta that he had the right to an attorney and to remain silent. He added that Zavaleta signed a form waiving his rights, and the officer believed that Zavaleta understood what he was doing.

Milan asked him why he didn’t have Zavaleta sign a form available in Spanish, and Hackett said because they had communicated in English; to be consistent, he used the English wording.

The officer said Zavaleta initially wanted to remain silent, and they rode from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo County Jail without comment about the case.

But before they left Los Angeles, Zavaleta said he wanted to make a statement, Hackett said, and the officer told him to think about it and that he could make the statement later. The alleged confession took place in San Luis Obispo County.

Judge John Trice indicated in San Luis Obispo Superior Court that he would likely rule against Zavaleta about his right to remain silent based on Hackett’s testimony that Zavaleta wanted to make a statement.

But Trice is still considering the evidence — including at what point Zavaleta may have invoked his right to an attorney.

Milan argued that Zavaleta stated early in an audio recording of Hackett’s interview that he wanted an attorney, but Hackett said that he meant he wanted a lawyer for the court proceedings and not for the interview.

“He wanted to give his side of the story,” Hackett testified.