Rights were read, judge rules

An El Salvadoran native whose lawyer said he doesn’t speak English well was lawfully read his Miranda rights and voluntarily agreed to talk to police, a Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday.

Alleged admissions of guilt made by William Zavaleta Palacios in a 2½-hour interview with a Paso Robles Police Department officer can be presented as evidence to a jury, Judge John Trice determined.

Zavaleta, 37, of Paso Robles, has pleaded not guilty to 91 charges of sex crimes over seven years involving a male relative who was 10 years old when the alleged abuse began. Each charge is being tried separately.

Zavaleta is scheduled to face trial Sept. 15 at the San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

If convicted, Zavaleta faces a maximum prison sentence of more than 100 years, prosecutors said.

His attorney, Trace Milan, argued that Zavaleta, a native Spanish speaker, should have had an interpreter to translate the officer’s comments.

Milan said Zavaleta didn’t speak English well enough to understand his rights to an attorney and to remain silent during police questioning.

Milan referred to a transcript of the interview showing that Officer Daniel Hackett asked Zavaleta if he wanted a lawyer before the questioning about the case began.

Zavaleta said more than once that he wanted a lawyer, making it clear he wanted the lawyer immediately, Milan said.

“(Hackett) says ‘You’re asking for a lawyer?’ The answer is ‘Yes,’ ” Milan said. “Then (Hackett) says, ‘Right now?’ The answer is ‘Yes.’ ”

Milan added that in El Salvador, resisting police questioning can lead to death.

But Deputy District Attorney Andy Cadena argued that Hackett carefully and professionally explained to Zavaleta his rights and stopped the interview when Zavaleta said he wanted a lawyer.

Zavaleta continued to speak to Hackett and wanted to give his side of the story, Cadena said.

Cadena pointed out that Zavaleta’s mother testified Friday that he had been living in the U.S. since he was 14.

Hackett initially held off interviewing Zavaleta for more than two hours en route from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo after his arrest.

But Zavaleta wanted to share information he had about his case, Cadena said, which led to the interview.

Trice said his opinion is that Zavaleta never showed reluctance to speak with an officer.

“The detective made it clear he could stop at any time,” Trice said.

Milan has filed a motion to dismiss the case, which will be considered by Judge Michael Duffy in August.