Murder conviction upheld as appellate court finds Kern man voluntarily waived Miranda rights

Crime Watch

Ivan Ruiz, file image

FRESNO, Calif. (KGET) — A Kern man will continue serving life without parole after an appellate court upheld his murder conviction, finding he voluntarily waived his right to remain silent when he told detectives he shot and killed a man in an orchard.

The 5th District Court of Appeal ruled the evidence showed no coercion on the part of sheriff’s investigators who interviewed Ivan Alexis Ruiz, 22. It found Ruiz “knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights” when he spoke with detectives, according to an appellate court filing.

A jury in 2018 convicted Ruiz of first-degree murder in the death of Michael Ballesteros, 18, and found true special allegations of lying in wait and personally discharging a firearm causing death.

When questioned over two days in 2017, Ruiz was read his rights and said he understood them. Detectives recorded the interview, which jurors heard at trial.

Ruiz, then 17, told investigators he drove Ballesteros to meet a third person for a gun deal. He said he remained in the car and heard shooting.

Detectives noted Ruiz was the last person to see Ballesteros alive and that he had been in possession of the murder weapon. Ruiz then claimed Ballesteros was shot by someone while test firing guns, the filing says.

Detectives accused him of lying, and Ruiz admitted to shooting Ballesteros but said it was an accident, according to the filing. He told detectives Ballesteros fired twice at him and missed, and he retrieved a gun and shot Ballesteros in self-defense.

Ruiz argued on appeal he never waived his Miranda rights, and said his age, minimal education and immaturity should weigh strongly against finding he gave an implied waiver.

The court acknowledged detectives never formally asked Ruiz to waive his rights, but noted he confirmed he understood them and continued to speak with detectives. It found he implicitly waived them by proceeding with the interview, answering many times in great detail.

“Defendant did not exhibit any signs of confusion or other mental problems,” an appellate justice wrote.

Justices also rejected Ruiz’s claims of ineffective counsel.

Ballesteros’ body was found the afternoon of Feb. 9, 2017, in an orchard off Breckenridge Road. There were 10 gunshot wounds to his body, two of them to the forehead.

A witness contacted law enforcement and reported Ruiz admitted to killing Ballesteros. He told detectives Ruiz asked to buy a gun from Ballesteros but didn’t want to pay the remaining $100 he owed him.

Ruiz bragged he “emptied the whole clip in him” when he and Ballesteros went to the orchard for target practice, the witness, an acquaintance of both men, told investigators.

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