December 12, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Not Required to Impose Consecutive Sentences for Attempted Murder Counts

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Espinoza on Thursday, September 21, 2017.

Arson—Attempted Murder—Custody—Motion to Suppress—Consecutive Sentences—Identical Evidence—Crime of Violence—Concurrent Sentences—Discretion.

Espinoza set fire to an apartment complex. As part of the investigation, police transported Espinoza to the police station, where he waited for several hours before being interviewed. Police ended the interview when Espinoza invoked his right to counsel. Espinoza filed a motion to suppress his statements from the videotaped interview with police, alleging that he was in custody and police failed to give him Miranda warnings. The trial court denied the motion. A jury found Espinoza guilty of 10 counts of attempted murder, 23 counts of first degree arson, 10 crime of violence counts, and multiple misdemeanors.

On appeal, Espinoza contended that the trial court failed to consider several factors in finding that he was not in custody at the police station, including the several-hour wait in the interview room, the presence of two armed detectives during the interview, and the confrontational question near the end of the interview. The record showed that Espinoza agreed to speak with the detectives, consented to a pat-down search, and rode unrestrained to the police station. The detectives told Espinoza that he was not under arrest and was free to leave, Espinoza was not physically restrained, and the tone of the interview was conversational. The trial court’s detailed factual findings, supported by the record, show that Espinoza was not in custody when interviewed by the detectives.

Espinoza next contended that the trial court misapprehended the applicable law when it ruled that it was required to impose consecutive sentences for his attempted first degree murder convictions. Despite naming different victims, Espinoza’s 10 attempted murder convictions were supported by identical evidence because the same evidence (the single act of fire-setting) formed the basis of each conviction. The court of appeals held that separately named victims do not create separate crimes of violence under C.R.S. § 18-1.3-406(1)(a) when identical evidence supports each conviction, and in such circumstances, a court has discretion to impose concurrent sentences under C.R.S. § 18-1-408(3). Here, the trial court imposed consecutive sentences under the mistaken belief that it had no discretion to impose concurrent sentences.

The judgments of conviction were affirmed. The sentence was vacated, and the case was remanded for resentencing.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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