October 23, 2017

Colorado Supreme Court: Translated Miranda Warning Adequately Conveyed Intent of Warning

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Nguyen on Monday, October 2, 2017.

Miranda Warnings.

The Colorado Supreme Court held that a translated Miranda warning stating that if the suspect waived his right to be silent, “[a]ll you say will and may be used as evidence in court,” reasonably conveyed to defendant that anything he said could be used against him in court. By informing him that his statements could be used in court, the translation included the concept that the statements could be used against him (as well as for him) in court. The court also held that a Miranda warning stating that “if you do not have money to hire an attorney the court will instruct you, will appoint a person to you at no cost to represent you before asking questions” adequately conveyed the right to an appointed attorney.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Miranda Advisement Adequately Conveyed to Defendant Right to Attorney

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Carter v. People on Monday, June 5, 2017.

Criminal Law—Miranda Warnings—Jury Deliberations.

Carter petitioned for review of the court of appeals’ judgment in People v. Carter, 2015 COA 36, ___ P.3d ___, which affirmed, among others, his conviction of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. With regard to a videotaped interrogation by the police, the district court denied a motion to suppress defendant’s statements, rejecting all of his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment claims, including his assertion that he had not been adequately advised, as required by Miranda v. Arizona, of his right to have an attorney present during interrogation. It also denied defendant’s motion to limit access to that videotape during jury deliberations. In a fractured opinion, in which all three members of the division of the court of appeals wrote separately, the intermediate appellate court affirmed with regard to both of these assignments of error.

The supreme court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. Because the Miranda advisement of defendant reasonably conveyed that he had a right to consult with counsel, both before and during any interrogation by the police, and because the district court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the jury unrestricted access to both a video recording and transcript of defendant’s custodial interrogation, the trial court did not err.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Statements to Military Investigator Considered Voluntary

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People in Interest of Z.T.T. on Monday, May 22, 2017.

Criminal Law—Evidence Suppression.

This interlocutory appeal required the Colorado Supreme Court to determine whether a defendant’s confession to an Army investigator during basic training was the product of coercion. The court held that, where a defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights, knew he was free to leave an interview, and confessed to committing a crime during the course of a conversational, friendly interview devoid of coercive promises or threats, he gave his statements voluntarily. The court therefore reversed the trial court’s suppression order and remanded the case for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Presence of Juvenile Defendant’s Parent Satisfies Statutory Requirement

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People in Interest of A.L.-C. on Monday, October 24, 2016.

The juvenile defendant, A.L.-C., was charged with sexual assault on a child after his little sister, B.O., reported that he had touched her inappropriately and had intercourse with her. Defendant’s mother, also the mother of B.O., had accompanied him to his forensic interview. During a recorded exchange in which Defendant, his mother, and his step-father discussed whether he would waive his Miranda rights, Defendant’s mother asked him if he understood his rights and he said he did. She informed him that she had to protect B.O. and chided him for never paying attention. Defendant told his mother that he would rather keep quiet. It was disputed whether he meant he would rather not talk to his mother or the detective.

Defendant’s mother was present for the entire forensic interview. At first, Defendant denied B.O.’s allegations, but after being confronted with details from an earlier interview with B.O., Defendant confessed. He was charged with sexual assault on a child.

Before trial, Defendant sought to suppress his statements in the forensic interview, arguing that that his mother’s presence did not satisfy the requirement in C.R.S. § 19-2-511(1) that a parent be present at the interview because his mother did not hold his interests “uppermost in mind.” The trial court agreed and suppressed Defendant’s statements. The People filed an interlocutory appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court regarding whether the statute required more than Defendant’s parent’s presence at the interview.

The supreme court analyzed the statute and determined its plain language required nothing more than a parent’s presence during advisement and interrogation. Defendant argued that the statute requires not only a parent’s presence, but also that the parent hold the defendant’s interest “uppermost in mind,” citing several cases. The supreme court distinguished case law advanced by Defendant, noting that in those cases it was not a parent present at the interview. The supreme court held that the shared interest analysis from the prior cases was inapposite because a parent was already in one of the statutorily defined categories. 

The court noted that although its holding may seem to differ from People v. Hayhurst, 571 P.2d 721 (Colo. 1977), it was actually in line with Hayhurst. In that case, the supreme court held that a parent could not fulfill his statutory role if his interests were adverse to his child’s. However, the court also held that the fact that the father was upset with his son did not necessarily mean their interests were adverse.

The supreme court reversed the trial court’s suppression order and remanded for further proceedings.

Colorado Supreme Court: Defendant’s Request for Lawyer was Ambiguous so Statements Admissible

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Kutlak on Monday, January 11, 2016.

Criminal Law—Fifth Amendment Right to Counsel—Invoking the Right to Counsel—Suppression of Statements.

The Supreme Court clarified that in determining whether a suspect in custody has made an unambiguous request for counsel, the proper standard under Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 459 (1994), is whether “a reasonable police officer in the circumstances would understand the statement to be a request for an attorney.” Applying this standard, the Court held that, under the totality of the circumstances, defendant did not unambiguously and unequivocally invoke his right to counsel. Because defendant did not invoke his right to counsel, and because he otherwise validly waived his Miranda rights before making incriminating statements, his statements should not have been suppressed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Officer’s Observation of Used Marijuana Pipe Sufficient to Provide Probable Cause for Search of Car

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Verigan on Thursday, September 25, 2015.

Warrantless Search of a Vehicle—Probable Cause—Motion to Suppress Evidence—Miranda Warning—Voluntary Statements.

After Verigan’s vehicle was pulled over for a routine traffic stop, in which Verigan was a passenger in the front seat, officers found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in the vehicle. She was found guilty of possession of two grams or less of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

On appeal, Verigan argued that the evidence obtained from the search of her vehicle should have been suppressed because Officer Mitchell’s observation of a used marijuana pipe and an unlabeled pill bottle, without more, did not give the officers probable cause to search the vehicle. The officer’s observation of a used marijuana pipe containing a burned substance that the officer could reasonably infer to be marijuana supported a reasonable belief that the vehicle could have contained marijuana, an illegal drug at the time of the search in 2011. Therefore, there was probable cause for the search of Verigan’s car, and the trial court properly denied her motion to suppress the evidence discovered during that search.

Verigan further argued that the trial court erred by denying her motion to suppress the statements she made to police at the scene and later at the station. Based on the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in Verigan’s situation would have had reason to believe that her freedom of action had been curtailed to the degree associated with a formal arrest and that she was in custody for Miranda purposes even though she had not been given a Miranda warning. Accordingly, the trial court erred by failing to suppress the statements she made to the officers before the Miranda advisement was given. However, because all of the improperly admitted statements that Verigan made in the pre-advisement interrogation were voluntary, and she repeated those statements in her properly admitted post-advisement statement, the improper admission of the pre-advisement statements was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Federal Court Must Defer to State Court Findings of Knowing and Intelligent Miranda Waiver

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Al-Yousif v. Trani on Friday, March 6, 2015.

Naif Al-Yousif, a native of Saudi Arabia who studied English in the United States for several months, participated with his two roommates to rob and murder a friend who was visiting from Saudi Arabia and dispose of his body in a dumpster. After the killing, Al-Yousif fled to California, but his brother convinced him to return to Colorado. Upon his return, Detective Guigli arrested him and took him to the police station and questioned him with another officer, Detective Martinez, while videotaping the interview. Detective Martinez read a Miranda advisement, and Al-Yousif nodded while the advisement was being read. Martinez asked Al-Yousif if he understood and Al-Yousif said he did. He also signed the advisement form. He spoke to the detectives and made several inculpatory statements, then led them to the dumpster where they had disposed of the body. After that, the detectives returned with Al-Yousif to the police station and again advised him of his rights, at which point he requested an attorney.

Before trial, Al-Yousif moved to suppress the video of the police interrogation, asserting he had not knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights. The trial court heard testimony and reviewed the video, and ultimately ruled to suppress the video despite its impression that Al-Yousif responded appropriately to questions and understood the questions posed to him, finding that the State failed to show a knowing and intelligent waiver. On interlocutory appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed, ruling that Defendant sufficiently understood his rights and the waiver was therefore valid. The video of the interrogation was admitted at trial, and the jury ultimately convicted him. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. On direct appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals vacated his conviction for theft by receiving, merged the robbery and felony murder convictions, and otherwise affirmed the trial court. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari but then denied it as improvidently granted. The court denied a petition for rehearing. Al-Yousif filed an unsuccessful petition for post-conviction relief and the Colorado Supreme Court denied review.

Al-Yousif then petitioned the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado for habeas corpus relief. Although the habeas petition was not timely filed, the district court granted equitable tolling and ruled on the merits, finding that the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision was contrary to and an unreasonable application of Miranda. The State of Colorado appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first analyzed the district court’s grant of equitable tolling under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). Ordinarily, habeas petitions must be filed no later than one year after the state judgment becomes final. In this case, the petition was filed three days late. Defendant asserted his petition was timely because the Colorado Supreme Court denied the motion for rehearing on April 10, 2008, according to a printout he received from the federal district court. However, the Colorado Supreme Court’s opinion was actually issued on April 7, 2008, and received by the federal court on April 10. When the state pointed out Defendant’s error, he asserted that he should be afforded the opportunity to assert equitable tolling. The district court applied equitable tolling without allowing the state to argue in response or make a record.

The Tenth Circuit held that this was error. Quoting prior case law, the Tenth Circuit held that equitable tolling is a rare remedy and should only be applied in unusual circumstances. Plaintiff’s error in this case could have been prevented if his counsel had spoken to defense counsel from the prior state court case, or had requested the opinion from the Colorado Supreme Court instead of relying on the information in the federal district court’s system. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of equitable tolling.

Next, the Tenth Circuit addressed Al-Yousif’s Miranda claim, and found that it owed little deference to the federal district court’s decision. In contrast, the Tenth Circuit found it owed great deference to the Colorado state court decision denying suppression of Al-Yousif’s videotaped interrogation. Under AEDPA, the federal court cannot grant habeas relief to a prisoner with respect to a claim the state court rejected on the merits unless the state court’s decision was contrary to clearly established federal law.

The Tenth Circuit analyzed the Colorado Supreme Court’s denial of suppression of Defendant’s statements, and found it applied a “totality of the circumstances” test and held that the circumstances surrounding the waiver showed that Defendant sufficiently understood his rights. Defendant asked for clarification when he did not understand a question or word during the interrogation, but did not ask for clarification during his Miranda advisement. The court further stated that a defendant need not understand the tactical implication of Miranda rights in order to waive them.

The Tenth Circuit noted that a defendant’s understanding of his Miranda rights is a question of fact entitled to deference under AEDPA. The Tenth Circuit averred it must defer to that finding unless the defendant shows clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, which the instant defendant did not do. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of habeas relief.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Abbreviated Miranda Warning Does Not Adequately Advise Suspect of Rights

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Carter on Thursday, April 9, 2015.

Miranda Warning—Police Interview—Jury Access to Video Interview.

Ray and Owens were attendees at a barbecue and rap festival. When a fight broke out in the parking lot, Owens shot and killed an individual who attempted to break up the fight, and Ray shot and injured Marshall-Fields and another person. After the shooting, Ray and Owens fled in Ray’s car. Ray and Owens were charged in connection with the homicide.

About one year after the shooting, Owens instructed Carter to approach Marshall-Fields, who was at a sports bar, and discourage him from testifying—either by offering him money or threatening him. Carter entered the bar and spoke to Marshall-Fields. The following night, Marshall-Fields and his fiancée were shot and killed in their car by the occupants of a passing vehicle. A jury convicted Carter of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, intimidating a witness, and unlawful distribution of a controlled substance.

On appeal, Carter contended that the district court erred in admitting evidence of his videotaped interrogation because the police failed to adequately advise him of his Miranda right to have a lawyer present. A warning that provides that a custodial suspect has “the right to have an attorney,” without more, does not adequately inform a suspect of his or her right to the presence of an attorney before and during the interrogation. However, because Carter never confessed and did not otherwise incriminate himself during the interview, the admission of his videotaped interview was ultimately harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and did not affect the outcome of the trial. Therefore, the court’s error did not warrant reversal.

Carter also contended that the district court erred in allowing the jury to have unfettered access to the video-recording of his interrogation. A district court may allow “unrestricted jury access during deliberations to a defendant’s voluntary and otherwise admissible confession.” Although the lack of Miranda warning prohibited admission of this evidence, any error was harmless. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Totality of Circumstances Illustrates Miranda Waiver Knowing and Intelligent

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Thames on Monday, March 23, 2015.

Suppression Order—Knowing and Intelligent Waiver of Miranda rights—Totality of the Circumstances.

This interlocutory appeal challenged the trial court’s order suppressing statements defendant made during custodial interrogation. Investigators gave defendant an oral Miranda advisement during the interrogation. Defendant confirmed that he understood his Miranda rights and signed a written waiver form before making certain statements that the prosecution wanted to use in its case-in-chief. The trial court concluded that defendant did not knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda rights after a speech language pathologist and audiologist testified that defendant had trouble understanding spoken paragraphs regarding abstract concepts. Under the totality of the circumstances, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s suppression order, holding that defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Nothing in Record Showed Defendant Could Read English Therefore Both Miranda Advisements Deficient

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Carrion on Monday, March 16, 2015.

Suppression Order—Inadequate Oral Miranda Advisement—Findings of Fact—Insufficient Evidence Native Spanish Speaker Could Read Written Miranda Advisement in English.

During a custodial interrogation, investigators provided Carrion, a native Spanish speaker, a written Miranda advisement in English. The Supreme Court held that the trial court’s factual findings were supported by the record and were not clearly erroneous. The trial court found that Carrion had difficulty with the English language and that there was insufficient evidence before the court that Carrion could read English. Accordingly, the trial court suppressed statements Carrion made during the custodial interrogation. Because the trial court’s factual findings were supported by the record, the Court affirmed the trial court’s suppression order.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Miranda Advisement Sufficient to Alert Defendant that Court would Appoint Attorney if He Could Not Afford One

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Sanchez v. People on Monday, June 30, 2014.

Criminal Law—Miranda Warnings.

Defendant petitioned for review of the court of appeals’ judgment in People v. Sanchez (Colo.App. No. 08CA630, Feb. 10, 2011) (not published pursuant to CAR 35(f)), which affirmed his conviction of first-degree murder. Among other things, defendant assigned error to the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress, as a violation of his Miranda rights, statements he made to the New Mexico police shortly after his arrest. In particular, he objected that he was not advised and did not understand that he would not ultimately be obligated to pay for an appointed attorney. The court of appeals rejected defendant’s assignment of error, concluding that the advisement he received concerning his right to appointed counsel was sufficient to convey to him that if he could not afford one, an attorney would be provided free of charge.

The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. Miranda v. Arizona does not require that a suspect be advised of or understand that he or she will not ultimately bear any liability for the cost of an attorney appointed to assist him or her during custodial interrogation. Here, defendant was adequately advised and understood that if he requested the assistance of an attorney to consult with him and be present during custodial interrogation, but could not afford one, one would be appointed for that purpose.

Summary and full case available here.

Tenth Circuit: Good-Faith Exception to Exclusionary Rule Applied to Search of Defendant’s Home and Waiver of His Miranda Rights Was Valid

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Augustine on Wednesday, February 19, 2014.

Defendant Dennis Augustine was convicted on two counts of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Prior to trial, he filed two separate motions to suppress evidence. The first motion was to quash a warrant to search Defendant’s residence and to suppress evidence found in that search which led directly to his arrest. The second motion was to suppress Defendant’s statements to law enforcement officials after his arrest. The district court denied both motions. It denied the motion to quash and suppress evidence found in the search of Defendant’s residence by applying the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. The district court denied the motion to suppress Defendant’s statements based on its factual findings regarding the circumstances of Defendant’s interrogation. After the subsequent trial, the jury found Defendant guilty on both counts of conspiracy.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit considered the denial of both motions, starting with the motion relating to the search of Defendant’s residence. Under the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule, if a warrant is not supported by probable cause, the evidence seized pursuant to the warrant need not be suppressed if the executing officer acted with an objective good-faith belief that the warrant was properly issued by a neutral magistrate. Good faith may exist when a minimal nexus between the place to be searched and the suspected criminal activity is established. In this case, the court disagreed with Defendant that the affidavit was so lacking in indicia of probable cause and was so devoid of factual support as to prevent application of the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. Indeed, the affidavit readily satisfied the minimal nexus requirement. The Tenth Circuit held that the affidavit described circumstances that would warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that drugs, drug records, or drug paraphernalia would be found in Defendant’s residence and established a minimal nexus between Defendant’s residence and the drug-related items being sought in the warrant. Since a minimal nexus existed, the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule was properly applied by the district court.

The court then turned to Defendant’s appeal of the denial of his motion to suppress his statements to law enforcement officers. Defendant’s argument on this point was based on the claim that his waiver of his Miranda rights was not knowingly, intentionally, and voluntarily made. Defendant claimed on appeal that his ability to properly waive his Miranda rights was impaired because he was under the influence of controlled substances during the interview, despite having explicitly told the officers during the interview he was not currently under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Defendant also claimed he was further impaired by his need for his prescription drugs. Defendant thus argued his illicit drug use combined with his need for his prescription drugs rendered his waiver of his Miranda rights invalid.

Based on the totality of the circumstances, and after considering a video recording of Defendant’s interrogation and the testimonies of the interrogating officers, the district court found that Defendant appeared sober in the recording of the interview and that any alleged presence of drugs in Defendant’s system did not render Defendant unaware of the nature of his rights and the consequences of his decision to speak with the police. The district court also found that while defendant may have been more comfortable with his medication, the absence of his medication did not cause Defendant to proceed involuntarily or in ignorance of the consequences of his actions and statements. The district court therefore denied Defendant’s motion to suppress.

Nothing in the record persuaded the Tenth Circuit that the district court’s factual finding that Defendant was in control of his faculties and his conduct throughout the interview was clearly erroneous. After reviewing the video recording of the interview and other materials in the record, the court agreed with the district court’s determination that Defendant was not so impaired that his waiver of his Miranda rights was invalid.