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People v. Eugene.

2022 COA 99. No. 19CA2267.  Fifth Amendment—Custodial Interrogation—Miranda Warning.

September 1, 2022

Defendant was driving with his wife when he was involved in a road rage incident with two men in another vehicle. Defendant and the other driver had a physical altercation resulting in injuries to both men. When the fight ended, defendant and his wife returned to their car and left. The two men from the other vehicle remained, called 911, and relayed defendant’s license plate number. Two days later, two police officers went to defendant’s apartment, where defendant agreed to step outside and speak to them. The resulting 27-minute interrogation was recorded on Officer Thivierge’s body-worn camera. During the interrogation, the officers never advised defendant of his Fifth Amendment Miranda rights. Officer Thivierge separated defendant and his wife to interrogate each alone, suggested falsely that he had camera footage of the fight, and denied defendant’s request to go back inside and use the bathroom. Defendant moved pretrial to suppress the video of the interrogation. The trial court held a suppression hearing and denied the motion, ruling that defendant was never in custody for Miranda purposes. The relevant portions of the video recording were subsequently admitted at trial. A jury found defendant guilty of second degree assault (reckless) and third degree assault (knowing), and he was sentenced to eight years in prison.

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred by not suppressing the statements he made during the interrogation. A suspect’s statements during custodial interrogation that were not preceded by a Miranda advisement are not admissible in the prosecution’s case-in-chief unless the suspect waives his or her rights. Here, the prosecution conceded that the entire interaction was an interrogation, so the issue is whether all or part of the interrogation was custodial. During the initial part of the interrogation, defendant was not in custody. However, given the totality of the circumstances, the interrogation became custodial 22 minutes after it started because Officer Thivierge had (1) consistently spoken to defendant in a confrontational and accusatory tone throughout the interrogation, (2) directed and maintained defendant’s separation from his wife, (3) denied defendant’s request to use the bathroom, and (4) lied about the existence of video footage and asked defendant why he was lying. Further, a third officer had arrived on scene. Accordingly, the trial court violated defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights by failing to suppress his statements from this phase of the interrogation, and the error requires reversal.

The judgment of conviction was reversed and the case was remanded for retrial.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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