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People v. Munoz-Diaz.

2023 COA 105. No. 21CA0886. Fifth Amendment—Fourteenth Amendment—Due Process—Voluntariness of Statements—Admission of DNA Evidence.

November 9, 2023

Munoz-Diaz was suspected of killing his neighbor in her home, stealing her safe, selling her valuables, and then fleeing to Mexico. A detective reached Munoz-Diaz in Mexico by phone, and during their recorded conversation, Munoz-Diaz admitted the homicide and the theft. His statements led to the discovery of the victim’s purse and other evidence, including DNA evidence linking Munoz-Diaz to the crime scene. Munoz-Diaz was extradited to Colorado and charged with first-degree murder after deliberation and numerous other crimes. Munoz-Diaz moved pretrial to suppress the statements he made during the phone call. The district court denied the motion. At trial, Munoz-Diaz did not dispute that he killed his neighbor in her home and took her safe but raised an intoxication defense. The jury acquitted Munoz-Diaz of first-degree murder after deliberation but found him guilty of felony murder, second-degree murder, and other crimes related to the theft.

On appeal, Munoz-Diaz challenged the denial of his suppression motion, contending that his statements over the phone were involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution and article II, §§ 18 and 25, of the Colorado Constitution. Given the totality of the circumstances, some of the detective’s questioning was arguably coercive in that the detective promised Munoz-Diaz that he would not be extradited, and this promise was not followed. However, notwithstanding the officer’s assurance that he was not going to Mexico to look for Munoz-Diaz, his statements were voluntary because Munoz-Diaz expressly repeated that he was “willing to pay for [his] acts,” indicating that he made his statements despite the possible consequences of extradition and arrest. Therefore, the prosecution showed, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Munoz-Diaz’s statements were voluntary and not induced by coercive police conduct. Accordingly, the district court did not err in denying the motion to suppress.

Munoz-Diaz also argued that the district court reversibly erred by admitting DNA swabs into evidence without adequate foundation, because the introduction of unauthenticated evidence violated his rights to an impartial jury, to due process, and to confront adverse witnesses. However, even assuming that the district court abused its discretion by admitting DNA swabs linking Munoz-Diaz to the crime scene, there was overwhelming independent evidence of his guilt, so any error was harmless.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed.

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

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