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People v. Newton.

2022 COA 59. No. 18CA1697.  First Degree Murder—Evidence Tampering—Custodial Interview—Miranda Warning—Fifth Amendment—Right to Counsel—Evidence.

June 2, 2022

Defendant shot and killed the victim. He fled the scene and buried the gun in a nearby cemetery but later retrieved it. While executing a search warrant, officers arrested defendant and found a gun in his jacket. Officers read defendant his Miranda rights at jail, and defendant expressed confusion about whether he was entitled an attorney even though could not afford one. The officers gave either incorrect and misleading answers and then sidestepped defendant’s follow-up questions. Defendant then signed the Miranda waiver and admitted to killing the victim and to hiding the gun in a cemetery. Defendant moved to suppress his statements made at the police station. The court denied the motion, and defendant was found guilty of first degree murder and evidence tampering.

On appeal, defendant contended that statements he made during his custodial interview should have been suppressed because the interrogating officers misled him about his right to have an attorney appointed before questioning. An advisement is adequate if Miranda rights are reasonably conveyed to the suspect and the suspect understands them as safeguards for the constitutional privilege. Here, though officers correctly read the Miranda rights, they incorrectly informed defendant that he was only entitled to an attorney if he could afford to hire one. Therefore, officers misled defendant about his right to counsel, so he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his Miranda rights. Consequently, his waiver was invalid and the trial court erred by denying the motion to suppress. Further, the error was not harmless because the prosecution relied on defendant’s confession throughout each phase of the trial.

Defendant also contended that the prosecution presented insufficient evidence to support his conviction on the tampering charge. However, the evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude that defendant (1) knew an official proceeding was about to be instituted and (2) concealed the gun in the cemetery with the intent to impair its availability in a prospective proceeding.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial on both charges.

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

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