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People v. Travis

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Seventh Division

June 16, 2016

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
April Rose Travis, Defendant-Appellant.

         Adams County District Court No. 11CR3119 Honorable Jill-Ellyn Straus, Judge

          Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Molly E. McNab, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

          Douglas K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Kamela Maktabi, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant


          BERGER JUDGE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, April Rose Travis, beat her housemate with a mop handle and stabbed her over a disagreement about money. A jury convicted Travis of second degree assault causing serious bodily injury, felony menacing, and third degree assault with a deadly weapon. The trial court sentenced Travis to ten years imprisonment and three years of mandatory parole.

         ¶ 2 Travis claims three errors on appeal. First, she argues that the trial court erred when it denied her motion to suppress statements she made to the police and admitted those statements at trial. Second, she contends that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied her motion to continue the trial so she could hire private counsel. Third, she argues that statements by the prosecution during closing argument constituted prosecutorial misconduct. Travis also asserts that the cumulative effect of these alleged errors requires reversal.

         ¶ 3 Because we are unable to determine on the record before us whether the court should have continued the trial, we remand for further proceedings. We reject all other claims of error.

         I. Relevant Facts and Procedural History

         ¶ 4 Travis, her husband, and the victim lived together in a three-bedroom trailer. The victim suffered from disabilities and Travis purportedly helped the victim manage her money and medications.

         ¶ 5 Travis learned that the victim had between six and eight dollars in her purse. Travis told the victim she was not permitted to have any money (the basis for such a directive is unclear), and took away the victim's purse. The victim demanded that Travis return her purse. In response, Travis slapped the victim and punched her in the face several times. The victim fell and knocked over a potted plant, spilling dirt on the floor. Travis ordered the victim to clean up the mess. When the victim did not do so to Travis's satisfaction, Travis hit the victim with a mop handle repeatedly, tore out clumps of her hair, and stabbed her arm with a kitchen knife. The victim called 911.

         ¶ 6 Several medical personnel and police officers responded to the call. While the victim received medical attention in the living room, one of the officers asked Travis to step into the adjoining kitchen, where he questioned her for about ten minutes. A second officer participated in a portion of that interview.

         ¶ 7 After Travis told the first officer that she had attacked the victim, the second officer arrested Travis and drove her to the police station, where she was advised of her Miranda rights and further interrogated. Travis again admitted to the attack during this interrogation. Travis was charged with second degree assault causing serious bodily injury, felony menacing, and second degree assault with a deadly weapon.

         ¶ 8 Travis moved to suppress the statements she made to the police at her home and at the police station. The trial court denied her motion. On the morning of trial, Travis requested a continuance to enable her to dismiss her public defender and hire private counsel. The court denied that motion, the trial commenced, and the jury convicted Travis of the offenses described above.

         II. Suppression of Travis's Statements to Police

         A. Custody Determination

         ¶ 9 Travis argues that the trial court erroneously concluded that she was not in custody during the interview with police that occurred at her home and that, because she was not advised of her Miranda rights, the court erred in denying her motion to suppress the statements she made at that time. Like the trial court, we conclude that Travis was not in custody during that interview and thus no Miranda warnings were required.

         1. Law

         ¶ 10 "To protect a [defendant's] Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Miranda prohibits the prosecution from introducing in its case-in-chief any statement . . . procured by custodial interrogation, unless the police precede their interrogation with [Miranda] warnings." People v. Matheny, 46 P.3d 453, 462 (Colo. 2002) (citing Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966)). The protections of Miranda apply only if a defendant is subject to both custody and interrogation. Mumford v. People, 2012 CO 2, ¶ 12.

         ¶ 11 The People concede that Travis was subjected to interrogation at her home. Thus, to resolve Travis's claim, we must determine whether the trial court correctly ruled that she was not in custody at that time.[1]

         ¶ 12 Determining whether a person is in custody for Miranda purposes is a mixed question of fact and law. Matheny, 46 P.3d at 462. We defer to the trial court's findings of historical fact if those findings are supported by competent evidence in the record. Id. However, we review de novo the legal question of whether the facts, taken together, establish that a defendant was in custody for Miranda purposes. People v. Elmarr, 181 P.3d 1157, 1161 (Colo. 2008).

         ¶ 13 "To determine if a particular defendant was in custody, trial courts must decide whether a reasonable person in the defendant's position would consider himself to be deprived of his freedom of action to the degree associated with a formal arrest." People v. Pascual, 111 P.3d 471, 476 (Colo. 2005) (citation omitted). To make this determination, a court must consider the totality of the circumstances under which the interrogation was conducted. People v. Barraza, 2013 CO 20, ¶ 17. Factors a court should consider include the following:

(1) the time, place, and purpose of the encounter; (2) the persons present during the interrogation; (3) the words spoken by the officer to the defendant; (4) the officer's tone of voice and general demeanor; (5) the length and mood of the interrogation; (6) whether any limitation of movement or other form of restraint was placed on the defendant during the interrogation; (7) the officer's response to any questions asked by the defendant; (8) whether directions were given to the defendant during the interrogation; and (9) the defendant's verbal or nonverbal response to such directions.

Matheny, 46 P.3d at 465-66. No single factor is determinative. People v. Pleshakov, 2013 CO 18, ¶ 20.

         2. Application

         a. Facts

         ¶ 14 The following undisputed facts inform our analysis of the custody issue:

● At about 1:00 a.m., several officers and medical personnel responded to an emergency call at Travis's home.
● One of the officers approached Travis and asked her to step from the living room into the kitchen, a distance of about fifteen feet, so he could ask her some questions.
● No walls separated the kitchen and the living room.
● The officer questioned Travis about the events of that night for about ten minutes.
● Travis's husband was seated five or six feet away from Travis during the interview and was within her line of sight.
● The officer did not place Travis in handcuffs or touch her during the interview.
● The officer asked open-ended questions and maintained a conversational tone.
● Travis's demeanor was calm and relaxed, she was responsive to questions and gave coherent answers, and she did not ask the officers any questions.
● A second officer joined the interview for three or four minutes and then left before the interview had concluded.
● Though both officers were in uniform and armed, neither made any threats or promises or brandished their weapons.
● Immediately after the interview concluded, the first officer took the second officer aside and told him that Travis had admitted to having committed the assault. The second officer then told Travis, "you are going to be placed under arrest for assault against [the victim], " placed her in handcuffs, and drove her to the police station.

         b. Analysis

         ¶ 15 For five reasons, we conclude that Travis was not in custody for Miranda purposes during the interview at her home.

         ¶ 16 First, neither of the officers used physical restraint or force on Travis during the interview. See People v. Breidenbach, 875 P.2d 879, 886 (Colo. 1994) ("One well-recognized circumstance tending to show custody is the degree of physical restraint used by police officers to detain a citizen."). To the contrary, the first officer did not demand, but merely requested, that Travis move to the kitchen. See People v. Howard, 92 P.3d 445, 452 (Colo. 2004) (suspect was not in custody where the officer asked, but did not direct, the suspect to step outside of his home).

         ¶ 17 Second, though Travis was never told that she was "free to leave, " she did not appear emotionally distraught, was calm, and never indicated that she wanted the interview to end. See People v. Klinck, 259 P.3d 489, 494 (Colo. 2011).

         ¶ 18 Third, the interview was brief, lasting no more than ten minutes. See id. This scenario is significantly different from the circumstances in People v. Holt, 233 P.3d 1194, 1195-96 (Colo. 2010), where the supreme court concluded that the defendant was in custody because at least six police officers entered the defendant's apartment with their weapons drawn, the defendant was handcuffed and ordered not to move, the defendant's voice quavered during questioning, and the interview lasted nearly thirty minutes.

         ¶ 19 Fourth, though several officers were present in and around Travis's home, only two questioned Travis, and one participated in the conversation for only three or four minutes. Moreover, Travis's husband (who was also unrestrained) was nearby, and the officers' tones were conversational. These circumstances are similar to those in Pleshakov, ¶ 30, where the supreme court concluded that the defendant was not in custody when four officers were present during the interrogation with the defendant, but only one officer questioned the suspect while the other officers were engaged in other tasks; the defendant was questioned in close proximity to his two companions, neither of whom was handcuffed; and the tone of the interaction was conversational.

         ¶ 20 Lastly, although the interview took place late at night during a response to an emergency call, it took place in Travis's kitchen and not in a secluded location. In People v. Cowart, 244 P.3d 1199, 1204 (Colo. 2010), the supreme court addressed the significance of an interview taking place in the suspect's home, which is inherently less coercive than questioning in a "police-dominated setting." Cf. Orozco v. Texas, 394 U.S. 324, 326-27 (1969) (holding that a neutral locus is not determinative because Miranda protections are not limited to police station interrogations). In Cowart, four officers went to the defendant's home at night to question him about an alleged sexual assault. 244 P.3d at 1204. One officer asked the defendant to sit down in the living room and then asked him questions while the other officers stood a few feet away. Id. During the interview, the defendant's wife was seated nearby, and the defendant was never isolated from her by the officers. Id. Taking these circumstances into consideration, the court concluded that "[a] consensual interview that takes place in the defendant's house and in the presence of his wife does not exert the compulsive forces Miranda sought to prevent." Id. at 1205.

         ¶ 21 Similarly, Travis was interviewed in her kitchen with her husband in view and the officers did not isolate her. This contrasts with People v. Minjarez, 81 P.3d 348, 356-57 (Colo. 2003), where the defendant was determined to be in custody when he was questioned in a ...

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