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People v. Springsted

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fifth Division

December 29, 2016

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Brian K. Springsted, Defendant-Appellant.

         El Paso County District Court No. 14CR2048 Honorable Gilbert A. Martinez, Judge


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

          Davide Migliaccio, Alternate Defense Counsel, Colorado Springs, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant


          FREYRE JUDGE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Brian K. Springsted, appeals the judgment of conviction entered upon a jury verdict finding him guilty of one count of first degree murder, one count of conspiracy to commit first degree murder, and two counts of violent crime. We reverse and remand for a new trial.

         I. Background

         ¶ 2 This case involves the shooting death of the victim, Daniel "Chopps" Baird. The prosecution presented evidence that the victim was shot by two different people, and the primary issue at trial was the identity of the second shooter.

         ¶ 3 The first shooter, codefendant Michael Malory (Popeye), allegedly shot the victim in retaliation for an arson the victim committed against Popeye's friend. The shooting occurred at Popeye's house, in his kitchen. Springsted and Nathan Varnadore were present during the incident.

         ¶ 4 During trial, the prosecution presented evidence that there was an ongoing dispute between Popeye and the victim regarding the arson, that Popeye invited the victim to his house via text messages and phone calls, that Popeye and the victim argued, and that the victim was shot once in the face and twice in the chest with different guns.

         ¶ 5 Shortly after the shooting, a police officer, who was in the neighborhood for unrelated reasons, responded to the house. When she entered, the officer saw the victim on the kitchen floor and observed Springsted coming up the stairs from the basement. Within one hour of the shooting, Springsted was in a police interview room for questioning and evidence collection.

         ¶ 6 Over the course of the next four days, the police conducted five interviews of Springsted totaling more than eleven hours and eventually arrested him for the victim's death. The prosecution's evidence implicating Springsted as the second shooter included Springsted's descriptions of the shooting from these interviews, his text messages to other friends anticipating the victim's arrival, and statements from two witnesses who testified that Springsted told them he shot the victim to put the victim out of his misery.

         ¶ 7 The serological evidence, however, implicated only Popeye as a shooter; it did not implicate Springsted. Specifically, the victim's blood was found on Popeye's clothing, while none was found on Springsted's.

         ¶ 8 A jury convicted Springsted of all counts, and the court sentenced him to life imprisonment. On appeal, Springsted challenges only the court's admission of his statements from the police interviews, alleging that they were obtained involuntarily.

         II. Admissibility of the Recorded Statements

         A. Preservation

         ¶ 9 As an initial matter, the People contend that Springsted did not raise the same argument in the trial court that he now raises on appeal and, therefore, that he did not preserve the issue for our review. Specifically, the People allege that Springsted's arguments in his suppression motion addressed each interview separately, while on appeal he argues the cumulative effect of these interrogations. Springsted contends that he preserved the cumulative issue by challenging the voluntariness of each statement in his motion to suppress and by arguing at the motions hearing that the police would "build on" prior interrogations when conducting new ones.

         ¶ 10 We conclude that Springsted sufficiently preserved this issue for our review. Parties are not required to use "talismanic language" to preserve particular arguments for appeal; rather, the trial court must be presented with an adequate opportunity to make findings of fact and conclusions of law on any issue before we will review it. People v. Melendez, 102 P.3d 315, 322 (Colo. 2004). Springsted filed a motion to suppress the statements, alleging they were involuntary. The trial court held a hearing and issued a ruling in which it specifically discussed the cumulative effect of the interrogations. The court stated, "I looked at all the videos as a whole to determine if at any point the interviews, because of the cumulative effect, became involuntary or improper." Accordingly, because the trial court was presented with an adequate opportunity to make findings of fact and conclusions of law on the cumulative impact of the interrogations, we conclude this claim is preserved for our review. See id.

         B. Relevant Facts

         ¶ 11 On May 3, 2014, Springsted was in Popeye's home when the victim was shot three times and died. Within an hour of the shooting, Springsted was in a police interview room. This first interview lasted approximately three and one-half hours. Officers never provided Springsted an advisement under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and instead told him he was a witness and not a suspect. After the interview, Springsted was allowed to leave the station.

         ¶ 12 The second interview occurred less than four hours later when officers arrived at Springsted's home and requested that he return to the sheriff's office for more questioning. This time, the officer advised Springsted of his Miranda rights, which Springsted waived, but did not inform Springsted he was now a suspect. The interview lasted two hours, and the officer's demeanor was more aggressive. The officer told Springsted he faced life imprisonment, suggested the shooter likely put the victim out of his misery by shooting him in the chest, said the codefendant was not "going down" alone, and stated that the first person who was honest generally received the "most slack." Springsted responded that either he or Varnadore could have shot the victim - he could not remember. He said if he did shoot the victim, "it was probably just for mercy." Springsted was allowed to leave at the end of the interview.

         ¶ 13 The third interview occurred the following day and lasted another four and one-half hours. Springsted again received a Miranda advisement and agreed to speak with the officers. Two different officers, separated by minutes, questioned Springsted in a confrontational manner. The officers, in raised voices, repeatedly cursed, repeatedly accused Springsted of lying, told Springsted he was going to prison, asked if he loved his wife, said they knew he had shot the victim out of mercy, asked whether his religion condoned murder, and asked whether they should tell the district attorney to charge him with first or second degree murder.

         ¶ 14 This time, Springsted said if he killed the victim he used a .45 caliber gun and that Popeye used a .50 caliber gun. He said he shot the victim to put him out of his misery and that he did not want to hurt anyone. He said gunshot residue from the .45 caliber gun would be on his hands and that his DNA would be on the gun. He was again released.

         ¶ 15 The following day, after threatening Springsted's wife with potential charges, the police located Springsted and arrested him. The fourth interview, which lasted another hour, was consistent in content, tone, and confrontation level with the third; however, Springsted remained in custody at its conclusion. Eleven minutes after the fourth interview, a different officer conducted the final interview. In contrast to the previous officers, this officer did not raise his voice, did not curse at Springsted, and was not accusatory. This last interview - in which Springsted admitted watching Popeye text the victim to get the victim to the house, described the argument between the victim and Popeye, explained how Popeye shot the victim, and detailed how and where he was when he shot the victim - was played for the jury.

         C. Standard of Review

         ¶ 16 We review a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress as a mixed question of law and fact. People v. Ramadon, 2013 CO 68, ¶ 21. We defer to the trial court's factual findings and uphold them on review where those findings are supported by the record. Effland v. People, 240 P.3d 868, 878 (Colo. 2010). However, we review the legal effect of facts de novo. Ramadon, ¶ 21. Where the interrogation is video- or audio-recorded and there are no disputed facts outside the recording pertinent to a suppression ruling, we are in the same position as the trial court in deciding the voluntariness issue. Ramadon, ¶ 21. In such instances, the question on appeal is one of law and is reviewed de novo. See People v. Valdez, 969 P.2d 208, 211 (Colo. 1998); People v. Wickham, 53 P.3d 691, 694 (Colo.App. 2001); see also People v. Miranda-Olivas, 41 P.3d 658, 661 (Colo. 2001)("[W]here the record below reveals no conflicting evidence regarding the details of the encounter, remand is unnecessary where the appellate court can apply the correct legal standard.").

         ¶ 17 Additionally, we review errors involving a constitutional violation under the constitutional harmless error standard. Hagos v. People, 2012 CO 63, ¶ 11. These errors require reversal unless the reviewing court is "able to declare a belief that [the error] was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 24 (1967)). In other words, we reverse if "there is a reasonable possibility that the [error] might have contributed to the conviction." Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Chapman, 386 U.S. at 24).

         D. Applicable Law

         ¶ 18 Under the Due Process Clauses of the United States and Colorado Constitutions, only voluntary statements made by a defendant are admissible into evidence. U.S. Const. amends. V, XIV; Colo. Const. art. II, § 25; see also Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 387 (1978); People v. Raffaelli, 647 P.2d 230, 234 (Colo. 1982). In contrast, involuntary statements are inadmissible

not because such [statements] are unlikely to be true[, ] but because the methods used to extract them offend an underlying principle in the enforcement of our criminal law: that ours is an accusatorial and not an inquisitorial system - a system in which the State must establish guilt by evidence independently and freely secured and may not by coercion prove its charge against an accused out of his own mouth.

Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 540-41 (1961). For a statement to be involuntary, government coercion must have played a significant role in obtaining it. Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 164 (1986) ("[A]ll [confession cases] have contained a substantial element of coercive police conduct."); Ramadon, ¶ 18.

         ¶ 19 When a defendant seeks to suppress a statement as involuntary, the prosecution must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the statement resulted from a free and unconstrained choice by the maker. Ramadon, ¶ 19. The statement must not be the product of "any direct or implied promises, however slight, " or result from the government's exertion of improper influences. People v. Medina, 25 P.3d 1216, 1222 (Colo. 2001). Coercive physical or psychological governmental conduct renders an otherwise voluntary statement involuntary if that conduct plays a significant role in inducing the statement. Id. "Coercive conduct includes not only physical abuse or threats directed against a person, but also subtle forms of psychological coercion." Ramadon, ¶ 19. "The deliberate exploitation of a person's weakness by psychological intimidation can, under some circumstances, constitute a form of governmental coercion that renders a statement involuntary." Id.

         ¶ 20 "The focus of the voluntariness inquiry is whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the behavior of the official was coercive so as to overbear the defendant's will in making the statements." People v. Zadran, 2013 CO 69M, ¶ 10. This is a two-step inquiry involving (1) whether the officer's behavior was coercive; and (2) if so, whether that coercive behavior played a significant role in inducing the defendant's statement. Ramadon, ¶ 20.

         ¶ 21 Courts determine voluntariness by considering the totality of the circumstances under which the statements were given, looking at the significant details surrounding and inhering in the interrogation under consideration. Id. Courts examine both the defendant's ability to resist coercive pressures and the nature of the police conduct, using a nonexclusive list of factors that includes:

(1) whether the defendant was in custody;
(2) whether the defendant was free to leave;
(3) whether the defendant was aware of the situation;
(4) whether the police advised the defendant of his or her Miranda rights;
(5) whether the defendant understood and waived Miranda rights;
(6) whether the defendant had an opportunity to confer with counsel or anyone else prior to or during the interrogation;
(7) whether the statement was made during the interrogation or volunteered later;
(8) whether the police threatened [the] defendant or promised anything directly or impliedly;
(9) the method or style of the interrogation;
(10)the defendant's mental and physical condition just prior to the interrogation;
(11)the length of the interrogation;
(12)the location of the interrogation; and
(13)the physical conditions of the location where the ...

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