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People v. Archuleta

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fifth Division

January 26, 2017

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Roger Louis Archuleta, Defendant-Appellant.

         Logan County District Court No. 12CR315 Honorable Michael K. Singer, Judge


          Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Nicole D. Wiggins, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

          Douglas K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Mark Evans, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant


          ROMÁN, JUDGE

         ¶ 1 Should statements made by a defendant in the course of an unconstitutional blood draw be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree? We conclude that the trial court correctly determined based on the particular facts of this case that statements made by defendant, Roger Louis Archuleta, were admissible. We also conclude there was no reversible error in the challenged jury instructions or admission of evidence. We therefore affirm the judgment of conviction.

         I. Background

         ¶ 2 According to the prosecution's evidence, surveillance video in the housing facility where the victim was staying with defendant showed the following events. Defendant and the victim left defendant's apartment around seven in the morning on December 5, 2012. The victim did not appear to be injured when he returned home around noon. Defendant returned a short time later, made a few other brief outings that afternoon, then remained in the apartment the rest of the night. No one besides the victim and defendant entered or left the apartment that day.

         ¶ 3 That night, other residents and visitors to the housing facility heard loud noises. At about four in the morning on December 6, 2012, surveillance video showed defendant dragging the victim's body out of his apartment into the hallway. A few minutes later, surveillance video showed defendant dragging the victim's body back into his apartment. Defendant then informed a residential aide at the housing facility that he had a body in his apartment that needed to be removed. The manager then contacted the police.

         ¶ 4 When the police arrived at defendant's apartment, they found the deceased victim lying just inside the door, covered by a blanket. The police observed the victim had blood on him and appeared to have been beaten. They also found defendant seated on a mattress in the living room, apparently highly intoxicated and with a substantial amount of dried blood on his face and hands. Defendant mumbled "he died" and that it wasn't defendant's fault.

         ¶ 5 Police discovered that all four walls in the apartment bedroom were spattered with blood. According to the prosecution's blood spatter and bloodstain analysis expert, the state of the bedroom was potentially consistent with a physical altercation between two people.

         ¶ 6 The police took defendant to the police station; advised him of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966); and interviewed him. They also took pictures of him, collected his clothing, and took swabs of suspected blood. Defendant ended the interview at the police station by indicating he wanted to speak to an attorney.

         ¶ 7 Without obtaining a court order or defendant's consent, police took defendant to the hospital, where three samples of his blood were drawn at one hour intervals. A doctor also examined defendant's finger at his request. After that, defendant was taken to the jail, where he was booked in, and fingernail clippings and swabs of his DNA were taken pursuant to a court order.

         ¶ 8 Defendant was charged with second degree murder and first degree assault. The trial court determined that the police had unconstitutionally ordered that samples of defendant's blood be taken. That determination is not being appealed.

         ¶ 9 The jury found defendant guilty as charged.

         ¶ 10 On appeal, defendant contends that his convictions must be reversed because under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, the trial court erred by failing to suppress statements he made in the course of his transport to and detention at the hospital for his blood draws. Defendant also maintains that his convictions must be reversed because there were errors in the jury instructions and because the trial court improperly elicited and admitted testimony from the prosecution's blood spatter analysis expert that his conclusions were independently verified. We reject these contentions.

         II. Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine

         ¶ 11 As a matter of first impression, defendant argues that the statements made while he was forced to undergo the unconstitutional blood draws should be suppressed because but for the illegal search, he would have been placed in a cell rather than being forced to continue interacting with the police officers. We disagree.

         A. Defendant's Statements

         ¶ 12 To put the challenged statements into context with their relationship to the blood draws, we begin with a summary of the evidence on the recordings of defendant from the time he left the police department to the conclusion of his hospital visit. This summary is drawn from the evidence at the suppression hearing but was not all introduced at trial.

         ¶ 13 After being interviewed at the police station, defendant was handcuffed in order to be taken to the hospital for blood draws. Defendant was uncooperative - cursing, insulting, and apparently threatening the police officer when he refused to loosen or remove the handcuffs. When defendant heard the police officer discussing the blood draws, defendant said he was not consenting. Medical personnel came in to draw the first blood sample, but defendant refused and again demanded to be uncuffed.

         ¶ 14 Defendant offered to cooperate with the blood draw if the handcuffs were removed. The police agreed and removed the cuffs. Defendant was then so cooperative that one of the two officers assigned to him stepped out of the room for much of the hospital visit.

         ¶ 15 When the police informed defendant he would be waiting about an hour in the hospital for another blood draw, defendant said he needed to lie down. The police brought a bed into the room and found a blanket for him. They had not asked defendant questions or encouraged him to talk to them.

         ¶ 16 Nonetheless, defendant initiated various conversations with the officers during the next two hours at the hospital. He rambled about his strained relationship with his nephew, his long history as a boxer, and the evils of methamphetamine use, as well as inquiring about an officer's holiday plans. More importantly, woven throughout these conversations, defendant made numerous unprompted comments that seemed to relate to the victim's death. Although the police repeatedly reminded defendant that he had invoked his Miranda rights, he continued to ramble.

         ¶ 17 Defendant blurted that "you guys got me" and "let's go to jail." A short time later, defendant told the police, "[I]t's f***ed up shit. And I can't live with it. Can't live with it. . . . At my age I'd rather kill myself than do more time. This situation is f***ed up and I'm here to tell you about it." Defendant later added, "[I]f I did that, then I deserve to die." Later, defendant commented, "I'm in trouble. I know what's going on. But it wasn't my fault you know. I found him like that." He even gave an account of the night in question, indicating that he had come home to find the victim, all beat up, in the hall outside his apartment, so he dragged the victim into his apartment, but he was already dead, so defendant called the police.

         ¶ 18 At one point, the officer left the room to get defendant water, but one recorder remained on in the room. Defendant is heard on the recording saying: "Shit. [Victim's name]. You're dead, you're dead brother. I killed you."

         ¶ 19 Throughout the hospital visit, the police mentioned the blood draws only in response to defendant's inquiries. They explained that they would remain at the hospital for a couple of hours to complete the blood draws and that the purpose was to figure out what was in defendant's system.

         ¶ 20 The police then took defendant to the jail where they executed a Crim. P. 41.1 warrant, collecting nail clippings and swabs of his DNA.

         B. Trial Court Ruling

         ¶ 21 The trial court agreed with defendant that the blood draws, taken without a search warrant or defendant's consent, violated defendant's constitutional rights. The court thus suppressed the results of the blood test. However, the trial court rejected defendant's argument that the statements he made at the hospital were likewise inadmissible:

The fruit of the illegal search is the blood test results. It is entirely speculative whether the Defendant would have continued to make statements if he had been transferred to the jail rather than the hospital. As stated earlier in this Order, the vast majority of Defendant's statements were spontaneous and not a result of interrogation. Defendant would have remained in police custody throughout the booking process and the execution of the Order of the Court for Non-Testimonial Identification pursuant to Colo. R. Crim. P. 41.1. The Court does not find that his statements at the hospital are the fruit of the illegal search.

         C. Legal Standards

         ¶ 22 "A trial court's suppression order presents a mixed question of law and fact." People v. Ackerman, 2015 CO 27, ¶ 10. Accordingly, we defer to the trial court's factual findings so long as they are supported by the record, but we review the legal effect of those facts de novo. Id.

         ¶ 23 The exclusionary rule "is a judicially created remedy designed primarily to deter unlawful police conduct." People v. Schoondermark, 759 P.2d 715, 718 (Colo. 1988). Under the rule, evidence that has been obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment may not be presented in the government's case-in-chief. Id. "The exclusionary rule applies both to the illegally obtained evidence itself and to the 'fruit of the poisonous tree' - any other evidence derived from the primary evidence." Id.

         ¶ 24 At the outset, a "defendant . . . bears the burden of demonstrating 'a factual nexus between the illegality and the challenged evidence.'" United States v. Nava-Ramirez, 210 F.3d 1128, 1131 (10th Cir. 2000) (quoting United States v. Kandik, 633 F.2d 1334, 1335 (9th Cir. 1980)); see also Alderman v. United States, 394 U.S. 165, 183 (1969) ("The United States concedes that when an illegal search has come to light, it has the ultimate burden of persuasion to show that its evidence is untainted. But at the same time petitioners acknowledge that they must go forward with specific evidence demonstrating taint."). In other words, a defendant must demonstrate the causal connection between the illegality and the evidence sought to be suppressed as fruits of the illegality. See Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590, 602 (1975); see also New York v. Harris, 495 U.S. 14, 19 (1990) (Before going on to consider whether an exception to the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine applies, "as a threshold matter, courts [must] determine that 'the challenged evidence is in some sense the product of illegal government activity.'" (quoting United States v. Crews, 445 U.S. 463, 471 (1980))).[1]

         D. Analysis

         ¶ 25 Here, defendant failed to establish a causal connection between the illegality of the warrantless blood draws and the challenged statements. Therefore, the trial court properly denied his motion to suppress his statements as fruit of the poisonous tree.

         ¶ 26 Defendant points to four sets of statements that he contends should not have been admitted into evidence at trial: (1) his statement, when alone in the hospital room, that he killed the victim; (2) the initial portion of the recording during which defendant cursed at officers and was told not to threaten them; (3) defendant's explanation that he found the victim in the hallway; and (4) defendant's description of his experience as a boxer. 1. There is No Dispute That Defendant Was in Legal Custody

         ¶ 27 In considering this issue, we find instructive the Supreme Court's decision in New York v. Harris, 495 U.S. 14 (1990). In that case, police officers had probable cause to believe the defendant had murdered someone, and they went to his apartment to take him into custody, without obtaining a warrant. Id. at 15. The defendant admitted to the murder while still at the apartment and then signed a written inculpatory statement at the stationhouse. Id. at 16. The trial court suppressed the statement made in the apartment. Id. The Supreme Court considered whether the stationhouse statement should have also been suppressed because the police violated the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights by entering his home without a warrant or consent in order to arrest him. Id.

         ¶ 28 The Supreme Court noted that the police had probable cause to arrest the defendant and he was not unlawfully in custody when he gave the stationhouse statement. Id. at 18. The Court therefore distinguished the situation from cases in which evidence was suppressed because it was obtained from defendants following arrests not based on probable cause. Id. at 18-19. The Court held that the stationhouse statement was admissible because the defendant "was in legal custody . . . and because the statement, while the product of an arrest and being in custody, was not the fruit of the fact that the arrest was made in the house rather than someplace else." Id. at 19-20.

         ¶ 29 Defendant did not argue, either in the trial court or on appeal, that his custody was not based on probable cause; rather, defendant argues his statements should be suppressed as the fruit of an illegal search, not an illegal custody. Because it is not disputed that defendant in this case was in legal custody, we are unpersuaded by his reliance on People v. Lewis, 975 P.2d 160 (Colo. 1999). There, our supreme court affirmed suppression of an out-of-court identification because the defendant was only "present for viewing as the direct result of" his unlawful arrest that was not based on probable cause. Id. at 172. Unlike in Lewis, because here ...

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