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People ex rel. Z.T.T.

Supreme Court of Colorado

May 22, 2017

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellant In the Interest of Z.T.T. Juvenile-Appellee

         Interlocutory Appeal from the District Court La Plata County District Court Case No. 15JD43 Honorable William L. Herringer, Judge.

          Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant: Christian Champagne, District Attorney, Sixth Judicial District Sean Murray, Deputy District Attorney John-Patrick Sansom, Deputy District Attorney Durango, Colorado

          Attorneys for Juvenile-Appellee: The Walsh Law Firm, LLC Jeffrey M. Walsh Steamboat Springs, Colorado Greenberg, McGuinness & Alt, LLC Ingrid A. Alt Durango, Colorado

          OPINION

          RICE CHIEF JUSTICE.

         ¶1 This interlocutory appeal requires us to answer whether a defendant's confession to an Army investigator during basic training was the product of coercion. We hold that, when a defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights, knew he was free to leave an interview, and confessed to committing a crime during the course of a conversational, friendly interview devoid of coercive promises or threats, he gave his statements voluntarily. We therefore reverse the trial court's suppression order and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶2 In the fall of 2015, the victim, F.G.-age thirteen at the time-told the La Plata County Sheriff's Office that seven years prior, the defendant, Z.T., had forced her to give him oral sex on several occasions at BMX bicycle races. At the time of the alleged assaults, F.G. was six and Z.T. was thirteen. Z.T., at the time that F.G. made the allegations in 2015, was in Army basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. A La Plata County sheriff's deputy formally requested that Agent Kevin Kendall of the Army's Criminal Investigations Division ("CID") at Fort Benning interview Z.T. about F.G.'s allegations.

         ¶3 Z.T.'s commanding officer escorted him to the interview. Agent Kendall advised Z.T. of his Miranda rights and that the interview concerned allegations of a "child sex assault." Initially, Z.T. invoked his right to an attorney and Agent Kendall said, "I'll let your command know and they're going to come pick you up, and then . . . whatever you want to do from there is pretty much the gist of it." Z.T. then decided to revoke his request for counsel and agreed to proceed without counsel. Z.T. signed a waiver to that effect. Agent Kendall then spoke with Z.T. for nine hours.

         ¶4 For the first three hours of the interview, Agent Kendall and Z.T. discussed Z.T.'s childhood, family, friends, experiences racing BMX bicycles, and sexual history. When asked if he knew why he was being interviewed, Z.T. stated that he did not know. Almost three hours into the interview, Agent Kendall told Z.T. that F.G. was his accuser and what F.G. had accused him of, and Z.T. denied ever touching F.G. inappropriately. Agent Kendall rejected his denials with statements such as, "This isn't going to go away, " "There has to be more than that, " and "These allegations are very specific, and kids don't just make this stuff up." Agent Kendall then began invoking Z.T.'s military career, stating:

We don't want this to . . . we don't want it to affect your military career or affect your life at all . . . help us understand what's going on . . . why she would feel this way.
. . . .
The quicker we find out the truth, you know, the faster we'll be able to take care of this and get it wrapped up so that way it's not affecting your career. . . . Okay, because I don't want this to affect your career. . . . I don't want this to be hanging over you for the rest of your life. . . . You know, mistakes happen . . . and people do things, and they regret it later. They're like, crap, I shouldn't have done that . . . the kid, you know, steals a candy bar . . . and the guy that accidentally kisses a girl and maybe she didn't want to be kissed.

         ¶5 After a long pause, Z.T. admitted to inappropriate sexual contact with F.G. Specifically, Z.T. admitted to masturbating with F.G. on his lap during a game of hide and seek. Agent Kendall and Z.T. then discussed Z.T.'s strong religious upbringing, and Z.T. described the overwhelming guilt he felt from the improper sexual contact with F.G. Z.T. then also admitted to other instances of improper sexual contact with F.G., including oral sex, and discussed how guilty these other acts made him feel. Afterward, Z.T. told Agent Kendall that he would not have been honest with a more aggressive interrogator, and thanked him, stating:

I honestly don't think if I had someone who was, all right, you did it, what's going on, what'd you do, where, why? Sir, I would have locked up. I don't think I could have truthfully completed everything being hounded like that sir. So I ...

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