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People v. Espinoza

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Third Division

September 21, 2017

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Martin Castruita Espinoza, Defendant-Appellant.

         Adams County District Court No. 14CR679 Honorable Francis C. Wasserman, Judge

          Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Megan C. Rasband, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

          Lauretta A. Martin Neff, Alternate Defense Counsel, Bayfield, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant

          OPINION

          FREYRE JUDGE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Martin Castruita Espinoza, appeals the judgment of conviction entered on jury verdicts finding him guilty of ten counts of attempted murder, twenty-three counts of first degree arson, ten crime of violence counts, and multiple misdemeanors. Espinoza raises two issues on appeal. First, he challenges the admissibility of his statements to police, alleging that because he was in custody during the questioning, the statements were inadmissible. Second, he contends the trial court misconstrued the applicable sentencing statutes and erroneously concluded it had to impose consecutive sentences. The latter contention involves applying existing law to unique facts.

         ¶ 2 We disagree with his first contention and affirm the judgments of conviction. However, we agree with his second contention, vacate his 160-year prison sentence, and remand for resentencing.

         I. Background

         ¶ 3 This case involved the burning of an apartment complex in which Espinoza had previously lived. Espinoza's mother lived in apartment 303, and Espinoza had lived with her until two months before the fire. The day before the fire, Espinoza's mother placed all of Espinoza's personal belongings on the apartment's balcony. She texted him and said that he needed to retrieve them.

         ¶ 4 The next day, Adams County Sheriff's deputies and firefighters responded to a structure fire and found the apartment complex engulfed in flames. All the residents were able to leave the building. Espinoza, his mother, his aunt, and his cousin were part of the crowd watching the building burn. While on scene, Espinoza's aunt and cousin told the police that they were concerned that Espinoza was potentially involved with the fire.

         ¶ 5 The police interviewed Espinoza and his family members as part of the fire investigation. A deputy transported Espinoza to the police station, where he waited for several hours before being interviewed.[1] Espinoza told the police that he had been panhandling at a Walmart across the street from the apartment complex when he saw people running toward the building, saying there was a fire. After observing the fire for himself, Espinoza called his sister from the Walmart courtesy phone and told her he was across the street at Walmart and could see the fire. Police ended the interview when Espinoza invoked his right to counsel.

         ¶ 6 A Walmart surveillance video showed that the fire started on the third floor of the apartment building, that Espinoza was in the Walmart parking lot, and that he used the courtesy phone. Arson investigators concluded that the fire was incendiary and had started on the balcony of apartment 303. A Walmart employee described a male matching Espinoza's description using the courtesy phone and smelling like charcoal, lighter fluid, and smoke.

         II. Custodial Interrogation

         ¶ 7 Espinoza contends that the trial court failed to consider several factors in finding that he was not in custody at the police station, including the several-hour wait in the interview room, the presence of two armed detectives during the interview, and the confrontational question near the end of the interview. Because the trial court's detailed factual findings, supported by the record, show that Espinoza was not in custody, we affirm its order denying Espinoza's motion to suppress.

         A. Additional Facts

         ¶ 8 Before trial, Espinoza moved to suppress his statements from a videotaped interview with the police. He claimed that he was in custody and that the police failed to give him Miranda[2] warnings. The trial court rejected his custody claim and, in a detailed order, made the following findings:

. Police learned that Espinoza was a potential suspect at the scene. Acknowledging that they had no probable cause, the police requested that he come to the police station for an interview, and Espinoza agreed.
. Espinoza had no transportation and accepted a ride from an officer.
. Espinoza consented to a pat-down search before entering the officer's car.
. Police did not handcuff Espinoza.
. Police found a lighter in Espinoza's pocket and asked to keep it. Espinoza did not object.
. Once at the police station, an officer took Espinoza through at least one locked door to the detective division on the second floor.
. The officer placed Espinoza in an interview room, unrestrained, and provided him with a bottle of water.
. Espinoza's mother and stepfather were also at the police station in a different room.
. After "some time" and the completion of two other interviews, two detectives interviewed Espinoza.
. The tone of the interview was conversational, and the detectives used no coercive interrogation methods or techniques.
. The detectives wore plain clothes.
. One of the detectives told Espinoza that he was not under arrest and was free to leave.
. Although closed, the door was located next to Espinoza and nothing blocked his exit from the ...

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