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People v. Bryant

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Second Division

April 19, 2018

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Durron Larry Bryant, Defendant-Appellant.

          Arapahoe County District Court No. 14CR874 Honorable Elizabeth A. Weishaupl, Judge

          Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Christine Brady, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

          Douglas K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Jeffrey Svehla, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant



         ¶ 1 Defendant, Durron Larry Bryant, appeals the judgment of conviction entered on jury verdicts finding him guilty of unlawful possession of a controlled substance and two counts of third degree assault. We affirm.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         ¶ 2 According to the prosecution's evidence, in the late afternoon on April 4, 2014, a woman called the police because she had seen Bryant jumping up and down, cursing, and screaming near an intersection in Aurora. Officers arrived just after Bryant struck a male teenager in the back of the head and hit a female teenager on the side of her face. After arresting Bryant, officers interviewed eyewitnesses and conducted a field showup. The witnesses identified Bryant as the man who had been acting erratically and as the man involved in the altercation, and Officers Ortiz and Fink transported Bryant to the Aurora jail.

         ¶ 3 Shortly after arriving at the jail, and approximately one hour after Bryant was arrested, Officers Ortiz and Fink interviewed Bryant in the booking room. Officer Ortiz read Bryant his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). He then asked Bryant if he understood his rights, and Bryant said that he did. Officer Ortiz asked Bryant if he would be willing to speak with police, and Bryant said that he was willing to do so.

         ¶ 4 During the interview, Officer Ortiz asked Bryant if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and Bryant answered that he was. When Officer Ortiz asked Bryant what substance he was under the influence of, Bryant said that the substance was in his sock and pointed to his ankle, telling the officers that they could retrieve the substance. After the officers retrieved a small vial from Bryant's sock, Officer Ortiz asked Bryant what the substance was. Bryant responded that the substance was "sherm."

         ¶ 5 Officer Ortiz was not familiar with the term "sherm, " but Officer Fink recognized it as a term meaning "PCP" or phencyclidine. Officer Fink asked Bryant several times during the interview if the substance was "PCP, " and Bryant eventually responded that the substance was "PCP." At trial, Officers Ortiz and Fink testified to this exchange, and Officer Fink also testified that, based on his training and experience, he knew that "sherm" is a street slang word for "PCP."

         ¶ 6 Bryant was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance and two counts of third degree assault.

         ¶ 7 Before trial, Bryant submitted several motions to suppress, and the court held a two-day suppression hearing. As relevant here, Bryant contended that his statements to police were involuntary and that his Miranda waiver was invalid. Officers Ortiz and Fink both testified at the suppression hearing, as did the two teenagers who were assaulted and a witness to the assault. The trial court denied all of Bryant's motions to suppress, ruling that Bryant's statements were made voluntarily and that he had validly waived his Miranda rights.

         ¶ 8 A jury convicted Bryant as charged, and he now appeals.

         II. Suppression

         ¶ 9 Bryant contends that the trial court erred by ruling that his statements to the police were voluntary and that he had validly waived his Miranda rights. We are not persuaded.

         A. Facts

         ¶ 10 The following facts were established at the suppression hearing through testimony from Officers Ortiz and Fink.

         ¶ 11 On the day of Bryant's arrest, Officers Ortiz and Fink were originally dispatched to Bryant's location to conduct a welfare check on a man who was acting erratically in the middle of the street and who was possibly under the influence of drugs. While Officers Ortiz and Fink were on the way to Bryant's location, however, they received a further dispatch that the same individual who had been acting erratically had possibly threatened and assaulted people at the scene.

         ¶ 12 Upon arriving at the scene, Officers Ortiz and Fink saw a man who matched the description given in the dispatch and who was later identified as Bryant. They proceeded to approach Bryant, and Officer Ortiz ordered Bryant to stop and speak with him. In response, Bryant looked at Officers Ortiz and Fink and then began to walk away. Officers Ortiz and Fink continued to approach Bryant, and Officer Ortiz ordered Bryant to stop, turn around, and interlock his fingers. Officer Ortiz gave Bryant several orders to do this, but Bryant did not comply. Instead, Bryant put his hands up and then down in response to Officer Ortiz's commands, and then he got down on the ground before standing back up. Finally, a third officer on the scene ordered Bryant to sit back down on the ground.

         ¶ 13 Officers Ortiz and Fink both testified that this was unusual behavior and that Bryant did not seem to understand Officer Ortiz's commands. After arresting Bryant, they proceeded to interview witnesses and conduct a field showup.

         ¶ 14 While Officers Ortiz and Fink were transporting Bryant to the Aurora jail, Bryant repeatedly asked why he had been arrested, and Officer Ortiz repeatedly explained to Bryant that he had assaulted someone. Officer Ortiz described Bryant as acting in disbelief each time he explained to him that he had assaulted someone. Officer Ortiz also testified that Bryant asked why he had been arrested approximately fifteen to twenty times, while Officer Fink estimated that Bryant asked this question approximately five times.

         ¶ 15 Officer Ortiz further testified that he believed Bryant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol because of his behavior; Officer Fink testified that Bryant seemed to be coming off of a high. Officers Ortiz and Fink both testified that Bryant's demeanor changed, however, by the time they arrived at the jail, and they both described him as being calm and cooperative at the jail.

         ¶ 16 Officers Ortiz and Fink brought Bryant to a booking room where Officer Ortiz read Bryant his Miranda rights from a pre-prepared card issued by the Aurora Police Department, and Bryant orally waived those rights. During the course of the interview, Bryant admitted that he was under the influence of drugs, revealed to Officers Ortiz and Fink that he had a small vial of drugs in his sock, and identified the vial as containing "sherm, " which he later admitted during the interview meant "PCP." According to the officers' testimony, neither of them threatened or coerced Bryant in any way, nor did they use physical force on Bryant. B. Voluntariness

         ¶ 17 Bryant contends that his statements to the police at the jail were involuntary and should have been suppressed, arguing that the police exploited his intoxicated state during their interrogation to elicit incriminating responses. We disagree.

         1. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         ¶ 18 When a trial court rules on a motion to suppress, it engages in both factfinding and law application. People v. Platt, 81 P.3d 1060, 1065 (Colo. 2004). We will uphold a trial court's findings of fact on the voluntariness of a statement when the findings are supported by adequate evidence in the record, but we review de novo a trial court's ultimate determination of whether a statement was voluntary. Effland v. People, 240 P.3d 868, 878 (Colo. 2010).

         ¶ 19 When reviewing a trial court's suppression ruling, appellate courts must only consider evidence presented at the suppression hearing. Moody v. People, 159 P.3d 611, 614 (Colo. 2007). We consider the "interrelationship between the evidentiary facts of record, the findings of the trial court, and the applicable legal standards." People v. D.F., 933 P.2d 9, 13 (Colo. 1997). We also examine a trial court's legal conclusions de novo under the totality of the circumstances. People v. Triplett, 2016 COA 87, ¶ 28.

         ¶ 20 When a defendant seeks to suppress a confession or inculpatory statement, the prosecution must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the confession or statement was voluntary. People v. Gennings, 808 P.2d 839, 843 (Colo. 1991). Under the Due Process Clauses of the United States and Colorado Constitutions, a defendant's statements must be made voluntarily in order to be admissible into evidence. U.S. Const. amends. V, XIV; Colo. Const. art. II, § 25; Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 397 (1978); People v. Raffaelli, 647 P.2d 230, 234 (Colo. 1982).

         ¶ 21 A statement is voluntary made if it is "not 'extracted by any sort of threats or violence, nor obtained by any direct or implied promises, however slight.'" People v. Mounts, 784 P.2d 792, 796 (Colo. 1990) (quoting People v. Pineda, 182 Colo. 385, 387, 513 P.2d 452, 453 (1973)). The statement must be the product of an essentially free and unconstrained choice by the maker. Id.

         ¶ 22 "Critical to any finding of involuntariness is the existence of coercive governmental conduct, either physical or mental, that plays a significant role in inducing a confession or an inculpatory statement." People v. Valdez, 969 P.2d 208, 211 (Colo. 1998). "While a defendant's mental condition, by itself and apart from its relationship to official coercion, does not resolve the issue of constitutional voluntariness, 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." Gennings, 808 P.2d at 844 (citation omitted).

         ¶ 23 "[I]ntoxication alone does not automatically render statements involuntary . . . ." People v. Martin, 30 P.3d 758, 760 (Colo.App. 2000). Rather, coercive government conduct is the "necessary predicate to the finding that a confession is not 'voluntary.'" Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 167 (1986).

          ¶ 24 The voluntariness of a statement must be determined by a consideration of the totality of the circumstances under which the statement was made. Mounts, 784 P.2d at 796. Our supreme court has articulated several factors to consider when evaluating the voluntariness of a statement in light of the totality of the circumstances, including

whether the defendant was in custody or was free to leave and was aware of his situation; whether Miranda warnings were given prior to any interrogation and whether the defendant understood and waived his Miranda rights; whether the challenged statement was made during the course of an interrogation or instead was volunteered; whether any overt or implied threat or promise was directed to the defendant; the method and style employed by the interrogator in questioning the defendant and the length and place of the interrogation; and the defendant's mental and physical condition immediately prior to and during the interrogation, as well as his educational background, employment status, and prior experience with law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

Valdez, 969 P.2d at 211 (quoting Gennings, 808 P.2d at 844).

         2. Analysis

         ¶ 25 We reject Bryant's contention that his statements were involuntary.

         ¶ 26 After hearing testimony at the suppression hearing, the trial court made an extensive and thorough oral ruling as to whether, under the totality of the circumstances, Bryant's statements to the police had been the product of any coercive government conduct. In doing so, the court considered Officer Ortiz's and Officer Fink's testimony and outlined a number of factors relevant to its analysis. The trial court found that

[Bryant] was in custody at the time that he made the statements at the station, that he was aware of his situation. He'd asked why he was being taken to the station and he was being booked. Miranda warnings were given prior to the interrogation. Both officers indicated that based on their observations of the defendant he understood what they were saying and responded appropriately to the questions, and in fact, I find that he did understand and waive his rights. He at no time indicated that he wanted to confer with counsel. The statements were made during interrogation . . . . The length . . . of the interrogation was short. No threats, either overt or implied, were made or directed towards the defendant. The defendant seemed to be coherent and calm and responding appropriately to the questions of the police . . . . [U]nder the totality of the circumstances, I find nothing that would render [Bryant's] statements a product of undue influence, coercion, threat or in any way involuntary, so I deny the motion to suppress the statements as involuntary as well.

         ¶ 27 We conclude that the following evidence, elicited at the suppression hearing, supports the trial court's findings regarding the voluntariness of Bryant's statements to police at the police station:

. Bryant was given Miranda warnings prior to the interrogation, and he understood and waived his rights.
. The interrogation lasted at most fifteen minutes.
. The interrogation occurred approximately one hour after Officers Ortiz and Fink arrested Bryant, and Bryant's demeanor had changed during that time. Once at the jail, Bryant was calm, coherent, and cooperative. He was less repetitive than when he was in the car, and he answered questions appropriately.
. There was no evidence of promises, threats, or physical or emotional coercion.

         ¶ 28 Accordingly, we agree with the trial court that there was "nothing that would render [Bryant's] statements a product of undue influence, coercion, threat or in any way involuntary."

         ¶ 29 Bryant's reliance on People v. Humphrey, 132 P.3d 352 (Colo. 2006), is misplaced. In Humphrey, the trial court ruled that some of the defendant's statements were involuntary due to psychological coercion. The defendant in Humphrey was a teenager suspected of stabbing another teenager and who was found "bleeding, incoherent, and in need of medical attention." Id. at 354. She was transported to the hospital, where her blood alcohol level was measured as 0.104 at 3:24 a.m., and 0.090 at 4:27 a.m. Id. Nonetheless, her physician noted that she was "clinically sober" at the time of her release, and she was questioned by police at approximately 6 a.m. Id.

         ¶ 30 The trial court in Humphrey "considered [the defendant's] physical, emotional, and psychological state at the time of the interrogation but recognized that, alone, these circumstances did not render her statements involuntary." Id. at 361. Rather, the trial court's finding of psychological coercion "rested upon the circumstances of a discrete portion of the interview, " when she was informed that the victim had died of his stab wounds and she proceeded to have an emotional breakdown. Id.

          ¶ 31 The supreme court in Humphrey affirmed the trial court's suppression of the defendant's statements made after being informed of the victim's death, but reversed as to the suppression of her statements made before that disclosure. Id. The supreme court concluded that it was only at the point that the defendant experienced an emotional breakdown, when she "cried and broke into uncontrollable sobbing" and "[h]er answers to the questions thereafter were emotional reactions that were only partially coherent, " that the continued police questioning became coercive. Id.

         ¶ 32 By contrast, Bryant suffered no such emotional breakdown, but was instead described by Officers Ortiz and Fink as being calm, coherent, and cooperative. Moreover, the interview lasted no more than fifteen minutes, and there was no evidence in the record from the suppression hearing that Bryant's demeanor changed at any point during the interview itself, and no evidence of any psychological coercion like that found in Humphrey.

         ¶ 33 In sum, we conclude that the trial court did not err by finding that Bryant's statements to ...

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