Interlocutory Appeal from the District Court Moffat County
District Court Case No. 18CR270 Honorable Michael A.
O'Hara III, Judge.
Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant: Brett D. Barkey, District
Attorney, Fourteenth Judicial District Brittany Schneider,
Deputy District Attorney Craig, Colorado.
Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee: Megan A. Ring, Public
Defender Abigail Kurtz-Phelan, Senior Deputy Public Defender
Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
In this interlocutory appeal, we address whether the trial
court erred in suppressing a statement made by the defendant,
Justin Cline, following a search of his residence by his
parole officer and a member of the Craig Police Department.
The search yielded a zippered pouch containing a glass pipe
and a small piece of straw with white powdery residue that
tested presumptively positive for methamphetamine. The trial
court found that when Corporal Grant Laehr confronted Cline
with the zippered pouch and questioned him, Cline was
"effectively under arrest" and "not free to
leave." In a written order, the trial court reiterated
that once Cline was confronted with the zippered pouch,
"a reasonable person in [his] position would not have
believed he was free to leave." The trial court ruled
that any subsequent questions should have been preceded by an
advisement pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S.
436 (1966). Since no such advisement was provided, the trial
court suppressed a statement made by Cline.
We now reverse. We hold that the trial court applied the
wrong legal standard. We further hold that, under the
totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in
Cline's position would not have considered himself
deprived of his freedom of action to a degree associated with
a formal arrest. We recognize that confronting Cline with the
zippered pouch is a factor that weighs in favor of a finding
of custody for purposes of Miranda. But we conclude
that, when viewed in conjunction with the other circumstances
present, it is insufficient to warrant a determination that
Cline was in custody and that Corporal Laehr was required to
read him his Miranda rights. Because the trial court
applied the wrong legal standard and treated as dispositive
the fact that Corporal Laehr confronted Cline with the
zippered pouch, we reverse its suppression order and remand
for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Facts and Procedural Background
Cline was placed on parole in an unrelated case in February
2017. As a condition of his parole, he agreed to allow his
parole officer to search his residence at any time. At
approximately 11 a.m. on December 10, 2018, Cline's
parole officer, Kevin Koopmann, went to Cline's residence
to conduct a home visit and search. At Koopmann's request,
two members of the Craig Police Department, Corporal Laehr
and Officer Josh Lyons, met him at the fourplex where
Cline's residence was located to assist with the search.
After knocking on the door and contacting Cline, Koopmann
explained the purpose of the visit and asked Cline to step
outside; he used a professional, but firm, tone. Cline
complied, at which point Koopmann patted him down for weapons
and found none. Pursuant to Koopmann's instructions,
Cline remained outside with Officer Lyons while Koopmann and
Corporal Laehr completed the search, which lasted
approximately ninety minutes.
During the search, Officer Lyons and Cline engaged in
"normal bantered conversation" outside the
residence. The tone of the discussions was friendly
throughout. Officer Lyons did not tell Cline he could not
leave, and Cline and three other individuals located on the
premises were able to move around in the parking area in
front of the residence. At one point, Cline asked Officer
Lyons if he could move to the sidewalk and stand in the sun
because he was cold, and Officer Lyons did not prevent him
from doing so. Officer Lyons, Cline, and the three other
individuals then all walked over to the sidewalk. In light of
the cold temperatures, Corporal Laehr retrieved a coat from
inside the residence for Cline. At another point, Cline asked
if he could go speak to an individual by the name of Kelly
Nielsen, who was working on a truck parked on the side of the
residence. Officer Lyons did not prohibit him from doing so,
but asked if Nielsen could come to the area where Cline was
Koopmann's search focused on the room Cline identified as
his bedroom. There, he found a zippered pouch containing a
glass pipe and a small piece of straw with white powdery
residue. Corporal Laehr performed a field test on the
residue, which revealed that it was presumptively positive
for methamphetamine. Given the preliminary indication of
methamphetamine, he decided to question Cline about the
zippered pouch and its contents in the parking area in front
of Cline's residence. It appears that neither Koopmann
nor Officer Lyons was present during the interrogation,
although both remained on the premises. Cline was not
handcuffed or otherwise physically restrained, and Corporal
Laehr used a conversational tone and did not draw his weapon
or use any other show of force. Further, Cline did not appear
upset; instead, he seemed to be calm and to understand the
questions asked and the context of the conversation. And, as
far as Corporal Laehr could tell, Cline was not under the
influence of alcohol or drugs.
Corporal Laehr asked Cline three questions. First, he asked
about the zippered pouch, and Cline denied it was his.
Second, he asked about access to Cline's bedroom, and
Cline said that other people had access to the room, that a
lot of people had been staying with him recently, and that
someone else must have put the zippered pouch in the room;
Cline reiterated that the zippered pouch was not his. Third,
Corporal Laehr asked the question that gave rise to the
statement suppressed by the trial court: When had Cline last
used methamphetamine? Cline responded that it was two to
three weeks earlier. At that point, Corporal Laehr informed
Cline that he was under arrest for possession of a Schedule
II controlled substance and placed him in handcuffs. Other
than inquiring whether Cline had anything dangerous in his
pockets, Corporal Laehr did not ask any other questions.
Cline was not advised of his Miranda rights by
The prosecution subsequently charged Cline with drug-related
offenses. Cline filed pretrial motions to suppress. As
relevant here, he sought to exclude evidence of all his
statements, arguing that they were obtained in violation of
Miranda. Following an evidentiary hearing during
which Koopmann, Corporal Laehr, and Officer Lyons testified,
the trial court orally granted Cline's request in part
and denied it in part. The trial court first found that
Corporal Laehr's confrontation of Cline with the zippered
pouch did not violate Miranda for two reasons: (1)
Cline was "not under arrest" and "no
reasonable person would have believed that they were under
arrest" at that time; and (2) such confrontation did not
constitute an interrogation for purposes of Miranda.
However, the trial court then ruled as follows:
Corporal Laehr then went on to ask Mr. Cline a question,
knowing that Mr. Cline had been confronted with what appeared
to be illegal . . . substances or illegal items. And asked
him when is the last time you used . . . methamphetamine or
words to that effect. That question was designed to elicit an
incriminating response and in fact did elicit an
incriminating response. [Cline] responded that he last used
methamphetamine two-three weeks prior. The Court finds that
that question was asked after Mr. Cline was effectively under
arrest and certainly not free to leave. . . . So the Court is
going to suppress the statement about using methamphetamine
two-three weeks ago.
It appears from the record that the trial court was under the
misimpression that Corporal Laehr only asked Cline one
question-regarding the last time Cline had used
methamphetamine. Defense counsel attempted to alert the trial
court to this issue, noting that the court seemed to
"believe that [Corporal] Laehr did not ask a question
about the item . . . found in [Cline's] room." She
informed the court that Corporal Laehr in fact testified that
he had questioned Cline about the zippered pouch found in the
bedroom and that Cline had denied it was his and had then
explained that there were other people with access to the
bedroom. The trial court responded that it was "not sure
what . . . question" counsel was referring to, "but
regardless," it had already concluded that Cline was not
under arrest until "after he was confronted" with
the zippered pouch. This response suggests that the trial
court also misremembered that the two earlier questions were
asked after Cline was confronted with the zippered
In a written order issued six days later, the trial court
articulated its ruling again. It indicated that "once
[Corporal] Laehr confronted [Cline] with the zippered pouch,
a reasonable person in [Cline's] position would not have
believed he was free to leave" and would have believed
he "was, in fact, under arrest, whether the magic words
were spoken at that time or not." The trial court thus
concluded that the question by Corporal Laehr about the last
time Cline had used methamphetamine constituted a
"custodial interrogation" and "should have
been asked only after a Miranda advisement."
Because no Miranda advisement was provided, the
trial court suppressed Cline's response. It did not
suppress any of Cline's earlier statements.
The prosecution then brought this interlocutory
The prosecution argues that the trial court erred in finding
that Cline was in custody for Miranda purposes when
he made the suppressed statement. We agree.
We hold that the trial court applied the wrong legal
standard. We further hold that, under the totality of the
circumstances, a reasonable person in Cline's position
would not have considered himself deprived of his freedom of
action to a degree associated with a formal arrest. We
acknowledge that Corporal Laehr confronted Cline with the
zippered pouch and its contents, a factor that weighs in
favor of a finding of custody for purposes of
Miranda. However, when viewed in conjunction with
the other circumstances present, this fact is insufficient to
warrant a determination that Cline was in custody for
Miranda purposes. Therefore, a Miranda
advisement was not required.
Standard of Review
It is now axiomatic that review of a trial court's order
regarding a defendant's motion to suppress involves
"a mixed question of law and fact." People v.
Threlkel, 2019 CO 18, ¶ 15, __P.3d__(quoting
People v. Gothard, 185 P.3d 180, 183 (Colo. 2008)).
We defer to the trial court's factual findings and do not
disturb them so long as "they are supported by competent
evidence in the record." Id. (quoting
People v. Castaneda, 249 P.3d 1119, 1122 (Colo.
2011)). But we review de novo "the trial court's
legal conclusions." Id. (quoting People v.
Pitts, 13 P.3d 1218, 1222 (Colo. 2000)).
Here, given the trial court's apparent misperception and
misrecollection of some of the evidence presented at the
hearing, we defer to some, but not all, of its factual
Relevant Legal Principles
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution
provides, in pertinent part, "No person . . . shall be
compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against
himself." U.S. Const. amend. V. More than a half century
ago, the United States Supreme Court concluded that the
privilege against self-incrimination protected by the Fifth
Amendment "applies in the context of a custodial police
interrogation," an inherently coercive environment.
Verigan v. People, 2018 CO 53, ¶ 19, 420 P.3d
247, 251 (citing Miranda, 384 U.S. at 460-61). In
recognition of the pressures present during police
interrogations, which tend to undermine a defendant's
will to resist and may compel him to speak when he would not
otherwise do so, see id., the Miranda Court
held that "the prosecution may not use statements . . .
stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless
it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to
secure the privilege against self-incrimination,"
Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444. These "procedural
safeguards" long ago became known in common parlance as
Miranda warnings: "Prior to any questioning,
the [defendant] must be warned that he has a right to remain
silent, that any statement he does make may be used as
evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence
of an attorney, either retained or appointed."
Id. The prosecution is not allowed to introduce in
its case-in-chief any statements made by the defendant during
a custodial interrogation unless it first establishes that he
was warned about these rights and that he then voluntarily,
knowingly, and intelligently waived them. People v.
Sampson, 2017 CO 100, ¶ 17, 404 P.3d 273, 276.
Although due process prohibits the use of any
involuntary statements-i.e., statements coerced by law
enforcement-Miranda's prophylactic warnings
apply only when the defendant has been subjected to both
custody and interrogation. People v.
Figueroa-Ortega, 2012 CO 51, ¶ 7, 283 P.3d 691,
692-93. Because there is no dispute that Cline was
interrogated, we are only concerned with the custody prong in
this case. We limit our discussion accordingly.
A person is in custody for purposes of Miranda if he
"has been formally arrested or if, under the totality of
the circumstances, a reasonable person in [his] position
would have felt that [his] freedom of action had been
curtailed to a degree associated with formal arrest."
People v. Garcia, 2017 CO 106, ¶ 20, 409 P.3d
312, 317. It is undisputed that when Cline was questioned he
had not been formally arrested. Thus, we must look to
"the totality of the circumstances" and ask
whether, at the time of Corporal Laehr's interrogation, a
reasonable person in Cline's position would have
considered himself deprived of his freedom of ...