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Miranda in Colorado: Case Note: No. 20SA11, People v. Clark

The Colorado Supreme Court has found in favor of the government, holding that Miranda warnings are not necessary in a case where late-night statements were made during the execution of a search warrant in the defendant’s home. People v. Clark, 2020 CO 36 (No. 20SA11, May 11, 2020).

Case Facts

Police executed a search warrant on the defendant, Clark’s, home at 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday looking for evidence tying the defendant to a convenience store arson. Clark was barefoot wearing boxer shorts and a sweatshirt. Detectives first talked to him in the house and then asked Clark to step outside to continue speaking with them. Clark asked if he could put on shoes first, but he ultimately stepped outside barefoot. 

Detectives told Clark that he was not under arrest and proceeded to interrogate him about his whereabouts that night. Clark gave conflicting statements about being at the convenience store and knowing about the fire. After those statements, he was arrested. He was never informed of his Miranda rights.

The trial court ruled that police violated Clark’s rights when they failed to mirandize him. It suppressed the statements he made when he went outside, meaning that they could not be used against him at trial. The government appealed.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled against Clark. It found that Clark was not in custody for Miranda purposes. Thus, police did not have to read him his rights, and his statements can be used against him.

Miranda in Colorado

When determining if someone is in custody for Miranda purposes, at least in Colorado, the Court looks at nine factors:

  1. The time, place, and purpose of the encounter;
  2. The persons present during the interrogation;
  3. The words spoken by the officer to the defendant;
  4. The officer’s tone of voice and general demeanor;
  5. The length and mood of the interrogation;
  6. Whether any limitation of movement or other form of restraint was placed on the defendant during the interrogation;
  7. The officer’s response to any questions asked by the defendant;
  8. Whether directions were given to the defendant during the interrogation; and
  9. The defendant’s verbal or nonverbal response to such directions.

People v. Matheny, 46 P.3d 453, 465–66 (Colo. 2002).

Case Analysis

No one factor is more important than another. In this case, the Court described the factors out-of-order, but they found that all of the Matheny factors considered weighed against Clark. Specifically:

  1. The encounter happened in Clark’s home and just outside.
  2. The encounter lasted about 6 minutes.
  3. The detective’s tone was “conversational” and he asked “non-confrontational and open-ended questions.” 
  4. The deputy police chief told Clark he wasn’t going to be arrested and asked him outside so that Clark wouldn’t be within earshot of his kids..
  5. Only one detective asked Clark questions.
  6. Clark was not handcuffed or restrained until he was actually arrested.
  7. Clark’s responses to police were “indifferent” reactions, and he did not confess.

The Court gave lip service to the factors that could be read in favor of Clark as easily as the Court decided they weighed against him. The Trial Court ruled that the late hour and Clark’s state of undress weighed in favor of his custody. Despite this, the Supreme Court determined that the trial court erred because the totality of circumstances convinced them that Clark was not in custody at the time of his interrogation.

Interestingly, the Court noted that it reviewed the audio recording of the encounter between police and Clark, and that played a part in its decision. 

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