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Law School Case Brief

People v. Elmarr - 181 P.3d 1157 (Colo. 2008)


For purposes of determining whether Miranda warnings are required, a suspect is in custody when his or her freedom of action is curtailed to a degree associated with formal arrest. In assessing the question of custody, the supreme court considers such factors as the time, place, and purpose of the interrogation; the persons present during the interrogation; the words the officers spoke to the suspect; the officers' tone of voice and general demeanor; the length and mood of the interrogation; whether any restraint or limitation was placed on the suspect's movement during interrogation; the officers' response to any of the suspect's questions; whether directions were given to the suspect during interrogation; and the suspect's verbal or nonverbal responses to such directions. None of these factors is determinative, and the question of custody is determined in light of the totality of the circumstances. However, because the test of custody is an objective one, unarticulated thoughts or views of the officers and suspects are irrelevant. Supreme court decisions make clear that the initial determination of custody depends on the objective circumstances of the interrogation, not on the subjective views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the person being questioned.


In 1987, Detectives Ferguson and Haugse of the Boulder Sheriff's Department and Officer Stiles of the Longmont Police Department, both in civilian clothing, visited Defendant Kevin Franklin Elmarr at his home to inform him that his ex-wife, Carol Murphy, was found dead the day before. Detectives Ferguson and Haugse spoke with Elmarr at his home and Elmarr disclosed that he had visited with his ex-wife the day before she was found dead, and had taken her for a ride on his motorcycle. Shortly after this disclosure, Detective Ferguson said the police had more questions for him, and asked him if he would mind accompanying them to the Sheriff's Department at the Boulder Justice Center for further questioning; Elmarr agreed. The detectives drove Elmarr to the Sheriff's Department in their unmarked police car, with Elmarr in the back seat. Elmarr was then placed in a closed interview room, and was subsequently interrogated by the officers. The interrogation was then taken over by another officer, whose interrogation style was described as aggressive. Elmarr was not charged with a crime until almost 20 years later, when in January 2007 he was arrested and charged with first degree murder for the murder of his ex-wife Carol Murphy. Elmarr moved the trial court to suppress the statements he made to police 20 years earlier in his home, in the police car on the way to the Sheriff's Department, and in the Sheriff's Department interview room. The trial court declined to suppress the statements made at Elmarr's home and in the police car. However, the trial court suppressed all of the statements Elmarr made at the Sheriff's Department, finding that they were all the product of custodial interrogation. In their interlocutory appeal, the People argued that Elmarr was not in custody when he was interrogated at the Sheriff's Department.


Was Elmarr in custody when he was interrogated at the Sherriff’s Department?




According to the Court, for purposes of determining whether Miranda warnings were required, a suspect was in custody when his or her "freedom of action is curtailed to a 'degree associated with formal arrest.'" Taking into consideration the totality of the circumstances, the appellate court found that Elmarr was in custody while interrogated by officers in the Sheriff’s Department in 1987. Though Elmarr was asked to accompany police officers to the station for questioning, such a question did not necessarily make the event voluntary, as one could interpret the question to be one where "no" was not an available answer -- especially in the circumstances present here. It was significant that Elmarr was transported in the back of a police car to the non-public area of the Sheriff's Department, where he was directed to wait and then interrogated in a small, closed-door interview room. Furthermore, it was significant that Elmarr was subjected to aggressive interrogation, where the interrogators accused him of committing murder. Such interrogation by multiple officers in a small room isolated from others helped create a sense of custody. The Court concluded that all of Elmarr's statements to the police at the Sheriff’s department were the product of custodial interrogation. Because it was conceded that Elmarr did not receive a proper Miranda warning, all of those statements must be suppressed. Accordingly, the trial court’s suppression order was affirmed.

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