Court: Interrogation of man impaired by drug was proper

The Colorado Court of Appeals said police detectives acted lawfully when they interrogated a suspect who was impaired by a hospital-administered narcotic and insisted he was “out of it” mentally.

Benjamin Awad, 29, was sentenced in 2011 to serve two years in prison following a Mesa County jury’s conviction on charges including felony menacing, carrying a concealed weapon and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Awad’s attorneys had argued on appeal that District Judge Brian Flynn erred when he denied a pretrial motion seeking to suppress statements he made to Grand Junction detectives. Awad was given several doses of Haldol following a bipolar episode and agreed to an interview that same day with detectives, according to a ruling issued by the Court of Appeals. The drug treats acute psychosis and schizophrenia.

Still wearing hospital clothing, Awad was sleeping in an interview room of the Grand Junction Police Department when detectives entered. He told them he felt “out of it” and repeatedly asked if he could go home.

But when he was advised of his right to remain silent, Awad agreed to be interviewed, the ruling said.

Awad ultimately made statements placing him at a crime scene — a local store where a clerk said he was menaced with a handgun — during the interview.

“Defendant eventually said he wanted a lawyer and the detectives ended the interrogation,” the ruling notes.

On appeal, Awad’s attorney argued all the statements were involuntary because of his weakened mental state, claiming detectives “took advantage” of his condition. The Court of Appeals said statements are involuntary only if coercion played a significant role in an interrogation.

“Coercive government conduct is not limited to physical threats, but also includes ‘subtle forms of psychological coercion’ in which the police deliberately exploit a ‘person’s weakness by psychological intimidation,” the ruling said.

The Court of Appeals concluded Awad failed to show anything rising to a level of coercive conduct.

“Indeed, defendant had no difficulty articulating that he wanted a lawyer, and once he did so, all questioning stopped,” the ruling said.


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