Court reverses local judge over statements by suspect
A man made an intelligent waiver of his right to remain silent before questioning by a Mesa County Sheriff’s Department investigator, despite the man’s claims of mental-health impairment after his arrest, according to a ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court.
The state’s high court last week reversed a decision by District Judge Brian Flynn, who threw out statements that 30-year-old Lance Ferguson made to investigators on Nov. 14, 2008.
Ferguson was arrested after a traffic stop Nov. 12, 2008, when deputies suspected he was presenting a false driver’s license, according to the court’s ruling. Deputies alleged that drug paraphernalia and multiple credit cards in various names were inside Ferguson’s car.
He was interviewed by the investigator two days later.
Walking into the interview, Ferguson asked the investigator for mental-health help and said, “I don’t know that now’s a good time,” claiming his mind was “shuttering” because of, in part, withdrawal from methamphetamine, according to the court’s ruling. He said he had been awake three days prior to his arrest, using meth.
Ferguson, however, said the questioning could go forward and signed a written waiver of his right to remain silent. Despite Ferguson’s claims of impairment, he was able to form lucid responses to questions, the Supreme Court said.
“Nothing in his actions evinced any debilitating mental problem or confusion at the proceedings,” Supreme Court Justice Nancy Rice wrote for the court.
Flynn had suppressed Ferguson’s statements during a pretrial hearing, noting that asked for help before the interview started. The judge also found that “coercive governmental conduct” played a role in inducing Ferguson’s statements.
But the state’s high court disagreed.
“The record is devoid of any suggestions that police resorted to physical or psychological pressure to elicit the statements,” the opinion said.
The Supreme Court said Ferguson on at least two occasions made a clear waiver of his rights, and Flynn failed to weigh the “totality of the circumstances” in Ferguson’s arrest, including Ferguson’s prior run-ins with the law.
“Ferguson had experience with the criminal justice system based on his prior felonies, so the concepts of personal rights and incarceration were not foreign to him,” Rice wrote.
The state Supreme Court considered the case on appeal by the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office.
Ferguson is still in Mesa County Jail on bonds totaling $225,000 in connection with the case.