gavel court justice colorado

If a person in police custody lies during an interrogation, can they be charged with a new crime, regardless of their Miranda protections against self-incrimination?

That is the question the Colorado Supreme Court will decide after it announced on Monday that it will consider whether the Colorado Court of Appeals correctly created an exception to a suspect’s Miranda rights. The justices will also determine whether a police officer merely asking a suspect’s name after an arrest constitutes an “interrogation.”

Vincent Joseph Compos showed up at the home of a woman who had taken out a protection order against him, and pointed a gun at her and her children. Compos, who had an arrest record for domestic violence against the same victim, now threatened to kill the family. She called the police and escaped.

Officers arrived at the victim’s home and found Compos, who identified himself as “J.R.” Later, standing outside and handcuffed, he claimed he was “John Rocha” when another officer asked, and gave a fake date of birth. At trial, the jury found him guilty of criminal impersonation and false reporting to authorities. Compos also pleaded guilty to violating a protection order.

Compos had attempted to prevent the admission of his false statement to the officer on the grounds that it was a violation of his Miranda rights. Miranda v. Arizona, a U.S. Supreme Court case decided in 1966, established that a suspect’s responses to an interrogation while in custody are inadmissible at trial unless the suspect received “adequate advisement of his constitutional rights.”

The prosecution and defense both agreed that Compos was in custody. However, Compos argued that the officer was interrogating him by asking his name. Police do not need to give Miranda warnings when asking “routine booking questions” to gather biographical information. The Miranda protections are in place for questioning meant to elicit verbal or nonverbal responses related to the investigation. Even so, police may not seek to obtain incriminating information during the booking phase.

The trial court ruled that the questioning was proper, and the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed. Writing for the three-member appeals panel, Judge Ted C. Tow III explained that the dispute over propriety in the protection order case was irrelevant because “Compos’s false statement about his identity constituted a new crime, not evidence of a prior crime, and thus the exclusionary rule does not apply.”

Although this was the first time the “new crime exception” for the Fifth Amendment appeared in Colorado, courts elsewhere had already adopted the principle — notably in Texas, where a man said he would “blow the [President’s] brains out” during a custodial interrogation and was charged with making a threat against the president. 

“We thus conclude that when an individual is interrogated in violation of Miranda, and his response to questioning is itself a crime,” Tow wrote, those statements are admissible “for charges based on the criminal act committed in the response.”

The case is The People of the State of Colorado v. Vincent Joseph Compos.

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