State of Utah v. Vanausdal

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State of Utah v. Vanausdal, Case No. 990928-CA, Filed May 10, 2001 IN THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS


State of Utah,
Plaintiff and Appellee,


William Bryce Vanausdal,
Defendant and Appellant.

(Not For Official Publication)

Case No. 990928-CA

May 10, 2001 2001 UT App 150 -----

Seventh District, Castle Dale Department
The Honorable Scott N. Johansen

David M. Allred, Castle Dale, for Appellant
Mark L. Shurtleff and Marian Decker, Salt Lake City, for Appellee


Before Judges Greenwood, Davis, and Thorne.

DAVIS, Judge:

Vanausdal argues that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress based on the court's conclusion that he voluntarily waived his constitutional rights.

"[A]nalysis of whether admission of a confession into evidence violates the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment does not turn solely on the 'voluntariness' of the confession. '[C]oercive police activity is a necessary predicate to the finding that a confession is not "voluntary."'" State v. Rettenberger, 1999 UT 80,¶11, 984 P.2d 1009 (quoting Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 167, 107 S. Ct. 515, 522 (1986)) (alterations in original). Further, "a defendant's mental condition is not in itself sufficient to make a confession involuntary." Id. at ¶17. However, "'his mental state is relevant "to the extent it made him more susceptible to mentally coercive police tactics."'" Id. (citations omitted). Finally, to determine whether a confession was voluntary, we look at the totality of the circumstances. See id. at ¶19.

Vanausdal argues that his mental impairment, combined with the officers' psychological manipulation tactics, "amounted to exactly the same kind of coercion identified in Rettenberger." In Rettenberger, the court placed particular emphasis on the following subjective characteristics of the defendant when it ruled that the confession was involuntary:

[Defendant] was eighteen years old at the time of the interrogation, had the maturity level of a fifteen-year-old, and had a below-average I.Q. "The concern in a case involving a defendant of subnormal intelligence is one of suggestibility." Jurek v. Estelle, 623 F.2d 929, 938 (5th Cir. 1980). That concern is heightened here, where the defendant had had little prior experience with the judicial system, suffered from [Attention Deficit Disorder], and exhibited symptoms of depression, anxiety disorder, thought disorder, schizophrenia, and dependent personality disorder, making him overly compliant and particularly vulnerable to psychological manipulation.

Id. at ¶37. The Rettenberger court also noted that the officers were aware of the defendant's mental impairments and suggestibility, and the officers used psychological manipulation tactics such as misrepresentations, "false friend" technique, extended confinement, isolation, threats, and promises. Id. at ¶¶ 20-38. Consequently, the court concluded that the defendant's "confession was involuntary to the extent the record indicates that his will, already vulnerable due to certain known mental disabilities and deficiencies, was overborne by the suggestive and coercive techniques used by the interrogators, which exploited those very vulnerabilities." Id. at ¶45.

In the present case, Vanausdal argues that the combination of stress and lack of sleep rendered him unusually vulnerable to the officers' psychological manipulation tactics. However, Vanausdal ignores the trial court's finding that "the testimony of the Defendant regarding his physical and mental state due to perceived threats and lack of sleep is extremely selective, and not credible." Vanausdal has not attempted to marshal the evidence supporting this finding and demonstrate that such evidence is insufficient to support the finding; therefore, "we accept the trial court's findings as stated in its ruling." State v. Benvenuto, 1999 UT 60,¶13, 983 P.2d 556.

Because we accept the trial court's finding that Vanausdal's testimony regarding his impaired mental state was not credible, we are not persuaded that the officers' psychological manipulation tactics "amounted to exactly the same kind of coercion identified in Rettenberger." In other words, Vanausdal cannot argue that the officers' exploited his mental impairment because he has not demonstrated that he was mentally impaired. Therefore, we are not convinced that the officers' use of the "false friend" technique was "sufficiently coercive to produce an involuntary confession." Rettenberger, 1999 UT 80 at ¶28. Further, we are not persuaded that the "other factors" identified by Vanausdal created a "'physical or psychological force or manipulation that [was] designed to induce [him] to talk when he otherwise would not have done so.'" Id. at ¶25 (citation omitted). Thus, we conclude that Vanausdal's confession was not coerced by the officers and the trial court correctly determined that Vanausdal's confession was voluntary.

We affirm the trial court's denial of Vanausdal's motion to suppress.

James Z. Davis, Judge -----


Pamela T. Greenwood,
Presiding Judge

William A. Thorne, Jr., Judge