April 23, 2014

Colorado Court of Appeals: Failure to Provide Evidence Tending to Negate Defendant’s Guilt Violated Crim. P. 16 Disclosure Requirement

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Bueno on Thursday, November 21, 2013.

Newly Discovered Evidence—New Trial—Crim.P. 16(I)(a)(2)—Mandatory Disclosures—Crim.P. 33(c)—Time Barred—Sentencing.

The People appealed the trial court’s order granting defendant a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. The order was affirmed.

Defendant was charged with, tried, and convicted of first-degree murder for the death of fellow inmate Jeffrey Heird at the Limon Correctional Facility (LCF). Approximately fifteen months after defendant’s trial but before sentencing, the prosecution provided discovery of a letter (ABN letter) and report (Smelser report) to the defense, both of which were exculpatory to defendant. The ABN letter was found by Nurse Linda Deatrich in the medical “kite” box at LCF approximately thirty-five minutes after Heird’s body was discovered in his cell. Nurse Deatrich filed an employee incident report about the discovery of the ABN letter (Deatrich report). It was undisputed that copies of the ABN letter and the Deatrich report were contained in the working file of Deputy District Attorney Robert Watson, the original prosecutor working on defendant’s case. Watson had this information sometime in 2004, but did not provide it to defendant until July 2009. Defendant filed a motion for a new trial based on Crim.P. 33(c), as well as the prosecution’s violation of Crim.P. 16 and Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The trial court granted the motion.

On appeal, the People contended that the trial court erred in granting defendant a new trial. The prosecution had copies of the ABN letter and the Deatrich report in Watson’s working file, and the information tended to negate defendant’s guilt; therefore, it was incumbent on the prosecution to provide this information to defendant. Failure to do so violated the mandatory disclosure requirement of Crim.P. 16(I)(a)(2) and Brady. Further, because defendant was prejudiced by the non-disclosure—the evidence would likely bring about an acquittal—the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting defendant a new trial pursuant to Crim.P. 33(c).

The People also contended that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to address their argument that defendant’s motion for a new trial was time-barred. The term “entry of judgment” in Crim.P. 33(c) means more than a “verdict or finding of guilt” and must include sentencing of the defendant. Accordingly, as a matter of law, defendant’s Crim.P. 33(c) motion was timely because he had not been sentenced at the time he filed his motion.

Summary and full case available here.

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