September 24, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Robberies Were Sufficiently Similar for Joinder of Criminal Trials

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Butson on Thursday, April 20, 2017.

Bank RobberyJoinderSpecial ProsecutorStatements to PoliceSettlement NegotiationsCRE 408.

Butson was charged in three cases with bank robbery and conspiracy to commit bank robbery. Butson was interviewed by police, waived his Miranda rights, and provided details about the planning and commission of the robberies. He later moved to suppress his statements on the theory that he made them during the course of settlement discussions and therefore they were inadmissible at trial under CRE 408. The trial court denied the motion. Butson was also charged with witness tampering based on a letter he sent to a witness. Because the prosecutor in the bank robbery cases had handled the letter, Butson contended that he was entitled to a special prosecutor in all of his cases. The court determined that the prosecutor was not a potential witness in the witness tampering case and denied Butson’s request for a special prosecutor. The prosecution moved to join the three bank robbery cases for trial, which motion was granted, and a jury found Butson guilty of all but two counts. The witness tampering case was later dismissed.

On appeal, Butson first contended that the district court erred by joining the three bank robbery cases for trial. A trial court may try two or more criminal complaints together if the offenses could have been joined in a single complaint. Two or more offenses may be charged in the same charging document if the offenses are of the same or similar character or are based on two or more connected acts or transactions or are part of a common scheme or plan. Here, Butson and his sons committed all of the robberies during the course of a few months, all involved the same banks in relatively close proximity to each other, and all were sufficiently similar in planning and execution. Accordingly, the district court did not abuse its discretion in joining the cases for trial.

Butson next contended that where the lead prosecutor in the consolidated bank robbery cases was endorsed as a witness in the later-filed witness tampering case, the district court erred in denying his motion for a special prosecutor. Butson argued that a special prosecutor was necessary to prevent the appearance of impropriety created by the prosecutor’s potential appearance as a witness in the related witness tampering case. However, appearance of impropriety is not a basis for disqualification, and Butson failed to show any prejudice. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Butson’s motion for a special prosecutor.

Butson also contended that his statements to police during a custodial interrogation constituted settlement negotiations, or an offer to compromise a claim, and therefore the interview was inadmissible under CRE 408 to prove his guilt. Generally, Rule 408 bars the admission in a criminal proceeding of statements made in connection with the settlement of a civil claim. As Butson acknowledges, his statements to police, even if construed as an offer to compromise, were made during discussions concerning criminal charges, not a civil claim. Moreover, his statements, which he made to a government agent, would be admissible under an exception to the rule. Therefore, the district court did not err in denying his motion to suppress the statements.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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