September 22, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Ordinary Person Would Not Be Aware of Specifics of IP Address and ISP Locating

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Garrison on Thursday, August 10, 2017.

Email—Internet Protocol Address—Internet Service Provider—Expert Testimony—Lay Testimony—Police Officers—Continuance—CRE 702.

Garrison had an affair with the victim’s wife. After the affair ended, Garrison and his wife set up through Google a Gmail account in the victim’s name. Using that account, they sent themselves derogatory and threatening emails. Based on these emails, Garrison and his wife made police reports against the victim and provided related documents to the police. They sought a protection order against the victim and testified about the emails at the hearing. The police filed charges against the victim. When it was later determined that Garrison and his wife had set up the Gmail account, charges against the victim were dismissed, and the Garrisons were charged. At trial police officers gave testimony about Internet Protocol (IP). Garrison was convicted of first degree perjury, attempt to influence a public servant (three counts), conspiracy to attempt to influence a public servant, possessing a defaced firearm, and felony menacing.

On appeal, Garrison first contended that the trial court erred in refusing to grant his request for a continuance of the trial. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying him a continuance, and Garrison was not prejudiced because, as discussed below, he is entitled to a new trial on his convictions related to the IP address testimony.

Garrison also argued that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the prosecution to present expert testimony regarding tracing IP addresses through the lay testimony of police officers. Where an officer’s testimony is based not only on his perceptions and observations of the crime scene but also on specialized knowledge or experience, the officer must be properly qualified as an expert. The concept of an email transmission including an IP address, which can be linked to an Internet service provider (ISP), and in turn traced to the physical location of a particular ISP customer, is not within the knowledge or experience of ordinary people. Thus, because some of the police testimony on direct examination was based on particular experience and specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702, the trial court abused its discretion in admitting this portion of the testimony as lay testimony. The error was not harmless because this information was central to the prosecution’s case on the charges of first degree perjury, attempt to influence a public servant (three counts), and conspiracy to attempt to influence a public servant. The charges of possessing a defaced firearm and felony menacing were unrelated to IP addresses.

The judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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