October 18, 2017

Archives for October 11, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Dying Declaration Admissible Regardless of Whether Testimonial or Non-Testimonial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Cockrell on Thursday, October 5, 2017.

Dying Declarations Statute—Evidence—Confrontation Clause.

The victim was shot 11 times and was found by bystanders, who asked him questions. The victim answered their questions but did not provide the shooter’s name. On the way to the hospital, the victim identified Cockrell as the shooter to an officer who rode in the ambulance. The victim died soon thereafter during surgery. No DNA, fingerprint, or other forensic evidence tied Cockrell to the victim’s murder. The primary evidence against him was the victim’s dying declaration identifying Cockrell as the shooter and a bystander’s statement that he saw a car leaving the area around the same time the victim was found that matched the description of the car Cockrell drove. The trial court denied Cockrell’s motion to suppress the dying declaration and to find C.R.S. § 13-25-119 unconstitutional. Cockrell was found guilty of first degree murder and two crime of violence sentence enhancers.

On appeal, Cockrell contended that C.R.S. § 13-25-119, the dying declaration statute, is unconstitutional on its face because it violates the Confrontation Clause. Dying declarations are an exception to the hearsay rule because of their guarantee of trustworthiness, and precluding their admission would in many cases result in a failure of justice. The court of appeals held that dying declarations are an exception to the Confrontation Clause and the dying declaration statute is constitutional.

Cockrell also contended that the victim’s statement did not satisfy the statutory requirements for admission of dying declarations. The first statutory requirement was satisfied because the parties agreed that the victim believed he was going to die; he had 11 gunshot wounds and death was imminent, and he made statements indicating he feared he was going to die. As to the other three requirements, Cockrell argued that (1) the statements were not voluntary; (2) the statements were made in response to questions calculated to lead the deceased to make the particular statement; and (3) the victim was not of sound mind when he made the statements. However, the record supports the trial court’s finding that (1) the victim’s statements were voluntarily made; (2) the questions asked of the victim were designed to gather facts with no apparent pretense; and (3) although the victim was in a great deal of pain and had trouble breathing, he was conscious and alert and answered questions appropriately, and thus was of sound mind when he identified Cockrell as his shooter.

Lastly, Cockrell contended that there was insufficient evidence to support his first degree murder conviction. Based on the evidence presented, it was rational for the jury to have found Cockrell guilty as charged.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Predicate Offense Must Be Felony at Time of Current Offense for Habitual Offender Designation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Kadell on Thursday, October 5, 2017.

Habitual Criminal—Sufficiency of Evidence—Prior Felony Conviction—Collateral Attack—Excusable Neglect—Extended Proportionality Review.

A jury convicted Kadell of six counts of robbery and one count of aggravated motor vehicle theft, each of which is a class 4 felony. The prosecution filed habitual criminal counts, and Kadell moved to suppress his prior felony convictions as a way to collaterally attack those convictions. The motion was untimely, but Kadell argued that his failure to timely file was the result of excusable neglect. The trial court did not rule on the excusable neglect claim. Before sentencing, the trial court adjudicated Kadell a habitual criminal based on three prior felony convictions, including, as relevant here, one in 1997 for attempted cultivation of marijuana. In accordance with the habitual criminal statute, the trial court imposed a 24-year sentence in the custody of the Department of Corrections, four times the presumptive maximum sentence for a class 4 felony.

On appeal, Kadell contended that the trial court erred in imposing a sentence under the habitual criminal statute because there was insufficient evidence that he was convicted of three qualifying felonies before his current convictions. He argued that his 1997 conviction for attempted cultivation of marijuana did not count as a felony under the habitual criminal statute because when he committed his offenses in this case, attempted cultivation of marijuana was no longer a felony in Colorado unless the defendant possessed more than six plants, and the trial court had no evidence of how many plants were involved in the 1997 conviction. As a matter of first impression, the Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that for a prior drug felony conviction to qualify as a predicate offense under the habitual criminal statute, the prosecution must prove that the prior offense of conviction remained a felony under Colorado law at the time the defendant committed the new offense, even when the prior conviction was entered in Colorado. The prosecution did not present sufficient evidence of this fact at Kadell’s sentencing hearing.

Kadell next argued that the trial court erred by finding that his failure to timely file a collateral attack on his prior convictions was not the result of excusable neglect. The issue of excusable neglect is a question of fact to be resolved first by the trial court. The record does not reflect that the trial court ruled on Kadell’s excusable neglect claim.

Kadell further sought an extended proportionality review of his sentence. This argument is moot at this juncture.

The sentence was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 10/10/2017

On Tuesday, October 10, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and four unpublished opinions.

Brown v. City of Colorado Springs

United States v. Melot

United States v. Billy

Earthgrains Baking Companies, Inc. v. Sycamore

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, some published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.